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Russian Micronuclear Stations: How It All Began

© Sputnik / Maksim Blinov / Go to the mediabankA Russian national flag and flags with the logo of Rosatom flutters at the construction site of a cooling tower at the Kursk II nuclear power plant near the village of Makarovka outside Kurchatov, Kursk region
A Russian national flag and flags with the logo of Rosatom flutters at the construction site of a cooling tower at the Kursk II nuclear power plant near the village of Makarovka outside Kurchatov, Kursk region - Sputnik India, 1920, 03.04.2024
The final decision is to be expected before July 1. That’s when we’ll know if Russia is going to produce in mass micronuclear stations, for export and own use. We are talking about the Russian media reports on the progress of a program called The New Atomic Energy.
What exactly is micro, when you talk about atomic power stations? It’s ten megawatts of electricity. Enough to power a town or an enterprise on the sea coast in a remote area, provided that your reactor stands on a ship in a harbor, with cables leading ashore.
Here I have to tell you, why I took interest in that tiny bit of news, not being an expert in energy supplies. Thing is, this project is kind of personal with me. First time I heard about it was in, probably, 1999 or 2000, and there are no traces in Internet about that meeting in Kuala Lumpur, called Russia-ASEAN Technology Fair.
Look again at the years mentioned. Russia was, mildly speaking, a struggling nation at the time, and technologies were part of that struggle for its very existence. Thing is, the USSR, dissolved in 1991, was a country with dozens of first-class laboratories, military and civil, producing plenty of great ideas. The last years of the USSR were, among other things, the reign of brilliant engineering minds, whose inventions are still powering some of our industries.
The problem was, nobody was giving them money for further research in the 1990-s, not to mention the use of their inventions in industries. The model of Russian economy of the era was to sell oil and buy the rest from the West. The orphaned technical geniuses were roaming around in search of anyone in the wide world who would apply their ideas anywhere. The Russia-ASEAN Committee has selected about two dozen of such ideas and brought them to Kuala Lumpur.
And that’s how I saw a picture of a micronuclear station for the first time.
The idea was ridiculously simple. Russia was scrapping plenty of nuclear submarines at the time, together with other components of Soviet might. The reactors in these submarines had a life span much longer than the hulls, and nobody really knew what to do with them. Shutting them down seemed to be a waste.

That’s when the mentioned engineering minds have devised the idea of stationing the former submarines at the remote coasts of Russia’s extreme North and North-East, powering the isolated and remote townships and enterprises there. That was way cheaper than laying long electric cables across Siberian wastelands, as it had been done for years.

And then the folks who knew Asia and ran the Russia-ASEAN Committee got exited: There is Indonesia out there, with its thousands of islands, separated by long stretches of water, not to mention the Philippines and the rest. We have great lots of potential buyers.
But buyers they were not, since Russia, at the time, could only sell great ideas without financing, state guarantees and the rest. Investments into such projects looked exorbitant. The audience sat, open-mouthed, and cautiously applauded at the end of the show. Was there pity or admiration in their eyes, I can’t remember by now.
Today, Russia with its technologies is not selling itself cheap, and that simple phrase may show the difference between two eras, the era of then and now.
By now, small nuclear stations are in vogue in the UK and the US, probably elsewhere. But Russia has a huge technological head start.
The State agency Rosatom website tells us about the first application of the idea since 2018, that is the world’s only floating co-generation nuclear power plant based on a floating power unit, the Akademik Lomonosov with two KLT-40 reactors. The plant is hosted by the city of Pevek in Chukotka Autonomous District at the extreme North. It’s easy to see that here we have the same idea as the one presented to ASEAN in the bygone era.
So, the problem of technological feasibility of small nuclear power stations is in the past. The essence of current discussions on that matter, in the government and expert circles, is the problem of how much.
One thing is to spend large money on a single unit. Another thing is to look at mass production of such stations, trying to see when the whole enterprise becomes profitable. Engineers are exciting people, the accountants are not, but they cannot do without each other.
The current discussion seems to come to a conclusion that the overall effect of the project may be positive. Says Alexei Anpilogov, a nuclear expert: Small nuclear stations will give a lot of logistical independence to the remote territories, since nuclear fuel is compact. So you have to calculate the overall effect for the region, not limiting yourself to the traditional way of seeing stations as isolated sellers of energy. Simply speaking, you have to change your ways of calculation. But in any case, if and when you operate not several, but many such stations, they become profitable for producers, too, regardless of your approach to that subject. The question is, how many is “many” in this or that area or country using that technology.
© / Md Maruf Hassan АЭС "Руппур" в Бангладеше
 АЭС Руппур в Бангладеше - Sputnik India, 1920, 03.04.2024
АЭС "Руппур" в Бангладеше
If we look at the prospects of new nuclear technologies in South Asia, the recent news came from Bangladesh. Mr. Alexei Likhachev, the head of Rosatom, has just told the Russia-24 news channel, that there’ll be more Russian-built nuclear power stations in that country after the one in Ruppur, 160 kilometers from Dhakka, will be launched in December. The general structure of Bangladesh’s electric generation will not be limited to one power station with two reactors, 1200 megawatt each. More Russian stations will surely be built, says he, adding, that there are certain agreements on that matter, to be discussed further.

You may expect that small, or even the micro reactors, may well be a part of these discussions.

Oh, and, to go back to the presentation in Malaysia, there was another scene I can’t forget. An elderly man went to the stage and produced a piece of carton and a sprinkler. The gadget looked simple. He raised the sprinkler high and doused the upper part of the carton with water. But the bottom part of the carton also got equally wet. Then he repeated it with another carton, hold vertically. Again, both sides of it came wet. The miraculous sprinkler was able to produce crooked streams, simultaneously watering both sides of, shall we say, leaves at a plantation. Anybody who was in agriculture was supposed to see the huge commercial value of that modest-looking device. But the audience, most probably, took it all for a magic show. And I have no idea what happened to that invention afterwards.
Dmitry Kosyrev is a Russian writer, author of spy novels and short stories. He also did columns for the Pioneer and
A view of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant at Ishwardi in Pabna, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Oct.4, 2023.  - Sputnik India, 1920, 02.04.2024
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