Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Floating Chernobyl?

The first reactor-on-a-barge will bring power to Russia’s electricity-starved Arctic

While the U.S. hems and haws over reviving nuclear energy as a less expensive alternative to oil, Russia has dug back 30 years in our nuclear history to find a solution for some of its own energy woes: the floating nuclear power plant.

The Russian nuclear-energy company Rosenergoatom is planning a mobile plant to deliver electricity to hard-to-reach northern territories near the White Sea, where harsh weather makes regular coal and oil fuel deliveries unreliable and expensive. The $200-million floating plant—slated for construction next year—could provide relatively inexpensive, reliable electricity to 200,000 people.

Although the concept of a water-borne nuke plant might sound outlandish, it isn’t new, nor did it originate in Russia. Westinghouse Electric Company considered the idea in the 1970s and built an immense dry-dock facility in Jacksonville, Florida, where plants would be launched and floated north along the Eastern Seaboard, con- veniently doling out power to towns in need.

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