Russian nuclear company Rosatom launched the 173 m long icebreaker Ural. The ship is equipped with two compact RITM-200 nuclear reactors. Together, the reactors are capable of generating up to 350 megawatts, allowing the ship to break through ice as thick as 3 m.

The reactor is seeing its first use on the Ural, as well as on sister vessels the Arktik and the Sibir. The technology is expected to be deployed in floating and landlocked nuclear power plants.

Balloons fill the air as the nuclear-powered icebreaker "Ural" is launched. Source: RosatomBalloons fill the air as the nuclear-powered icebreaker "Ural" is launched. Source: RosatomThe RITM-200 is an integrated pressurized water reactor being developed by Rosatom subsidiary OKBM Afrikantov. It would use up to 20% enriched uranium-235 and would be refueled every seven years for a 40-year planned lifespan.

The icebreaking vessels, designated part of Project 22220, include a dual-draught design. Ballast tanks inside the hull can be adjusted to alter the ship’s draught depending on whether it needs to navigate the Arctic Ocean or shallow river estuaries.

Northern Sea Route

The ships are expected to be central to Russian plans to open the Northern Sea Route to all-year activity. The Northern Sea Route could be a shorter route for journeys from East Asia to Europe than the Northwest Passage over Canada, because it could be free of ice sooner due to climate change. Experts say it could reduce the most commonly used East Asia-Europe route via the Suez Canal from 21,000 km to 12,800 km, cutting transit time by 10 to 15 days.

By 2024, Russia expects that more than 80 million metric tons of shipments will traverse the route. Rosatom plans to add two more Project 22220 ships to its nuclear icebreaker fleet by 2027. The contract for construction of these icebreakers is expected to be signed by the end of August.

In August 2018, Danish shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk sent a cargo vessel through the Russian Arctic for the first time as a result of reduced amounts of sea ice.

In August 1969, the SS Manhattan became the first commercial ship to cross the Northwest Passage, which lies between Canada and the North Pole. Registered in the United States at the time, the ship was the largest U.S. merchant vessel, as well as the biggest icebreaker.

The Russian government has given Rosatom the lead in developing the NSR infrastructure. Total funding for the northern route development project is 734.9 billion rubles ($11.3 billion) over six years. Up to a third of that is expected to be provided from the Russian government. The rest would be funded by investors, including Rosatom, Rosneft and Novatek and others.

Rosatom is based in Moscow and brings together more than 300 enterprises and organizations and some 250,000 employees.