The Akademik Lomonosov, which left the port of Murmansk and is destined for Pevek, is carrying highly radioactive fuel and two tsunami-proof nuclear reactors on board, according to the BBC. Three tugs are pulling the ship east so it can provide power to a remote, Siberian mining complex.
Its launch comes just two weeks after a nuclear missile explosion at a naval weapons testing range in northwestern Russia left five dead, including two people who reports say died from radiation sickness. Medics who treated victims from that blast separately told the BBC Friday they now fear that they have been irradiated themselves, as they were working with no protection and the military never warned them about any contamination risks.
Environmentalists have been sounding the alarm about the risks of a ship like the Akademik Lomonosov traveling through a part of the world known for harsh and unpredictable weather.
An article about the vessel posted on Greenpeace’s website says “the next nuclear catastrophe could well be a Chernobyl on ice or a Chernobyl on-the-rocks.”
Critics also are concerned about the ship polluting the Arctic and the capabilities of Russian authorities to clean up a disaster in the remote region should one occur.
The Akademik Lomonosov is operated by a 70-person crew and is able to provide enough energy to supply communities of around 100,000 residents, the news station added, citing Russian media. It’s expected to reach Pevek by late September.
"This is a momentous occasion for our company and for the Chukotka region,” Alexey Likhachev, the director general of the Russian state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom, said in a statement. “This amounts to a significant contribution to creating an Arctic future that is both sustainable and prosperous.”
Rosatom says during the launch ceremony Friday, the ship’s operator, which is one of its subsidiaries, was “awarded a Russian Book of Records certificate confirming Akademik Lomonosov’s status as the world's northernmost nuclear installation.”
It also said the ship, which it described as the “world’s only floating power unit,” is “especially suited to very remote areas and island states that require stable, green sources of energy.”