Russia adds to NSR icebreaker fleet

Russia’s Baltic Shipyard launched the nation’s third nuclear-powered icebreaker Ural in a ceremony in St Petersburg on 25 May 2019. Credit: PA Images

Russia has launched a newly constructed nuclear icebreaker, dubbed Ural after the west-Russian mountain range, at the Baltic Shipyard in St Petersburg.

The vessel, with a completed hull and lower bridge superstructure, will now be fitted with the upper bridge and other equipment, and is due for commissioning in 2021. Thereafter, it will be used to clear a path for vessels transiting the Northern Sea Route (NSR), making its first transit in 2022.

Ural is the final vessel in the Project 22220 (aka LK-60Ya) series, of which Arktika, launched in June 2016, was the first. Each of these new vessels is powered by two 175 MW RITM-200 cylindrical nuclear reactors mounted in the mid-section of the hull, providing up to 60 MW of propulsive power for breaking ice of up to 2.8 m thick. Waste heat from the reactors can be used for central heating and for defrosting the icebreaker’s vital systems.

“The Ural together with its sisters are central to our strategic project of opening the NSR to all-year activity,” Alexey Likhachev, chief executive of the Russian state-run nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, said during the launch ceremony.

At a conference in 2018, Atomflot Director-General Vyacheslav Ruksha said that nine more icebreakers would be required on top of those already under construction by 2025 if year-round demand in the NSR were to be met, noting that the existing fleet, many built under the Soviet Union, would not be viable by 2035.

Ruksha added that if Asia-bound traffic were to increase to more than 50 million tonnes per year, three 120 MW icebreakers – substantially more powerful than Ural and Arktika – would be required.

Meanwhile, during China’s second Belt & Road Forum in Beijing that was held in May, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that the NSR will be linked with the ‘Road’ component of China’s initiative, which would cut China-Europe shipping times by two weeks.

“We pay great attention to the development of the NSR,” said Putin. “We’re considering the possibility of uniting it with the Chinese Sea Silk Road, thereby creating a global and competitive route connecting northeastern, eastern, and southeastern Asia with Europe.”