Russia possesses the world's only nuclear icebreaker fleet designed to meet maritime transportation objectives in the Arctic based on the application of advanced nuclear technology. Currently Rosatomflot (a Rosatom company) operates 2 nuclear icebreakers with twin-reactor nuclear power plants of 75 thousand h.f. design capacity (the ‘Yamal’, and the ‘50 Let Pobedy’), and two icebreakers with single-reactor nuclear facilities of approximately 50 thousand h.f. (the ‘Taymyr’, and the ‘Vaygach’). The nuclear icebreaker ‘Sovetskiy Soyus’ is in the operational reserve. In addition, the fleet includes the ice-breaking LASH carrier and container ship the ‘Sevmorput’ with a 40 thousand h.f. power plant, as well as 5 service ships.
‘Rosatomflot’s’ principle activities are as follows: icebreaking support to assist in the navigation of the ships through the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and to the frozen ports of the Russian Federation, support for high-latitude research expeditions (in particular, expeditions to the floating Polar station «North Pole»); and the performance of emergency-rescue operations in the NSR and frozen seas outside the Arctic region. In addition, the company performs maintenance and repairs for both their own fleet and for external ship-owners, and participates in activities around the environmental rehabilitation of Russia’s North-Western region, as well as conducting tourist cruises to the North Pole, as well as to the islands and archipelagoes of the Central Arctic.
‘Rosatomflot’s’ main activities are focused on ensuring safe and stable navigation, including transit navigation, through the NSR. The transportation of hydrocarbon and other products to the markets of Europe and Asia through the NSR’s shipping lanes could present a realistic alternative option to the existing shipping lanes between the countries of the Atlantic and Pacific basins, via the Suez and Panama canals. The Northern Sea Route is the shortest shipping lane between the markets of Europe and the Asian-Pacific regions via the Arctic. By navigating through the shipping lanes at high-latitudes the distance is one third shorter in comparison with the so-called standard route from Rotterdam – Yokohama via the Indian Ocean, and the duration of the route is reduced from 33 to 20 days. The fuel savings reach 800 tonnes for an «average» vessel.
It is mainly thanks to the icebreaking fleet that cargo transportation in the NSR has become more and more active. In 2015 some 4 mln. tonnes of cargo were transported via the NSR. Thus the volume of cargo transportation has increased 2,7 times when compared to 1998, when the volume of transportation was minimal (1,46 mln. tons). In connection with the further development of hydrocarbon projects in the Arctic it is anticipated that cargo transportation through the NSR will see stable growth in the future. It is estimated that this will grow to 8 mln. tonnes in 2016. It is for this reason that participation in Arctic gas and oil projects is becoming a priority for ‘Rosatomflot’. Within the confines of the implementation of these projects nuclear icebreakers provide a year round convoy to accompany ships to the ports, thus ensuring its stable development.
Soon the fleet will receive three powerful new generation double-draft LK-60Ya icebreakers built in accordance with the 22220 design. The flagship universal nuclear vessel is already under construction at the Baltic shipyard in St-Petersburg, and in May 2015 the keel was laid for the first serial icebreaker the ‘Sibir’ at the Open Joint Stock Company ‘The Baltic Shipbuilding Plant’ (Baltiyskiy Zavod - Sudostroyenie) berth. According to the contract, the ships should are due to be completed by 2017-2020.