As India scouts for Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology that can help make clean energy transition, Russia has developed a futuristic nuclear plant that is already operational in the country's Far East region.
The world's first floating nuclear power plant (FNPP) ‘Akademik Lomonosov’ began commercial operation in May 2020, and is producing energy from two 35 MW reactors, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
SMR is a fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear power reactor, making it possible for systems and components to be factory-assembled and transported as a unit to a location for installation, according to the IAEA.
Other SMRs are under construction or in the licensing stage in Argentina, Canada, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States, the nuclear energy watchdog said.
Russia operates two SMRs of 35 MW each in Pevek, a port town on the Arctic ocean, and the administrative center of Chaunsky District in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, some 5,500 kms from the capital city of Moscow. The town in the Russian Far East, where temperatures drop below minus 30 in peak winters, is known for its gold mining which requires electricity for its operations.
Commissioned in 2020, the nuclear plant is on a 144 meters long ship with a displacement capacity of 21,560 tonne. Russia claims that it is the only floating nuclear power plant in the world.
Andrey Zaslavskiy, Acting Deputy Director General JSC REA and Acting Director of the Floating Nuclear Power Plant affiliate, said the FNPP is completely safe and has transformed the lives of the region by supplying round-the-clock power supply and round-the-year heat supply.
"The reactors of the RITM series are designed in such a way that they can operate stably under high shock loads that accompany the operation of an icebreaker. These loads are much heavier than those caused by extremely severe earthquakes of magnitude 8 and more. The NPP is designed and constructed considering the seismic and other site conditions, which allows for safe and efficient operation of the plant for at least 60 years,” Zaslavskiy said.
Zaslavskiy, however, parried questions on the cost incurred to build SMRs.
A spokesperson for Rosatom’s South Asia team said the deployment of the world's first floating NPP in the Arctic region, which powers the city of Pevek in Russia, illustrates the advantages that SMRs bring in facilitating the global energy transition towards a sustainable future.
"Rosatom eagerly anticipates collaborating with the Indian government and its partners to harness the full potential of SMRs in the upcoming projects in the country.
"By joining forces, we can propel the adoption of advanced nuclear technologies, benefiting not only India but also contributing to global efforts in combating climate change and securing a brighter future for the world,” the spokesperson added.
India and Russia are collaborating to build six Light Water Reactors in Kudankulam, two of which are already operational.
According to a former senior official of the Department of Atomic Energy, India still does not have a formal policy on SMRs.
India currently has 22 operational nuclear power plants - two Light Water Reactors, two Boiling Water Reactors and 18 indigenously developed Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors.
Notably, Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh last month said that India is working on new technologies such as the small modular reactors that can be factory-built and help make clean energy transition.
The SMR, with up to 300 MW capacity, is flexible in design and requires a smaller footprint. Being mobile and agile technology, SMR can be factory-built unlike the conventional nuclear reactors that are built onsite.
A recent NITI Aayog report said, as many SMR designs were under various stages of research, development and licensing in different countries, global regulatory harmonisation, developing the manufacturing ecosystem and bringing in public as well as private capital would be the key for growth of the SMR industry.
On May 16, India's G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant called for an “unfettered access” to nuclear technology from the US to build small modular reactors (SMR) in the country.
Kant said the private sector needs to be allowed into the atomic energy sector to take advantage of the more efficient SMRs.
India also needs to work with the US so that it is provided unfettered access to cutting edge technology by granting general authorisation to India, Kant had said addressing a session at the energy transition working group of G20 meeting in Mumbai.
Addressing a G20 event on SMR in Mumbai, Alexandre Volgin, Director of Project, Rosatomservedas, said, “We are thrilled to share Rosatom's experience and knowledge on SMRs with India, who has been our trusted partner throughout the years. We firmly believe that our expertise and knowledge in the development, construction, and operation of small modular reactors will play a pivotal role in facilitating the global energy transition towards a sustainable future.”