New Era of Floating Nuclear Plants Begins
May 22, 2018—With great ceremony, the Russian city of Murmansk welcomed the floating nuclear plant Akademik Lomonosov on May 19. The plant had travelled from St. Petersburg where it was built. It will receive its supply of nuclear fuel in Murmansk, and then proceed to the Arctic circle town of Pevek, where it will begin to supply power to the population of approximately 50,000 people in the area next year.
Constructed by the state nuclear power firm, Rosatom, the 144×30 meter, 21,000-ton barge holds two 35-MW nuclear reactors similar to those used to power Russian icebreaker ships. The barge can produce enough electricity to power a town of 200,000 residents, far more than the 5,000 who live in Pevek, Russia’s northernmost town.
Small, portable nuclear reactors have long been employed by the U.S. Navy, and presumably other militaries as well, but previous attempts to produce them for civilian purposes have met with sabotage. The United States actually did have such a plant in operation in Panama in the late 1960s, but it is being dismantled, and plans for production for use off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States were ditched in the 1970s. This, despite the nuclear Navy’s sterling safety record, and the obvious advantages of such plants for isolated areas suffering from a lack of electric power.
Among the obvious places crying out for such a deployment is Puerto Rico, which has now suffered the second-longest electricity blackout in history. (The longest was in the Philippines in 2013.) At least 20,000 homes in Puerto Rico still lack electricity as a result of Hurricane Maria (which hit last September), and a new hurricane season is about to begin. Indeed, the “repaired” system is so fragile that most of the Island was plunged into darkness about a month ago, as a result of a contractor accident.
U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry actually mooted the possibility of using small modular nuclear reactors to reach remote places in Puerto Rico last fall. But despite a verbal commitment to nuclear energy, the Trump Administration’s embrace of deregulation has so far been unable to halt the whittling away of the mainland nuclear fleet, much less been able to initiate the nuclear renaissance which is needed to move the U.S. economy into the next level of productivity.
The American System of Economics rests firmly on a commitment to constant increases in scientific progress and productivity, of which nuclear fission and fusion are prime examples.