Cablegate: Russia Edges Forward On Floating Nuclear Power

DE RUEHMO #2040/01 1240826
O 040826Z MAY 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

B. MOSCOW 1342
C. MOSCOW 1704

MOSCOW 00002040 001.2 OF 004


1. (U) This is a joint cable by Embassy Moscow and ConGen St.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY. Thirty years after the United States
decommissioned the Sturgis, the first and only U.S.-built floating
nuclear power plant (FNPP), Russia has officially embarked on
construction of its first FNPP. Officials are publicly planning for
six additional plants to be stationed in remote regions of the
Russian Federation if this first one becomes operational as planned
in 2010. Despite strong criticism of the FNPPs as environmentally
unsafe and easy terrorist targets and despite long-term funding
questions, at least one FNPP could soon be a reality in Russia.
Others may be marketed abroad if regulatory and legal issues can be
overcome. Russia has suggested FNPPs as an area for cooperation
under the aegis of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP).


3. (U) Russia has floated the idea of building FNPPs several times
since the fall of the Soviet Union, but only in the past few weeks
has the idea advanced from distant dream to the reality of
construction plans, budgets, and schedules. The ceremonial start
for construction of Russia's first FNPP, christened the Lomonosov
after a famed Russian scientist, took place on April 15 at the
Sevmash factory in Severodvinsk, near Arkhangelsk. Rosatom director
Sergey Kiriyenko and First Deputy Premier Sergey Ivanov were both in
attendance, a high level presence that shows the seriousness with
which Russia now treats the nuclear industry in general and,
specifically, FNPPs.

4. (U) Plans call for the Lomonosov to come on-line in 2010.
Equipped with two KLT-40S reactors of the type used in Russia's
nuclear icebreaker fleet, the Lomonosov will have a generating
capacity of 77 megawatts (MW) and will be used to provide electrical
power to the Sevmash factory that is giving it birth. FNPPs are
intended to fill a need for low and medium capacity energy
production to supply electricity to isolated population centers.
Following the April 15 ceremony, Kiriyenko told the press, "Today we
are signing an agreement for the construction of six floating
nuclear power plants." Although Russia intends to build the first
FNPPs for domestic needs, Kiriyenko was quick to point out that "the
demand for them exists not only in Russia but also in the Asia and
Pacific region where they can be used for water desalinization."


5. (U) Russia's FNPP plans have raised numerous concerns related to
safety, non-proliferation, terrorism, and the environment. At its
basis, however, the idea of using a ship or barge as a power
generator is not new. The U.S. military used several oil-fired
power barges during World War II and the Korean War to supplement or
replace land-based facilities. These barges provided up to 30MW of
emergency power. The need to refuel these barges with oil
transported, usually, by tanker limited their utility to temporary,
emergency use. In contrast, an FNPP can operate for long periods of
time without refueling.

6. (U) It will come as a surprise to all but a small group of
historians and engineers to learn that the world's first FNPP was
built in the United States over forty years ago. In January 1963
the Nuclear Power Program run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
began work on the Sturgis, a World War II Liberty ship hull that was
modified to accept a pressurized water reactor. Designated the
MH-1A, the Sturgis provided up to 45MW to the Panama Canal Zone
electrical grid from 1968 to 1975. The Sturgis replaced the output
of a hydroelectric plant, allowing water that would have been used
to generate electricity to fill canal locks instead. Due to this
savings, the Sturgis is credited as having allowed 2500 more ships
per year to pass through the canal than would have been possible
otherwise. In its day, the Sturgis appears to have provoked little
if any criticism related to security, non-proliferation, or the

7. (U) The Sturgis was decommissioned in 1975 when a relatively

MOSCOW 00002040 002.2 OF 004

minor part needed replacement. A one-of-a kind machine, the MH-1A
used no off-the-shelf parts and was expensive to maintain. Had the
Sturgis been the first of many U.S.-built FNPPs rather than a
one-of-a-kind prototype, the cost of maintenance undoubtedly would
have been lower.

8. (U) Although the Sturgis did not lead to further FNPP
development, some U.S. military strategists now advocate FNPPs to
provide electricity and, through desalinization, fresh water to
far-off theaters of battle.

--------------------------------------------- --------
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9. (U) Rosenergoatom, the concern that builds and operates Russia's
land-based NPPs, also will be the operating organization for
Russia's FNPPs. Sevmash, the same enterprise that builds nuclear
submarines, will do the actual building. In a meeting at Rosatom,
Feliks Lisitsa, the deputy director in Rosenergoatom's directorate
for FNPP construction, gave us details on the FNPP design and future

10. (U) Russia's first FNPPs will be based around two KLT-40S
reactors and two TK 35/38-3.4 turbo generators. The reactor vessel
for the Lomonosov is already being built at the Izora plant, work on
the turbines is underway at the Kaluga turbine plant, and the steam
generators are being built at the Baltiiskiy shipbuilding factory.
These are the same facilities that build equipment for Russia's
nuclear submarines and icebreakers.

11. (U) According to Lisitsa, the KLT-40S is in compliance with all
Russian safety regulations. Furthermore, Lisitsa claimed, when the
service lives of all KLT-40S reactors are added together, they
account for 7000 years of accident free service. (COMMENT: Reactors
on Soviet submarines and icebreakers experienced several severe
accidents, particularly in the early years of nuclear propulsion.
END COMMENT) Moreover, Lisitsa continued, the KLT-40S has been
recommended by IAEA specialists as one of the most ecologically safe
reactors available for civilian energy applications. Without
offering details, Lisitsa told us that safety features built into
Rosenergoatom's FNPP design effectively eliminates any possibility
of negative environmental impact. The design was approved by a
government ecological review panel in 2002, after which
Rostekhnadzor, the Russian regulatory authority, issued a license
authorizing construction.

12. (U) The uranium fuel used for the KLT-40S is enriched only to
the 15.5 percent level. Although higher than the fuel enrichment
for land-based NPPs, this is still well below the 20 percent level
that is commonly accepted as the dividing line between low and high
enriched uranium.

13. (U) Russia's first FNPPs will measure 140m long by 30m wide, and
its crew will be made up of 69 operators and support personnel.
Lisitsa told us that it will take five years and six billion rubles
(about $231 million) to build a single FNPP. Although the Lomonosov
is being built as a single project, subsequent FNPPs will be built
in parallel, thereby allowing savings on construction costs. The
Lomonosov will remain in Severodvinsk to supply electricity to
Sevmash, but subsequent FNPPs will be towed slowly to their
operational locations, arriving there in six months to a year.

14. (U) According to Lisitsa, Russia's first FNPPs will have a
36-year lifetime broken into three cycles of twelve years each.
Refueling will take place between cycles. Spent nuclear fuel (SNF)
will be stored temporarily in on-board pools of water much in the
same way as is done for nuclear icebreakers. Tailings will also be
stored on-board. When an FNPP is taken out of service, its SNF will
be transported back to long-term storage facilities at the
Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk or at the Zvezda facility in
Russia's Far East. Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs will
be charged with the physical protection of FNPPs during their
operational lifetimes.


15. (U) After the Lomonosov, Rosenergoatom plans to build FNPPs for
use in Pevek (Chukotka Autonomous Region) and Vilyuchinsk (Kamchatka
Peninsula). In the future Rosenergoatom plans to diversify its
designs to manufacture FNPPs that will produce from 1.5MW to 300MW
of electrical power to meet specific application needs.

16. (U) Gazprom has expressed interest in using FNPPs to power

MOSCOW 00002040 003.2 OF 004

distant gas extraction facilities. At present these facilities are
forced to use some of the natural gas they extract as fuel for
conventional plants that generate the electricity used to run the
extraction facilities.

17. (U) Rosenergoatom also hopes to adapt FNPPs for desalinization,
projecting that an FNPP equipped with KLT-40S reactors will provide
up to 240,000 cubic meters of fresh water per day. Rosenergoatom
projects that the world's fresh water deficit, currently estimated
at 230 billion cubic meters/year, will grow to 1.3-2 trillion cubic
meters/year ar by 2025. In dollar terms, Rosenergoatom is banking
that market demand for fresh water will amount to $12 billion/year
by 2015. Up to 70 percent of this market is located in the Middle

18. (U) Lisitsa told us that Rosenergoatom has no immediate plans to
build FNPPs of any type for the foreign market. There are still
many operational and regulatory challenges to be addressed. The
present thinking is that the FNPPs will belong to Russia and will be
operated by a Russian crew. Electrical power (and fresh water) will
be sold to the foreign consumers based on long-term contracts.
Rosenergoatom sees this as lessening the burden on foreign consumers
as Russia will be responsible for the FNPP's operation and security
and for the return of SNF to Russia. (COMMENT: This begs the
question of how the FNPP will be regulated, how its operation may
conflict with local laws, and what kind of physical protection will
be provided. END COMMENT)


19. (SBU) Environmental groups are quick to disagree with Russian
assurances. A representative of an NGO in Arkhangelsk told ConGen
St. Petersburg that his organization opposes the FNPPs because the
reactors being used have an imperfect safety record on icebreakers
and have never been used before for power generation. A
representative from the NGO Bellona, which along with Greenpeace has
taken the lead in NW Russia in opposing the FNPPs, disagrees with
Rosenergoatom that there is a realistic plan in place on handling
and storing the tailings and SNF produced by the plants in their
remote locations in Russia (or worse far away overseas). Likewise,
according to Bellona, there has been little discussion of what to do
if one of these plants sank due to natural causes or terrorist
attack or how safety procedures (for the crew and for nearby
communities) could be implemented in such an impermanent setting.

20. (SBU) Local environmentalists in Arkhangelsk are also angry
because the public discussion on this serious issue has been
lacking. One NGO activist said that there haven't been public
hearings on the construction since 2002, and the technical details
of the project have changed since then. He said that the Public
Environmental Council of Severodvinsk -- made up of a dozen
environmental NGO reps -- voted against the project, but Sevmash
officials reportedly told them that "everything has been decided
already and nothing can be changed." According to the activist,
Arkhangelsk Governor Nikolay Kiselev also ignored a letter from a
local environmental NGO urging him to oppose construction of the
FNPP. Meanwhile, Ivan Blokov of Greenpeace Russia described
Russia's FNPPs as "the most dangerous project that has been launched
by the atomic sector in the whole world over the past decade."
Charles Digges from Bellona commented that FNPPs are "absolutely
unsafe, inherently so." He continued: "There are risks of the unit
itself sinking, there are risks in towing the units to where they
need to be."

21. (U) The risks cited by environmental NGOs are not unfounded. In
1977 the Sturgis ran into severe weather while it was being towed
from Panama to Ft. Belvoir. Suffering damage, it had to be diverted
to North Carolina for temporary structural repairs. The damage
suffered contributed to the final decision to deactivate the

22. (U) In addition to ecological concerns, critics cite FNPPs as
easy targets for terrorist attacks and nuclear blackmail. The
possibility of theft of nuclear material gives rise to proliferation


23. (SBU) With the high level kick-off on construction of the
Lomonosov, it is clear that Russia is likely to complete
construction of at least one FNPP. Whether it will follow through
on its plans for others is likely to depend on its experience with

MOSCOW 00002040 004.2 OF 004

the Lomonosov and whether the resulting costs remain roughly in the
projected range. Nevertheless, it is safe to conclude that Russia's
program to design and build FNPPs has moved from words to deeds, and
that the Russian government appears resolute on following through.

24. (SBU) Kiriyenko and others have suggested on several occasions
(refs A, B, and C) that design and development of FNPPs is a good
area for practical U.S.-Russia cooperation under the GNEP umbrella.
Lisitsa repeated this suggestion as he described the Russian FNPP
program, and he expressed disappointment that he has not had contact
with anyone in the United States who is working in this area. A
review of open U.S. literature on FNPPs shows that there are those
who believe the United States never should have abandoned its
program that led to the Sturgis. There may be much to be gained by
responding to Russian overtures. A few meetings at the technical
level are likely to provide much more information than can be
gathered from Rosenergoatom literature and conversations with its
managers. In the words of U.S. engineer Rod Adams in an article
written just a few days after the official start of work on the
Lomonosov, "Floating nuclear plants -- don't cede the market to the
Russians." In light of planned U.S.-Russian cooperation under GNEP,
this may be an opportune time to consider Kiriyenko's offer.


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