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Russia Launches New Nuclear Icebreaker

May 26, 2019

By Paul Homewood

The Russians are busy building nuclear powered icebreakers, for when the sea ice has all melted:




ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) – Russia launched a nuclear-powered icebreaker on Saturday, part of an ambitious programme to renew and expand its fleet of the vessels in order to improve its ability to tap the Arctic’s commercial potential.

The ship, dubbed the Ural and which was floated out from a dockyard in St Petersburg, is one of a trio that when completed will be the largest and most powerful icebreakers in the world.

Russia is building new infrastructure and overhauling its ports as, amid warmer climate cycles, it readies for more traffic via what it calls the Northern Sea Route (NSR) which it envisages being navigable year-round.

The Ural is due to be handed over to Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom in 2022 after the two other icebreakers in the same series, Arktika (Arctic) and Sibir (Siberia), enter service.

"The Ural together with its sisters are central to our strategic project of opening the NSR to all-year activity," Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom’s chief executive, was quoted saying.

President Vladimir Putin said in April Russia was stepping up construction of icebreakers with the aim of significantly boosting freight traffic along its Arctic coast.

The drive is part of a push to strengthen Moscow’s hand in the High North as it vies for dominance with traditional rivals Canada, the United States and Norway, as well as newcomer China.

By 2035, Putin said Russia’s Arctic fleet would operate at least 13 heavy-duty icebreakers, nine of which would be powered by nuclear reactors.

The Arctic holds oil and gas reserves equivalent to 412 billion barrels of oil, about 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates.

Moscow hopes the route which runs from Murmansk to the Bering Strait near Alaska could take off as it cuts sea transport times from Asia to Europe.

Designed to be crewed by 75 people, the Ural will be able to slice through ice up to around 3 metres thick.



Looking at all of the 2m+ sea ice along the Siberian coast, it looks like Russia will need every one of them!


  1. May 26, 2019 11:22 am

    Reblogged this on Climate- Science.

  2. May 26, 2019 11:43 am

    Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  3. David Parker permalink
    May 26, 2019 11:52 am

    I not sure if I am confused or just naïve but why do you need an icebreaker when all the ice has melted?

  4. Josh permalink
    May 26, 2019 12:48 pm

    Don’t tell Greta!

    • matthew dalby permalink
      May 27, 2019 2:40 pm

      Maybe she would be glad that the Russians are using nuclear powered icebreakers instead of fossil fuel powered ones.
      Silly me, if you’re influenced by the green blob then low carbon nuclear is as bad as high carbon fossil fuels.

  5. Gerry, England permalink
    May 26, 2019 2:02 pm

    ‘Russia is building new infrastructure and overhauling its ports as, amid warmer climate cycles, it readies for more traffic via what it calls the Northern Sea Route (NSR) which it envisages being navigable year-round.’

    Perhaps the word ‘navigable’ is not the same in Reuters dictionary as it is in mine. To me it means that you can sail that route. Using an icebreaker suggests that it is not navigable.

  6. j.b.fisher and s.d.penn permalink
    May 26, 2019 4:28 pm

    where do they get all the steel for their icebreakers ?

    • Shoki Kaneda permalink
      May 26, 2019 6:00 pm

      Russia has huge iron ore reserves and a mature steel industry. They also have large chromium reserves.

    • May 26, 2019 8:30 pm

      Magnetic Mountain of course, Magnitogorsk, an area with 50% + made of pure iron ore, built by Yosef Vissarionovic Dzugashvily – Stalin, the man of steel (stal = steel). Stalin considered it the socialist model for 20th century cities, which may not be much of recommendation 🙂
      Magnetic anomaly of the area is well known in the scientific circles. The area become famous after the famous russian scientist, geologist and engineer Dmitri Mendeleev the inventor of the Periodic Tables, re-discovered its properties at the end of 19th century, published details in a book and some years later presented a paper to the American science society.

  7. John F. Hultquist permalink
    May 26, 2019 4:47 pm

    ” . . . able to slice through ice up to around 3 metres thick.

    Watch what they do, not what they say.
    What they are doing suggests they do not expect an ice-free Arctic Ocean.
    They also intend to make better use of their northern resources than has been done in the past.
    Another story line is that Russia needs to counter a demographic problem – population decline.

  8. May 26, 2019 5:19 pm

    The Russians believe in the scientific evidence, not computer models.

  9. May 26, 2019 5:26 pm

    Last summer the NE passage was mostly clear, the NW passage was not, the data this year suggests that the NE passage will be closer to “normal”, and icebreakers will be in great demand to assist vessels sailing under the True Believer flag.

  10. Bob permalink
    May 27, 2019 6:53 am

    That will never leave port.

  11. Carol Harding permalink
    May 27, 2019 11:25 am

    This increase in sea ice at a time of global warming had me all confused, until I heard Michael Palin explain it on Marr yesterday. He had been on an expedition to try and find the remains of the Erebus, which got stuck in the Arctic ice and disappeared 170 years ago. Ironically, Palin’s ship….got stuck in the ice. Apparently because the Arctic is warming, ice had melted, and moved into Palin’s path. “It’s melted and it’s moved”. Which, Palin explains, is exactly what happened to Erebus, 170 years ago. No, sorry, I’m still confused.

    He explains it all from about 2.30 minutes in:

  12. neville kettle permalink
    May 27, 2019 12:43 pm

    As I understood the evolution of these gadgets they had the functionality of an Icebreaker and a crude transport ship. That way they were independent of Icebreaker support.

  13. Windsong permalink
    May 27, 2019 8:41 pm

    China just launched a polar capable medium icebreaker last year, and is in the process of preparing to construct a nuclear powered heavy icebreaker similar to the Arktika class featured in this article. Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard limps along with one 40+ year old heavy icebreaker, the USCGC Polar Star. It has just one mission these days, the annual resupply of the Antarctic research stations. The rest of the time it is in dry dock, or preparing for its next deployment. A contract was just awarded to begin construction on the first of class new US polar icebreakers (“Polar Security Cutter’) based on the German design for Polarstern II. Hopefully it will be laid down in 2021 and delivered in 2024. But, if the Russian experience is any guide, it will be five years from cutting the first steel to handing it over to the USCG.

    Years ago the US worried about the so-called satellite gap with Russia. Now, 99% of Americans are not even aware of a looming icebreaker gap. And I mean a literal gap in capability if the Polar Star goes out of service before a new PSC is ready. It is disgraceful the US, a country with a huge Arctic coastline and responsibilities in Antarctica, allowed itself to deteriorate into this situation.

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