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Russia to construct world’s largest nuclear icebreaker

Russia to construct world's largest nuclear icebreaker

The NS Vaygach, a Russian river-class icebreaker.

Russia oversees the world’s largest fleet of nuclear icebreakers, and it will soon add the largest one yet to its tally. Rosatom, which currently manages Russia’s fleet of new icebreakers through its subsidiary, Atomflot, has just signed a contract with the St.Petersburg-based shipbuilding company Baltisky Zavod to construct a 556-foot long behemoth – about 42 feet longer than the next biggest ship. It is so big that it does not fit in any existing docks, so a new one will need to be constructed.

The new icebreaker is budgeted to cost about $1.2 billion. Once it is ready in 2017, the ship will grant Russia extra capability to ensure safe shipping along the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which it is working strenuously to develop into a major transportation corridor. Although the ice is melting, each ship transiting through the NSR will still need to be escorted by an icebreaker in the short to medium term, so having an adequate number of icebreakers is crucial.

The Russian fleet currently stands at six nuclear icebreakers. Four of the icebreakers are powerful enough to break ice in the open ocean, while two are designed for ramming through the more shallow icy waters of frozen rivers. The new, seventh icebreaker will reportedly be able to cut through ice up to twelve feet thick. In addition, since it is a dual-draft ship, it will be able to operate in both the ocean and in rivers. The massive icebreaker will be able to navigate through the often ice-bound Ob and Yenisei Rivers, which spill out into the Arctic Ocean. Scientific American has the details on the specs behind the ship.

Russia is not stopping with the addition of one nuclear icebreaker. President Vladimir Putin has said that he wants Russia to have three new nuclear icebreakers by 2020. Canada surely envies these plans. Its new icebreaker, the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker, slated for delivery in 2017, will only be able to break through 7.5 feet of ice. It will be replacing the 42-year old CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, too, meaning that Canada will still only have one icebreaker – and not even a nuclear one at that. Granted, the Northwest Passage has much poorer prospects for turning into a global trade link due to its shallower, narrower passages and greater amount of ice. Therefore, since the most promising route in the Arctic hugs Russia’s coast, it is up to the Kremlin to meet the challenge of bringing it within world-class standards. The volume of cargo shipped along the NSR should hit a record high this year, besting last year’s total of 34 ships and 820,000 tons of cargo, so long as the shipping season endures as long as last year’s did (through November). So far, Russia is showing political and economic commitment to development of the Arctic unmatched by any other seafaring Arctic nation.

News Links

“Russia to build biggest nuclear-powered icebreaker,” BBC

“Russia’s Atomflot inks deal to build world’s largest nuclear icebreaker,” Bellona

“Russia as a world leader in nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet construction,” The Voice of Russia



Mia Bennett

Mia Bennett is pursuing a PhD in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She received her MPhil (with Distinction) in Polar Studies from the University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute, where she was a Gates Scholar.

Mia examines how climate change is reshaping the geopolitics of the Arctic through an investigation of scientific endeavors, transportation and trade networks, governance, and natural resource development. Her masters dissertation investigated the extent of an Asian-Arctic region, focusing on the activities of Korea, China, and Japan in the circumpolar north. Mia's work has appeared in ReNew Canada, Water Canada, FACTA, and Baltic Rim Economies, among other publications.

She speaks French, Swedish, and is learning Russian.

Follow her on Twitter @miageografia