Russian scientists are developing the world’s first civilian nuclear submarine, according to Viktor Litvinenko, head of the project team for the direction of physical and technical research at the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects (Fond Perspektivnikh Issledovanni – FPI). It will be used to survey for  minerals under the Arctic ice, RIA Novosti reported. “The underwater seismic survey complex was developed by the Rubin Central Design Bureau as a civilian nuclear submarine. Instead of weapon launchers, it has mines with robotic complexes, autonomous unmanned submarines that undertake seismic prospecting, and search for minerals,” Litvinenko explained. These are unique technological solutions that will help future generations to solve serious problems in the development of the Arctic shelf. The submarine is 135.5 metres long, and 14.4 metres wide with a speed of 12.6 knots and a maximum immersion depth of 400 metres. The submarine will be able to stay in autonomous navigation for 90 days with a crew of 40. Litvinenko said the pre-design is now completed.

FPI was established in 2012 to promote research and development for Russia’s defence and security as a response to the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). Currently, the Foundation runs more than 50 projects, and has laboratories at leading universities and research institutes. At the end of 2015.

FPI’s project Iceberg investigates technical solutions for the extraction of deep-sea mineral deposits on the Arctic shelf and globally, FPI noted last year. FPI head Andrey Grigoriev noted that the international community stands on the threshold of developing the world’s oceans which contain large reserves of mineral resources, comparable and even surpassing similar resource potential on land. It is not just about hydrocarbons, which first attracted the attention of state and mining companies, but also about rare earth minerals, he said. "According to the experts, the continental shelf of the Arctic contains up to 30% of all offshore hydrocarbon reserves in the world. But the development of the Arctic is not only a vital priority for our state, but also serious technological challenge.” To exploit these resources, revolutionary technologies will be needed. 

On 29 March, Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ – the uranium mining arm of state nuclear corporation Rosatom), Atomflot (Rosatom’s subsidiary responsible for the operation and maintenance of nuclear icebreakers) and VostokCoal signed an agreement to cooperate in the development of the Russian Arctic region. The agreement was signed at the International Arctic Forum, The Arctic - Territory of Dialogue, held in Arkhangelsk. Rosatom said it "provides for the establishment of a mutually beneficial partnership and cooperation on a number of issues: in particular, in ensuring uninterrupted and environmentally safe icebreaking by ships on the Northern Sea Route, as well as joint development of polymetallic, coal and other deposits, including the design and construction of mining and processing enterprises in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation".

The three companies also agreed to co-operate in development of the Pavlovsky lead-zinc deposit at the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, which is one of ARMZ's "key business diversification projects".

Vyacheslav Pershukov, Rosatom's director of the innovation management, told the same conference that the nuclear corporation "has always been operating in the Arctic and always will be". He said: "We are creating completely new, innovative products that are designed to serve the development of the Arctic region and at the same time to protect this ecologically fragile and unique natural world."

Rosatom's activities in the Arctic include navigating ships along the Northern Sea Route using nuclear icebreakers; providing power to the Arctic region from the Bilibino NPP; addressing issues related to Russia's nuclear defence legacy in the region; dismantling and utilising radioisotope thermoelectric generators; and monitoring radiation levels in the area. He also noted progress with the construction of the world's first floating NPP, the Akademik Lomonosov, which is to be installed in Pevek, and which is undergoing trials at the Baltic Shipyard. The plant should be ready to be transported to Pevek later this year, and Nuclear utility Rosenergoatom plans to start installation in September 2019, followed by trials and operational launch.

Rosatom director general Alexei Likhachev told the forum that Rosatom offers a wide range of developments and projects in the field of transport and energy operations in the Arctic, including mining, and solving environmental problems. Development of the Arctic region will require the use of new cost-effective and environmentally friendly technologies, he said, including those created by specialists of the nuclear industry.

Rosatom is ready to provide a range of power facilities for the Arctic, according to Yuri Fadeyev, chief designer of pressurised water reactor power at engineering company OKBM (Nizhny Novgorod). He said the capacity range, suitable for use in the Arctic, ranges from 5MWe to 100MWe. The 5-6MWe plant would suit small communities, relatively small mining enterprises or exploration facilities. Installations of 100MWe could support large mining and processing and mining companies.

In addition to land-based installations in the Arctic, nuclear-powered underwater systems can be used, Fadeyev noted, referring to a modular underwater installation for underwater exploration developed by FPI and the Rubin Design Bureau. "In addition, we have a design of a NPP, Iceberg, from 8MWe to 25MWe, for underwater-ice drilling facilities. The installation can operate in stand-alone mode without staff for at least a year.” The overall service life of 30 years, he said.

The advantage of using nuclear facilities in the Arctic is that there is no impact on the environment in contrast to fossil fuels, he added. Nuclear plants also have an optimum service life for Arctic energy projects. Fadeyev recalled that the reactor units for the first domestic nuclear-powered icebreakers had a life of 100,000 hours, which, on modern nuclear-powered icebreakers, has been doubled. "OKBM from the beginning has developed reactor facilities for the navy and for icebreakers. We have a set of standard solutions, and, in fact, there is no fundamental difference for us between an installation of 5MWe or of 100MWe.” 

Date: Thursday, 06 April 2017
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