The floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov on the way to Pevek, Russia. Image source: Rosatom

Four years ago, the world's first floating nuclear power unit – Akademik Lomonosov – docked in the port of Pevek, the northernmost city of Russia, located in Chukotka. This concept of a Floating Power Unit (FPU) offers a promising solution to the African continent, writes Ryan Collyer, CEO, Rosatom Central and Southern Africa.

Africa – with its vast and diverse landscapes – faces unique energy challenges, particularly in remote and coastal areas where access to the unified power grid is often non-existent. The need for sustainable, reliable and clean energy solutions is more pressing than ever as
Africa continues to strive for economic growth and improved living standards for its
rapidly growing population.

In this context, the concept of Floating Power Units (FPUs), exemplified by the success of Akademik Lomonosov, the world's first floating nuclear power unit, offers a promising solution.

Akademik Lomonosov FPU is a 144-metrelong and 30-metre-wide vessel with a
displacement of 21.5 thousand tons.

The vessel is equipped with two KLT-40S reactors of 70MW power capacity.
Currently, the power unit provides electricity to more than 50% of consumers in the
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. It provides power supply to the gold ore and mining
enterprises and geological companies, seaport and civil infrastructure facilities.

After the commissioning of Akademik Lomonosov FPU in 2020, interest in floating
nuclear power plants of Russian design increased significantly. Therefore, the
Akademik Lomonosov FPU has become the 'ancestor' of a whole family of floating
power units.

The closest development of the floating power units is the project for the energy supply to Baimskaya ore zone in Russia.

Four FPUs, based on the RITM-200 reactor, are under construction and are designed to supply power to a low-carbon copper mining field.

These reactors are designed to generate and supply electricity to remote territories,
offshore platforms, production facilities, islands and archipelagos. A floating power unit is, in fact, a low-power floating plant that can be towed to a coastal city that may or may not be connected to the national power grid of the country and used wherever there is a need for a medium power energy source.

The FPU is a non-self-propelled vessel and can be quickly delivered to the site of operation by sea. For FPU operation specialised onshore and offshore structures are required to ensure the FPU mooring and transmission of electricity to end customers. However, this infrastructure is a nominal capital expenditure.

Safety is a paramount concern in nuclear energy, and the design of modern FPUs addresses this through advanced safety features and operational models. The RITM-200 reactor, for example, incorporates deep-layered protection with passive and active safety systems, ensuring the stability and safety of nuclear power generation. The operational model of FPUs, which includes the cyclic replacement during repair and fuel re loading, guarantees continuous energy supply without compromising safety standards.

Safety, refueling and environmental considerations

Compared with the land-based stations of a similar purpose, floating power units have shorter commissioning and power delivery time due to applied technical solutions. At the same time, nuclear floating power generation is a 'green' energy as compared to mobile versions of LNG or diesel-based power generation. Power generation by FPUs contribute to a significant decrease in CO2 emissions and protection of unique local environment.

The safety concept of the RITM-200 reactor is based on the principle of deep-layered protection in combination with its inherent safety characteristics using passive and active systems. In the RITM-200 reactor the passive and active safety systems are effectively combined to ensure normal operation and stability. This solution is based on the experience of operating nuclear icebreakers including those with the RITM-200 reactor.

Unlike land-based nuclear power plants, the FPU is operated based on the 'green
lawn' principle with the absence of any nuclear fuel handling operations at the
FPU operation site. All operations with fuel – both fresh and spent – are performed
at a specialised enterprise in Russia only. The FPU operation model is n+1 (meaning
cyclic replacement of FPU during repair and fuel overload), which ensures continuity of
energy supply to the customer.

In contrast to other generation sources used in the world, FPUs are very advantageous: they are not only environmentally friendly, but also ensure a highly predictable cost of electricity for years without reference to hydrocarbon prices. The technology can also be
used with a process module separately installed on land or offshore such as for water desalination or production of LNG, hydrogen, gas and chemicals.

Message from Vladimir Aptekarev, Deputy General Director for Shipbuilding, Floating Power Units and Marine Engineering at Mechanical Engineering Division of the State Atomic Energy Corporation, Rosatom.

As a result of technical and economic surveys, scientific research as well as large-scale marketing research of foreign markets, Rosatom managed to achieve an extremely cost-effective (and a t the same time the most convenient for the customer opera ting mode) supply of electricity from FPU based on the PPA contracts for sale of electricity with a highly predictable cost for the period of up to 60 years — depending on the customer' s expectations and capabilities, irrespective of cost of and dependence on hydrocarbons.

The only variable component is the inflation factor that the tariff will be indexed
for and its calculation parameters that the parties will agree upon. Supply of
electricity will be uninterrupted for the entire contract duration, which is up to
60 years that constitutes the maximum FPU design life.

This is ensured by the use of the world' s most modern small modular reactor
– the RITM-200M – optimisation of the fuel campaign or the fuel reloading
period, which is up to 7-10 years, as well as availability of backup FPU in the
operated energy fleet when the installed power unit is refueled and undergoes
scheduled maintenance at a specialised facility.

Market interest in floating power

FPUs – able to provide carbon-free energy – represent an innovative approach to meeting the energy needs of isolated areas across Africa. The continent's extensive coastline and numerous island communities, in particular, can benefit from such mobile energy sources.

These units can be quickly deployed to locations in need, bypassing the significant infrastructure and time investment required to construct traditional power plants. Also, FPUs like Akademik Lomonosov are equipped with reactors that ensure a steady
supply of electricity, essential for powering large investment mining projects, energy-intensive industrial facilities and local communities.

For African nations, adopting FPUs means not only gaining access to reliable and clean energy but also achieving energy sovereignty. This concept is vital for countries aiming
to secure their energy futures, reduce dependence on hydrocarbon imports and build resilient economies.

The predictability of electricity costs over long periods, offered by FPUs through PPAs, provide economic stability, shielding African economies from volatile global energy prices. The deployment of FPUs in Africa can spur industrialisation, create jobs and build
infrastructure — especially in regions rich in natural resources but lacking in energy infrastructure. The versatility of FPUs, capable of supporting various processes such as desalination, makes them an invaluable asset for the continent's development.

The need for Floating Power Units in Africa is driven by the continent's quest
for sustainable, reliable and economically viable energy solutions. This technology
not only embodies this vision but also provides a practical roadmap for Africa's
energy future which combines innovation, environmental stewardship and economic
growth. As Africa continues to grow and evolve, the adoption of FPUs could play a
pivotal role in powering its development sustainably and inclusively. ESI

ESI Africa © Copyright.