Nuclear icebreakers clear path for gas shipment

17 August 2010

Two Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers will escort a tanker transporting gas condensate from Russia to China via the Arctic rather than through the Suez Canal. The trial run is aimed at slashing the time it takes to ship oil and gas to countries in the Asia-Pacific region.


Sovcomflot's Baltika tanker ship, with a deadweight of over 100,000 tonnes, left Russia's north-western port of Murmansk on 14 August. It will be joined later by Atomflot's Russia and 50 Years of Victory nuclear-powered icebreakers. The ships will travel some 7000 miles to reach China, compared with the 12,000 miles that it takes to travel via the traditional Suez Canal route. The icebreakers will clear a way through the ice of the Northern Sea Route, which accounts for some 3000 miles of the journey.



Icebreaker 'Russia' (Atomflot)
The nuclear-powered icebreaker Russia (Image: Atomflot)



Shipments from the European part of Russia to the Far East via the Northern Sea Route have not occurred for many years. However, the latest shipment is the first of its kind using such a high-tonnage tanker via that route. The main purpose of the trial journey, Sovcomflot said, was to determine the possibilities of delivering oil and gas safely and economically to Asia on a regular basis via the Northern Sea Route.


During the voyage, statistical data will be collected to lay the basis for planning similar shipments in 2011 and to further research needed to plot new deep-water shipping routes in the Arctic.


The vessels are expected to clear the icy waters of the Northern Sea Route between 26-29 August. The Baltika will then continue alone to an undisclosed Chinese port, where it is scheduled to arrive during the first half of September.


Novatek, which owns the 70,000-tonne cargo of gas condensate on the Baltika, said the success of the shipment "is strategically important and will have a beneficial impact on the Northern regions of the Russian Federation by facilitating the development of new hydrocarbon fields located in the Yamal peninsula and Arctic shelf."


Evgeny Ambrosov, first deputy CEO of Sovcomflot, said: "We decided to try the new supply because Southeast Asia is a prime market for oil and gas." Speaking to Bloomberg, he admitted, "Even with the accompanying icebreakers, the passage will break even. It’s true that it won't give especially material returns."


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News