| MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator
Tatyana Sinitsyna) - In a couple of years, a new kind of vessel will appear
at sea: the floating nuclear power plant (FNPP).
The Academician Lomonosov, currently under construction in Russia, is only one project of several being developed so far.
The formal keel laying ceremony took place in April 2007 at the Sevmash shipyard of the Russian State Center for Nuclear Shipbuilding in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk Region. After about a year and a half, the state-owned corporation Rosatom revoked the general contract, handing it over to the Baltiysky Zavod (Baltic Plant) Shipyard in St. Petersburg. So now the birthplace of the first-ever floating nuclear power plant will be the Baltic Sea instead of the White Sea.
What was the reason for the change? Nothing too special, as Sevmash's capacity is largely absorbed by a government defense order, and the FNPP must be ready by 2010.
The FNPP will be a barge able to move with the help of a tug boat. Transportation will be done without nuclear fuel, so on the move it will be non-threatening hardware.
The FNPP will look like a small island with an area of between 7.4 and 12.4 acres. It resembles a "symbiosis" of a nuclear-powered vessel and a standard land-based nuclear plant. It could well arouse amazement and fear, as radiophobia is widespread. Nevertheless, according to Sergei Kirienko, chief of Russia's Federal Nuclear Power Agency, "the floating nuclear power plant with several levels of protection will be much safer than a land-based one."
The reactor type to be used on the FNPP proved its advantages during the tragedy of the sinking Kursk submarine in the Barents Sea in 2000. When a powerful explosion disabled the submarine's electricity supply and its hull filled with water, the nuclear reactor was turned off automatically by a signal from the security system. When the submarine was later raised, it still contained a safe and sound reactor, ready to operate.
| Both physical parameters and a potential terrorist
threat were taken into account while developing the security system. The
latest advances in science and technology, including fingerprint and iris
identification, are used to prevent unauthorized access to the FNPP nuclear
Provision is also made for protecting the reactor from underwater sabotage.
The barge hosting the power unit will drop anchor off the coast near a populated area or a production facility. The crew of up to 140 men works on a four-month shift rotation. Transformer plants will be situated on shore. Although the FNPP is around 15 times less powerful than a standard land-based nuclear power plant, it would still be able to supply energy to a city with a population of 100,000 people. Used for desalination, it could produce 240,000 cubic meters of fresh water a day. An FNPP would save up to 200,000 tons of coal and 100,000 tons of furnace oil per year. It would have a service life of between 10 and 12 years, after which it would weigh anchor to undergo maintenance and refueling, while another FNPP arrives to replace it.
The mobile nuclear plant was developed to meet energy demand in Russia's remote regions. A flotilla of such vessels is needed to resolve the energy crisis in the country's Far East and extreme North. Although the FNPP is still under development, an investment agreement has already been signed with the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) to build FNPPs to supply energy to the northern parts of the region.
Upon the first vessel's completion, its reactors will start generating energy for Russia's North-Western region. Potential foreign customers will have the opportunity to see the FNPP in action. Experts say demand will outstrip supply.
100% no risk," says Mr. Chilikov, a 44-year-old former vodka salesman
from Russia who says he spent six years in prison there. "If you have
the information, you can't be against this."
Last year, Russia began a broad drive to reinvigorate its nuclear industry. Among the initiatives: At a top-secret shipyard in the country's far north, Russia's state-run atomic energy company is overseeing construction on the first of what it says will be a fleet of reactor-equipped ships. The vessels are meant to provide electricity to remote areas, mooring just offshore and supplying enough power to run a small city. Russian officials say the floating plants have generated strong interest among foreign customers.
In countries such as Indonesia and Russia, ad hoc personal ties are often critical to getting business done. That has opened the way for self-styled brokers such as Mr. Chilikov. Billing himself as an intermediary, he has built contacts with the governor of a poor province on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Russian power-company executives and a Moscow lawmaker. Last year, Mr. Chilikov led an Indonesian delegation to Moscow to discuss the floating power plants, participants in the meetings say.
Still, it isn't clear whether he is acting with a mandate. Two Russian officials who provided Mr. Chilikov with reference letters later distanced themselves when contacted about his role. The state atomic energy company that oversees the plants, Rosenergoatom, says it doesn't know Mr. Chilikov.
Mr. Chilikov says that as one of few Russians with experience in Indonesia, he's indispensable. "I have a name and many connections," he says.
With its shipboard-reactor program, Russia is reviving a decades-old idea. In the U.S., Westinghouse Electric Corp. proposed building such plants in the 1970s. In early 2001, Congressman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, suggested alleviating California's energy crisis by harnessing power from nuclear-powered Navy ships. The Soviet Union, a pioneer in nuclear-powered submarines and icebreakers, had its own plans. Following the Soviet Union's collapse, the floating-reactor project languished deep inside Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry.
The Kremlin jump-started Russia's nuclear industry last year when it announced a $60 billion program to build 42 land-based reactors -- more than double the 31 currently in operation -- by 2020. As part of the atomic push, construction on the first floating plant began earlier this year, on April 15. State television covered the keel-laying ceremony in the city of Severodvinsk, on the White Sea.
Sergei Krysov, head of the Rosenergoatom department that is overseeing the project, says the first vessel will be finished in late 2010. It will be a demonstration model, powering the shipyard and other facilities in Severodvinsk. Mr. Krysov says the facility will be able to start a new ship every year, each taking about three years to build. Rosenergoatom says the next plants will be used in domestic areas in Siberia and the Far East.
Mr. Krysov's 12th-floor Moscow office, in a building guarded by security-coded glass gates, looks out across the Moscow River to the Kremlin's golden domes. Sitting in a room adorned with a Russian Orthodox icon and pictures of nuclear plants, he produces the plant's marketing materials, including a glossy English-language brochure and a video presentation with a techno-music soundtrack.
Mr. Krysov says each ship will include two reactors that plug into the local grid. The first -- a 460-foot vessel named after Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov -- will have a 76-megawatt capacity, less than one-tenth the output of a traditional land-based plant. The vessels can be modified to desalinate sea water and will have crew quarters with a sauna.
The plants are already controversial. Vladimir Chuprov, the head of Greenpeace's nuclear energy team in Russia, cites 117 incidents in sea-going nuclear vessels in the past 50 years. Mr. Chuprov adds that floating plants could be a target for terrorists and provide material for dirty bombs.
The vessels' makers say the reactors will use a less-concentrated form of uranium than that used in nuclear weapons. Russia would tow the ship into place and tow it back to Severodvinsk every 12 years to offload spent fuel and other waste, they say. After about 40 years, the ships would be decommissioned in Russia. Russians will own and operate the vessels, overseers say, so there will be no transfer of nuclear technology. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency says it is working with an international group that is studying the Russian plan's legality and safety.
Rosenergoatom's general director, Sergei Obozov, compares the plants with a storied Soviet gun. "Floating nuclear reactors will be no less reliable than the Kalashnikov," he told Russian journalists in June 2006.
| Some in the Russian
government say the plants, at $360 million each, are too expensive, requiring
a decade to break even. But the state-run company says more than 20 countries
in Africa, Asia and the Middle East have expressed interest. Mr. Krysov
says he went to the island nation of Cape Verde in June to sign a preliminary
agreement to study a floating plant there. Local press reports confirmed
Cape Verde's interest; country officials did not respond to interview requests.
Mr. Krysov says stations could be ready for export as soon as 2014.
Mr. Chilikov, a slim chain-smoker who favors tie-dyed shirts, does not look the part of nuclear-plant salesman. His office in Jakarta's Marina Complex, which doubles as his home, is dotted with models of Russian tanks and helicopters. He says he plans to sell Russian helicopters to rich Indonesians. So far, he says, the business hasn't done any deals.
Born in Perm, a city at the foot of the Ural mountains, Mr. Chilikov did a short stint in the army and spent most of 1980s without work, he says. At the end of the decade, he set up a bread-baking business. In 1991, he says, he moved to Moscow and opened a company that sold vodka.
Mr. Chilikov says his break came in 1993, as former Soviet enterprises struggled to adapt to a market economy. A contact at Gazprom, the state-owned natural-gas company, told Mr. Chilikov the enterprise was having trouble collecting payments from an electric station near Moscow. The plant was broke, he says, because their industrial customers were late on their own bills. Mr. Chilikov suggested setting up a barter system. He describes receiving cars from a factory, then selling them to pay the electricity station and Gazprom.
"The Russian government was happy," he says.
Mr. Chilikov began to make government contacts in Moscow, he says, and was introduced to people in the Indonesian embassy. Indonesia's state-owned fertilizer company was having trouble getting a key chemical, potassium chloride. Mr. Chilikov says he shipped 25,000 tons of the chemical to Jakarta. A spokesman for the company, PT Pupuk Kaltim, says its records don't go back that far but that Russia is a regular supplier.
Mr. Chilikov traveled to Indonesia in 1994, his first trip outside Russia. He says the fertilizer deal helped him to forge connections with Indonesia's political and army elite. "All the other Russians were going to America," says Mr. Chilikov. "I was the only one who came to Indonesia."
In 1995, Russian police arrested Mr. Chilikov in connection with his Indonesian business ties. He was convicted, he says, on charges of setting up fake Indonesian companies to channel money out of Russia. Mr. Chilikov says he was innocent and that the government wanted to seize his assets. Russian court files are not made public. He says he served his term in Perm.
Released in 2001, he looked again to Indonesia.
Mr. Chilikov joined forces with an Indonesian businessman who runs a factory that makes boots for the army and police. The two set up a company, PT Altair Indonesia, to import Russian technology.
In Moscow, he met Valentin Ivanov, a member of the energy committee of Russia's lower house of parliament and a former top official at the Atomic Energy Ministry. To demonstrate his contact, Mr. Chilikov shows a one-sentence letter of introduction, dated May 2006, from Mr. Ivanov.
In July 2006, Mr. Chilikov led a delegation of Indonesian businessmen to Moscow that included a former high-ranking army general, Moerwanto Soeprapto. In one meeting, the delegation met with officials from Gidroproekt, a unit of the Russian state-controlled electricity monopoly RAO UES. Gidroproekt outlined opportunities to develop tidal- and hydropower in Indonesia. Participants also discussed floating nuclear plants, according to English-language notes on the meeting that Mr. Chilikov provided. Mr. Soeprapto and other attendees -- including Alexander Fink, a deputy director at Gidroproekt -- confirm the meeting and topic.
Back in Jakarta, Mr. Chilikov began shopping the idea around. Bambang Waskito, a former senior official in Indonesia's state-owned electricity company, says he introduced Mr. Chilikov to the governor of the province of Gorontalo.
The governor, Fadel Muhammad, says he jumped at the idea of buying a floating nuclear plant. Gorontalo, which sits at the remote northern tip of the island of Sulawesi, faces almost daily power outages, Mr. Muhammad said in an interview. The blackouts are stymieing his attempts to attract tourism and fisheries investments, he said.
In December, the governor wrote a letter to Mr. Obozov, the Russian nuclear agency's director, expressing interest in a reactor and asking to visit the production site in Russia. He says he didn't receive a reply. Rosenergoatom officials said they couldn't recall the letter but said they regularly inform Indonesian officials about the floating-reactor project's progress.