Floating nuclear power plants for mining in Chukotka | Polarjournal
The Peschanka mining area (red) is located about 425 kilometres southwest of Pevek in the middle of Chukotka. About halfway there is the Bilibino NPP, which is still supposed to supply electricity for the construction of the mining plant. From 2027 onwards, the floating nuclear power plants in the Chaunskaya Bay are to supply energy via 500 kilometres of power lines. Map: Michael Wenger via Google Earth

The Far East of Russia is one of the most resource-rich regions of the country, but at the same time one of the poorest in terms of infrastructure. Especially in the outermost region of Chukotka, there are hardly any roads or power lines in the interior of the country. But this is precisely where one of the most promising mining areas for copper is located. Plans to mine the deposits there have been in place for some time. But now the operating company has concluded an agreement with the state-owned Rosatom on energy supply. Rosatom plans to supply electricity with a total of four floating nuclear power plants starting in 2026.

As announced by both Rosatom and the owner of the mining company, KAZ Minerals, the agreement was aimed at ensuring that Rosatom will provide energy supply to the mining area for the next forty years, and the mining company GDK Baimskaya LLC will pay for it accordingly. The contract, which is yet to be drawn up, is expected to be signed by both sides by next April, the notices said. According to Rosatom’s plans, a total of four floating nuclear power plants of the latest generation will be deployed to ensure supply. Three of them are to supply the necessary energy, one remains on site as a substitute. The nuclear power plants are to be located near the village of Pevek in Chaunskaya Bay, almost 425 kilometres away as the crow flies, and will supply energy to the Peschanka region via a wired line some 500 kilometres long. The project will start in 2027, but two of the units are already under construction, according to Rosatom.

Since 2019, the “Akademik Lomonosov”, the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, has already been moored off the village of Pevek (large picture). The ship is equipped with two KLT-40S reactors and supplies electricity and heat to Pevek and up to the Bilibino power plant. The new planned nuclear power plants (small picture) will be equipped with stronger, smaller RITM-200S reactors, each providing 50 MW of power. Images: large: Elena Dider CC BY-SA 3.0; small: OKBM

The planned OFPU (optimized floating power unit) will be equipped with two new, more powerful pressurized water reactors with a total capacity of 100 MW. Currently, there is only one floating nuclear power plant, the Akademik Lomonosov, which delivers about 30 percent less power. KAZ Minerals has estimated that the power required to operate the mine will be around 350 MW. The electricity is to be transported from Pevek to Peschanka via a pipeline more than 500 kilometres long. The ships will be equipped with a dynamic positioning system. It is still unclear whether they will be self-propelled or need to be towed. According to the RITM-200S manufacturer, the reactors are designed to run for 10 years before the fuel rods need to be replaced. The same type of reactors are used in the newest ships of the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet. The advantages over the one used so far are its reduced size, its runtime and its universal usability. The reactor type will also be used for a land-based NPP in the Russian region of Yakutia. For Rosatom, the new project is a matter of prestige, because the floating reactors could become an export hit.

The proposed mining area is located about 425 kilometres as the crow flies southwest of Pevek in a remote region. It has been known since 1972 that there are rich mineral deposits there. But it wasn’t until 2011 that more serious success and feasibility studies were conducted. They concluded that the region has one of the largest copper deposits and can produce around 250,000 tonnes of copper per year. In addition, the prospectors have also located significant gold and molybdenum deposits. Gold production is expected to be around 1,100 kilos of the precious metal, according to KAZ Minerals. They said that a profit project study is currently underway, which has taken an important step forward with the agreement that has now been reached. The total cost of the project is approximately US$8 billion, of which KAZ Minerals will only bear a portion.

Floating nuclear power plants. Pipelines and trucks across the tundra and an open pit mine, the nightmare of every conservationist and environmentalist. Environmental studies prepared by independent Russian bodies have already pointed out various potential dangers, but also calculated the economic benefits in the economically weak region. Image: KAZ Minerals

The raw materials are to be extracted by open-cast mining, i.e. on the surface. The raw materials are then transported by truck to Pevek and from there by ship to Asia for further processing. In Pevek itself, about 20 kilometres from the village, a marshalling yard is to take care of the logistics between the mining area and the rest of the world. An independent study has analysed the potential dangers for the environment and the population and, in addition to the emissions of various pollutants and dust, has also identified the contribution to climate change. In addition, there is a risk of pollution of the numerous rivers in the region, damage to animals and plants and especially to the soil. However, no figures were given. The study also lists the effects on the population, both positive and negative. Especially the indigenous population with their reindeer herds could be strongly influenced directly and indirectly by the project, the study says. And despite the economic benefits, opposition to the project has also emerged from the affected population, writes Environmental Justice Atlas. But the Ministry for the Development of the Far East, agencies close to the government and the administration in Anadyr are sympathetic to the large-scale project. That’s why floating nuclear power plants will probably ensure a bright future in Chukotka from 2026.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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