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Finnish watchdog eyes Russian floating nuclear power scheme

The director of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) plans to visit St Petersburg in mid-July to find out more about a murky plan to tow a double nuclear reactor through the Baltic Sea next year.

Petteri Tiippana.
Petteri Tiippana has led STUK since 2013. Image: Jarkko Översti / Tosikuva Oy

Russia's plan to tow a floating nuclear power station through the Gulf of Finland next year is arousing concern in its neighbouring countries.

The head of Finland's nuclear watchdog is heading St Petersburg soon to discuss the project with Russian officials.

Petteri Tiippana, Director-General of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) hopes to visit the construction site in St Petersburg in mid-July.

The mobile plant, the first of its kind, is being built by Rosenergoatom, part of the Russian state nuclear conglomerate Rosatom, which aims to build a nuclear power plant in Pyhäjoki, northern Finland.

Testing in city risky

Rosenergoatom is apparently consider a plan to test the plant's two reactors at the Baltic Shipyard, close to the centre of St Petersburg, but Tiippana says this remains unclear.

"Russian authorities have not yet received an application to start up and run the plant," he told the Finnish News Agency STT.

"Of course it brings an extra dimension to the case if the plant is to be tested right in the middle of a large city. Then there would really be reason to quote comprehensively prepare for disruptions and disaster situations," Tiippana said to STT.

As Tiippana sees it, it would be simpler to carry out tests in Murmansk, where Russia usually refuels its nuclear icebreakers. The city of St Petersburg may also take a dim view of on-site testing, especially if would be near the 2018 football World Cup. The city is hosting some matches beginning in mid-June next year.

Tiippana describes the plant as relatively small, containing two reactors with a combined output of 70 megawatts. In comparison, the proposed Fennovoima-Rosatom station would have an output of 1200MW.

Russia and China plan to build more such floating nuclear power plants as a means of providing electricity to islands and remote coastal areas. 

"This project doesn't make sense"

The Akademik Lomonosov is to be hauled from St Petersburg to Murmansk and then on to the port city of Pevek in the far east of Siberia, not far from Alaska.

If the fuelling and testing is done in Murmansk, the transport risks would be much smaller, notes Tiippana.

"If is towed empty, then it's just a ship like any other," he says.

The environmental NGO Greenpeace is also urging that the testing be done in Murmansk. Greenpeace Finland energy campaigner Jehki Härkönen agrees that this would significantly reduce the risk, although Greenpeace considers the entire project to be highly questionable.

"This project doesn't make sense anyway, since the plant still has to be towed all the way across the Arctic Ocean," Härkönen told STT.

Norway deeply concerned

Norway is particularly worried about the danger of the 144-metre vessel shipwrecking near its Atlantic coastline, which could have a significant impact on the country's fishing and tourist industries.

Norwegian foreign minister Börge Brende raised the issue in talks with his Finnish counterpart Timo Soini last week. As the towing would probably take place in international waters, the countries along the route would not have any say over the matter. Brende wants the Nordic countries to together demand information from Russian officials about the plan and its possible risks.

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