Russia launches world’s largest nuclear-powered icebreaker to open up Arctic shipping routes

Rapid decline of sea ice also presents prospect of easier access to enormous oil and gas reserves

Harry Cockburn
Sunday 26 May 2019 14:32
Comments
The Ural is capable of breaking ice up to three metres thick, and is the world's largest icebreaker powered by two pressurised water reactors
The Ural is capable of breaking ice up to three metres thick, and is the world's largest icebreaker powered by two pressurised water reactors

Russia launched the world’s largest nuclear-powered icebreaker on Saturday as the country responds to the commercial opportunities presented by melting Arctic sea ice.

Amid warming winters and rapid loss of sea ice cover, Russia is preparing for more shipping via what it calls the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which is expected to soon become navigable year-round.

The ship, named the Ural, was floated out at a dockyard in St Petersburg and is one of a trio of new vessels which will be the largest and most powerful fleet of icebreakers in the world.

It will eventually be handed over to Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom in 2022, when the other two icebreakers – the Arktika and the Sibir – also enter service.

The Arktika was floated in 2016.

“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 China.

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

An Orthodox priest blesses the new Russian icebreaker ‘Project 22220’, ‘Ural’, the world’s largest universal nuclear-powered vessel

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

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

Levels of sea ice have consistently declined in the Arctic – the part of the world most rapidly warming.

The 5.04 million sq miles of ice in the Arctic was 525,000 sq miles below the 1981-to-2010 ice cover average, making January 2019 the lowest on record, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC).

In 2018, Russia sent the first ship through the Northern Sea Route without an icebreaker in winter. Mr Putin called this a “big event in the opening up of the Arctic”.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in