Russia's state-owned nuclear company Rosatom began building the country's first floating nuclear power station (FNPS) this week, according to the Moscow Times, opening a new chapter on the country's outstanding record of nuclear innovation and safety.
There won't be much to distinguish an FNPS from a regular ship, to an untrained observer. The first will be 472 feet long and 98 wide, weighing in at 21,500 tons. The two reactors inside can produce 35 megawatts each, although it's likely that their output would go partially toward electricity and partially toward heat, the latter of which is generally more efficient.
Although ostensibly built to serve far northern towns like Vilyuchinsk, which lies off the Bering Sea near Alaska, the real purpose of the new design, which will potentially end up in dozens of plants, is to help Russia extend its reach into the Artic if and when it begins to drill there for oil and gas. The only kink in that plan is that the Artic is far from a settled issue, politically.
Energy prices will likely dictate how long it is that Russia, as well as other countries including the United States and Canada, delays oil and gas exploration in the region. Serious entry into the Artic will come only after the half-dozen countries with a claim have fought it out amongst themselves -- potentially dueling it out with another sort of nuke, a scenario the Daily Mail lays out in length.
But at least the West won't be technologically behind. Small nuclear reactors are being researched by several small and large companies, including Toshiba and a Colorado startup called Hyperion, which now has plans to build thousands of 70 megawatt reactors. Sure, they're intended to go underground, but how hard would it be to mount one on a ship? Just don't ask what happens if it sinks.