Nuclear breaks ice on Arctic gas shipments

07 December 2012

Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers have enabled the first ever LNG delivery via the Northern Sea Route from Norway to Japan, where it will go towards replacing generation lost from shut down nuclear reactors.

The Ob River carrier took Gazprom fuel from Hammerfest in Norway to the Japanese port of Tobata, taking nine days to travel the Northern Sea Route portion of the trip. Gazprom said there was little ice on the first half of the journey, but the second half saw fresh ice up to 30 centimetres thick. This was tackled by three icebreakers powered by small pressurized water reactors: the Vaygach, Rossiya, and 50 Let Pobedy. 

LNG shipment, November 2012 (Gazprom) 460x306
The view from the Ob River (Image: Gazprom)

When travelling by sea from northern Europe to northeast Asia, the Northern Sea Route can offer time savings of 40% compared to other routes such as the Suez Canal or Panama Canal. It also offers lower carbon emissions and less evaporation of LNG cargo en route. The Ob River features four LNG tanks with total capacity of about 150 thousand cubic meters of LNG, weighing over 66 thousand tonnes.

Both the shipment mode and the cargo symbolise the stark differences in energy situation between Russia and Japan. Although both have faced the effects of major nuclear accidents Russia remains committed to the technology and employs it widely, even enacting specific policies to use nuclear instead of gas at home to free up more gas for export. Japan by contrast is currently considering a move to abandon nuclear power and in the meantime has dramatically increased fossil fuel imports.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News