Despite the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the recent explosion at a military testing site, Russia seems keen to tempt fate again. Today, it is set to launch the world’s first floating nuclear reactor on a journey across the Arctic to north-eastern Siberia. It is being portrayed as a simpler alternative to building a conventional plant on firm ground. Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom wants to sell such reactors abroad, says a report. Needless to say, the very concept has a dangerous ring to it. Is it a floating nuclear disaster waiting to happen?
The project has been dubbed “Chernobyl on ice" or “nuclear Titanic" by environmentalists, and quite rightly so. Nuclear reactors, as they stand, produce nuclear waste and there is always a likelihood of accidents. The fact that this one will be floating on water makes it susceptible to sea storms too. Since potentially hazardous spent fuel will be stored on board, turbulence would bear the risk of a nuclear spill that could irradiate the sea. This represents an environmental danger of a new kind, one that the world is ill-prepared to deal with.
Russia, it is suspected, lacks the wherewithal for a nuclear clean-up in case something untoward happens, and it’s not clear if other Arctic region countries would be in any position to help in such an event. However, perhaps the floating reactor deserves a chance before it’s judged. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that Russian scientists have taken proper stock of the risks involved, and are not blithely skating on thin ice.