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Power Earth Science

Small Nuclear Power Plants To Dot the Arctic Circle 255

Posted by Soulskill
from the ubiquitous-radioactive-polar-bears dept.
Vincent West writes with news of a Russian project currently underway to populate the Arctic Circle with 70-megawatt, floating nuclear power plants. Russia has been planning these nuclear plants for quite some time, with construction beginning on the prototype in 2007. It's due to be finished next year, and an agreement was reached in February to build four more. According to the Guardian: "The 70-megawatt plants, each of which would consist of two reactors on board giant steel platforms, would provide power to Gazprom, the oil firm which is also Russia's biggest company. It would allow Gazprom to power drills needed to exploit some of the remotest oil and gas fields in the world in the Barents and Kara seas. The self-propelled vessels would store their own waste and fuel and would need to be serviced only once every 12 to 14 years."
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Small Nuclear Power Plants To Dot the Arctic Circle

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  • by Aklarr (1463653) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:23AM (#27805517)
    What if killer penguins decided to attack these floating nuke stations and because of that developed mutant powers? :P
  • in 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... now!

    • by mrphoton (1349555) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:42AM (#27805641)
      To be fair the Russians do not have a spotless record in nuclear health and safety. Or for that matter health and safety in any form.
    • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:53AM (#27805709)
      What's so evil about their powering their industry with a carbon-free energy? I think this is awesome! I only wish that the electricity were going to people rather than to digging up more fossil fuels. Yuck!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by dem0n1 (1170795)
      Speaking of Russian, shouldn't "vessels" in TFA be "wessels"?
    • by afabbro (33948)

      Let [slashdot.org] me guess [slashdot.org], you're Russian?

  • Isn't that where the seas are the roughest?

  • ahhh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:26AM (#27805535) Journal
    lose control of one of those, and Russia owns all of the arctic. Just kidding.

    That is not a bad idea. I have thought that the west should be putting up more small reactors to run things like Manufacturing as well as our electric trains. Do some 10-20 MW next to a maglev or just old fashion hi-speed train like Frances, and you have a fairly efficient none polluting train.
  • Nuclear Power (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    As much as I support the idea of expanding nuclear power something tells me that superheating the water near the ice caps is just going to cause them to melt faster (assuming they are light water reactors which would be the most economical, and that storing their own waste refers to the nuclear kind)... but what do I know I'm a /.'er not a nuclear physicist... oh wait.

    • by hcdejong (561314)

      However you produce it, 70 MW of electrical power is going to have a lot of heat associated with it.

    • Re:Nuclear Power (Score:5, Informative)

      by Alex Belits (437) * on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:52AM (#27805703) Homepage

      oh wait what?

      The power plant produces 70MW.

      Assume that the equivalent of this energy is dissipated as heat.

      Sunlight on the Earth surface is on average 164W/m^2, though at polar circle this drops to 80-100W/m^2. Snow at best reflects 90%, absorbing 10%.

      70,000,000/(80*0.1)=8,750,000m^2=8.75km^2

      So one power plant is an equivalent of sunlight collected over 8.76km^2 area. Arctic ocean is 14,056,000km^2. Power plant increases the amount of heat absorbed in the area by .00006%

      Alternatively the same amount of power would have to be produced by the same Gazprom using -- guess what? -- things that Gazprom happens to produce, namely fuel.

      • Re:Nuclear Power (Score:4, Insightful)

        by moon3 (1530265) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @10:52AM (#27806143)
        More interesting is the fact that Gazprom, firm that has all the fossil fuel at its disposal has opted for this kind of power.
        • by turgid (580780)

          If the price of fossil fuel keeps going up, there comes a point where nuclear becomes cheaper, even on very small scales such as these. They'd be crazy not to sell the fossil fuel to paying customers, especially the crazy ones like us Brits who are scared of nuclear power.

  • Obligatory (Score:4, Funny)

    by LordAlpha (247426) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:28AM (#27805545)

    Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these.

  • Nuclear submarines (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:30AM (#27805553)

    "The 70-megawatt plants, each of which would consist of two reactors on board giant steel platforms, would provide power to Gazprom, the oil firm which is also Russia's biggest company. It would allow Gazprom to power drills needed to exploit some of the remotest oil and gas fields in the world in the Barents and Kara seas. The self-propelled vessels would store their own waste and fuel and would need to be serviced only once every 12 to 14 years."

    This probably sounds like a serious potential problem to some of the nuclearphobes, but the basic description sounds like they're using nuclear submarine power plants with electrical generators attached to the turbines instead of a screw.

    In other words, this sort of thing has been operating safely for about 50 years now.

    • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:37AM (#27805601) Journal
      That is pretty much the gist of it. Russia has had a few accidents with their reactors, but that was long ago. I have been surprised that Western shipbuilders are not designing new cargo ships with nuclear power. I would think that at this time, it would be considered the cheapest form of shipping down the road. America built a convertable (half cargo-half passenger), and that was ok EXCEPT for several issues.
      1. The price of oil turned cheap.
      2. Captains were insisting on more pay than the nuclear engineer.
      3. It wasted space on passengers.

      The west needs some all nuclear ships to ply the route between America and EU (no real chance of pirates) and perhaps across the pacific. This would drop CO2 emissions a great deal.

      • I have been surprised that Western shipbuilders are not designing new cargo ships with nuclear power. I would think that at this time, it would be considered the cheapest form of shipping down the road.

        Well, the problem is that it's only the cheapest considerably down the road. The Pentagon (with it's deep pockets) only considers universal nuclear power to be a good deal when oil rises (and remains) above (IIRC) $125/150 a barrel.

        America built a convertable (half cargo-half passenger), and

      • by NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @11:37AM (#27806507)

        I'm not surprised that nobody uses nuclear for cargo ships. You need to spend a lot more money on your shipboard engineering crew (more people, higher salaries, more training), you need to build and maintain shore facilities to handle nuclear plant maintenance, and nowadays you'd need a respectably-sized security force on board and at the shore facility to make sure you didn't lose control of your nuclear materials to people that want to do something other than push cargo with it.

        The US Navy decided to stop using nuclear power on cruisers because it was cheaper to use conventional power for some of the reasons above. Note that the power requirements for a cruiser [wikipedia.org] and a large container ship [wikipedia.org] are about the same.

        The ongoing negative public sentiment towards nuclear is probably another big deciding factor.

        • by hcdejong (561314)

          IIRC the cost of refueling was a major factor in that decision. Early designs needed refueling every few years, and this is a process that takes months.

          Some additional data: according to this page [globalsecurity.org], in 1993 a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier cost 20% more to operate than a conventional-powered carrier, mainly due to the extra cost of refueling and decommissioning (ie removal of the irradiated parts).

      • Even when you take into account the huge tanks for the diesel or low-quality fuel oil, the nuke plant takes up a collossal amount of space. Theres a good reason that diesels have taken over the shipping industry. Combined cycle plants haven't really made a dent yet, even considering the efficiency is much higher. It just takes up too much room.
    • by Idiomatick (976696) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:41AM (#27805627)
      MOD UP. 70MW is mush LESS than submarines than the Russians have been using for years. For example, the Russian Typhoon class [wikipedia.org] submarine has DUAL 90MW reactors in it. This is nothing new for Russia at all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      In other words, this sort of thing has been operating safely for about 50 years now.

      By the US, sure. Decidedly not true of the Russians. If their accident rate has gone down in the last twenty odd years, it's because their operational rate is a small fraction of what it was before that.

    • well, sort of. you are right that it has been 50 years. the US Army had been successful with portable nuclear [tripod.com] power plants. from the 60's to the 70's they have used 2mW and 10mW power plants successfully (about halfway down for [tripod.com] info [findarticles.com] )
      the russians are not unfamiliar with [englishrussia.com]the concept it seems.
      PBS had a great documentary on how the US Army could set up and safely use portable nuclear power plants in the arctic, however no linkie could be found...
      • 1MW=1000 000 000mW. You keep using these units, but I don't think you know what they mean. And yes, I can get it from context, but it is anoying since there are extremely low power nuclear power sources which are used in other applications.
  • If we're going to use nuclear power, why use small nuclear power plants to drill for oil, instead of using it directly? Isn't this the worst of both worlds?

  • Nothing new (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hcdejong (561314) <`ln.tensmx' `ta' `sebboh'> on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:48AM (#27805681)

    The Russians have been operating nuclear-powered icebreakers in that area for decades. This seems to be a similar design, just with a big generator attached.

  • ...The self-propelled vessels would store their own waste and fuel and would need to be serviced only once every 12 to 14 years...

    That's a record in my opinion. For those concerned about hijacking, Russians have the technology and will to keep these monsters safe. They (the Russians), are almost always concerned about the results and not the means to get to the required results.

    This is unlike we in the USA who have to be mindful of what the world will think about our actions.

  • by Viceroy Potatohead (954845) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @10:24AM (#27805923) Homepage
    I don't care what anyone says, this is a great idea. Hopefully, in the near future, a radioactive snowflake will come dive-bombing from the sky and bite me. I always wanted to be ICEMAN [wikipedia.org]!!!

    That would be cool.
  • IMHO, This is a terrible idea. Russia isn't exactly sitting at the top with regards to success rates with their nuclear power plants - whether they're ship-borne or land based. Russia has a whole shipyard full of nuclear relics from the cold war that are simply rusting away in a harbor. Some of these ships still highly radioactive. Dangerously so! Not very eco-friendly, is it? Dare I even mention Chernobyl?

    Aren't we losing the arctic and antarctic ice sheets due to global warming? Now we want to cool nuclea

    • Aren't we losing the arctic and antarctic ice sheets due to global warming? Now we want to cool nuclear power plants with frigid arctic water? Let me phrase that another way. Now we want to warm the arctic waters with the nuclear power plant cooling towers?

      It wouldn't have any real impact since it would be a drop in the bucket compared to the other things heating the Arctic. The sun delivers order 100 hundred watts to each square meter of the earth, and even if most of that is reflected the absorbed power from the sun is orders and orders of magnitude above what these power plants will do (you can crunch the numbers if you want).

      Moreover, if they weren't using nuclear power, they'd just use something else. Burning oil raises temperatures too. Nuclear power i

    • And, shit-howdy, if any Slashdot story ever cried out for the whatcouldpossiblygowrong tag, it was this one.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @11:45AM (#27806573) Homepage

    The US used to have a 45MW shipboard nuclear power plant on the USS Sturgis [army.mil], a converted Liberty ship. It was used to power the Panama Canal locks during a period of low water at Gatun Dam, the usual power source. The U.S. Army had a whole range of small reactors running in remote locations from 1952 to the early 1970s. The main problem was that they never built enough of them to justify the support and training infrastructure required.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tintivilus (88810)

      Wow... that's a hell of a citation you chose:

      As difficult as the problem seems, there is one energy source that is essentially infinite, is readily available worldwide, and produces no carbon byproducts. The source of that energy is seawater, and the method by which seawater is converted to a more direct fuel for use by commercial and military equipment is simple.

      Sure there's tons of energy in seawater... the nuclear reactor required to extract hydrogen from it is just a minor process detail. If that's t

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @12:34PM (#27806921)

    Sounds like our ZPM is out of power

  • by Cornwallis (1188489) * on Sunday May 03, 2009 @12:47PM (#27807019)
    Like when they explode?
  • They use nuclear power to get OIL?
    Which in turn is burned to get power?
    Insane.

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