A controversial floating nuclear power plant made by Russia has headed out for its first sea voyage.
The floating plant, the Akademik Lomonosov, was towed out of the St Petersburg shipyard where it was constructed on Saturday.
It is to be pulled through the Baltic Sea and around the Norwegian coast to Murmansk, a city of 300,000 people, where its reactors are to be loaded with nuclear fuel.
The Lomonosov is to be put into service in 2019 in the Arctic off the coast of Chukotka in the far northeast, providing power for a port town and for oil rigs.
Rosatom, the state-owned atomic energy corporation, is the owner of the nuclear power plant.
The website of OKBM Afrikantov, the power equipment company responsible for the design of the reactors and other elements, lists the project as a “pilot design”.
The vessel will have at least two nuclear reactors, according to World Nuclear News, of a type that are similar to those used on Russian nuclear-powered ice breakers.
Unlike a normal ship, however, the Lomonosov is unable to move itself and relies on tugs.
Several more floating plants are likely to be constructed if the Lomonosov is successful.
The plant will mean an estimated 45,000 tons of fuel or diesel oil does not have to be used, according to OKBM Afrikantov’s site.
Floating plants are adapted to operate in hard-to-reach areas next to sea shores or the banks of large rivers far from centralised power supplies, the company says.
As they are built to be situated on coasts, those behind the project say the floating plants are made to withstand tsunamis, tornadoes and other environmental impacts, as well as possible collisions with ships.
The barge that would go on to house the plant was launched in June 2010.
The project has been widely criticised by environmentalists. Greenpeace has dubbed it a “floating Chernobyl” and the “nuclear Titanic”.
“Nuclear reactors bobbing around the Arctic Ocean will pose a shockingly obvious threat to a fragile environment which is already under enormous pressure from climate change,” said Jan Haverkamp, nuclear expert for Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe.