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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

National Nuclear Science Week - Day 3

National Nuclear Science Week - Day 3

Nuclear Energy Generation

Today's topic is well introduced with NNSW's official daily post.

At Atomic Power Review, we're going to focus in on something that nuclear energy has been doing since 1959 - something that many people outside of a somewhat smallish part of the world are totally unaware of. I asked the other day if anyone could guess this topic, and showed the following picture:

Did you guess what this job is? Well, this photo is of the Russian nuclear powered icebreaker LENIN in the Barents Sea. That's right - the Russians (at that time, the Soviet Union or USSR) built and operated the very first nuclear powered icebreaker at the end of the 1950's (the ship was ready for trials in the fourth quarter of 1959) and after a long time with only the Lenin proceeded to construct a complete fleet of nuclear icebreakers and even one nuclear powered container ship!

Many great photos of the Lenin - now preserved as a museum ship - are available. Here are a few in the APR collection.

Above is an AP Wirephoto from September 15, 1959 showing the Lenin traveling down the Neva River in Leningrad on the way to sea trials. The ship had been completed at the Admiralty Shipyard in Leningrad.

Above, special 1978 Soviet post card depicting the Lenin - complete with postage stamp also depicting the Lenin.

According to The Atomic Energy Deskbook, the Lenin first performed actual icebreaking work on the North Sea Route during the 1960 shipping season. The Lenin is reported to have been capable of breaking solid ice up to 11 feet thick, by actual account. The ship could break less than this in continuous motion, and would break the thickest ice by backing away and ramming the ice until it split. Actually, "split" is not entirely accurate since the armor plated bow of the Lenin was designed to ride up over the ice and partially crush it while splitting - giving rise to a rhythmic bow up - bow down motion when breaking fairly thick ice at moderate speed.

The Lenin's stated displacement was 16,000 tons. The ship had three pressurized water reactors when built (it was modified later) and could develop 44,000 horsepower total with three screws (or, propellers.) This amount of power equated to a force at the bow of the Lenin against the ice of about 300 tons. The Lenin served for about a decade before it was decided due to operational and developmental problems to replace the reactor plant. The three original reactors were replaced with two newer models and the ship returned to service.

Below are links to some wonderful resources covering the Lenin. It should be remembered that the Lenin was intended to be both a working ship and a showpiece, and as a result the interior of much of the ship is decorated in the best Soviet late 1950's style. I strongly encourage everyone to visit at least the first link of this set!

English Russia - Tour of the icebreaker Lenin

RIA-NOVOSTI Lenin Slideshow

RIA-NOVOSTI Lenin infographic

As I mentioned earlier, the Lenin was the only nuclear icebreaker in the world for many years. While the Northern Routes did see a lot of shipping prior to the advent of nuclear icebreakers, and while there had been a number of famous conventional icebreakers prior, there was a time before industry and population really needed one hundred percent year-round shipping. As this became more desirable, the USSR made plans to build further nuclear icebreakers and plans for a fleet were made.

The first development in this history was the replacement of the Lenin's original nuclear plants with much more modern designs from 1967 through June 20, 1970. The operational service of the Lenin after this paved the way for the new Arktika in 1975, and the new Sibir in 1978. These ships differed from Lenin in the design of their propulsion plants in a number of ways and set the pattern for the following ships:

ROSSIYA (1985)
YAMAL (1992)
50 LET POBEDY (2006)

There are also two 'shallow draft' nuclear icebreakers that are of lesser capacity but which can break ice up into rivers:

TAIMYR (1988)
VAYGACH (1990)

And there is also one nuclear powered containership with icebreaking capacity itself, SEVMORPUT, built in 1988.

These ships are built for some of the most rugged conditions imaginable. They can ram and back out of ice fields to ensure the path is clear. The ships, if wedged in, have high speed ballast pumps and beam tanks that can actually rock the ship violently side to side to get it unstuck. The ships carry provisions for many months at sea without pulling in - the ARKTIKA set a record for such operations by staying out of port, in operation for 357 continuous days!

Of all these ships, Lenin, Arktika, and Sibir are out of service and retired. All of the rest are in service providing a highly reliable, continuous service supplying the needs of people and business - in a way that could only be done by nuclear energy, which allows the ships to remain at work continuously without needing to refuel or return to port. This is one job that nuclear power is excellent at; there are of course many others.

Finally for this section, a couple of the press photos from ROSATOM showing the nuclear powered icebreaking fleet.

Above - Russian ROSATOM nuclear icebreaker YAMAL.

Above - Russian ROSATOM nuclear icebreaker ROSSIYA under the aurora borealis.

Click here to get to ROSATOM's fascinating website - learn much more!

And, coming up shortly -- Atomic Power Review will present "Nuclear Icebreakers 101" - a technical but not too complicated look at how these ships really work. Look for this entry later today!

9:45 AM Eastern Wednesday January 25, 2012

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