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Atomic keys from the North sea route

Christina Ryaguzova
Output editor of the Baltiyets

On may 26 the Baltic Shipyard will be celebrating its 163rd anniversary. On this occasion, the Baltic shipbuilders seeked out a gift: launching their 3rd nuclear icebreaker, scheme 22220, the ”Urals”. For the “Urals” shipbuilders, the hand-over day will come faster than it did for their forerunner who had built the “Arctic” and the “Siberia” icebreakers. The difference is the process design enabling them to cut the icebreaker construction time

Three years ago, in the 160 jubilee year, the Baltic shipbuilders floated out the hull of the head nuclear-powered icebreaker, the “Arctic”, a year later – that of the first production icebreaker, the “Siberia”. At this very moment, on the outfitting pier, the shipbuilders are fitting them out, starting-up and commissioning them, preparing the nuclear fuel loading of the head universal nuclear icebreaker and preparing mooring tests on the second icebreaker. Distinctions between the three ship building approaches are well visible in the phase of shaping the hull on the stocks. Rationalizing from one icebreaker to another, the Baltic shipbuilders boost the launching weight of all ships under construction: the “Arctic” was floated out weighing ca. 14,000 t, and the “Siberia” weighing ca. 16.000 t. During the preparation to the “Urals” launch, the management of the shipyard directed to boost the ship’s weight to 19,000 t. This allowed loading the reactors RHYRHM-200 on the stocks without involving the crane vessel “Demag”. The shipbuilders had coped with the task; however, it turned out during the calculation that even upon the expansion of keel tracks the commonplace paraffin-vaseline mixture, the launching grease, could ill afford the required ship weight.

Neither did the compatibles made of organic components suit for it. In pursuit of an alternative, the Baltic shipbuilders have developed different testing of the launching grease in the lab and on the stocks. Lead designer Oksana Chupikova and project & launching works supervisor Valeria Ditkovskaya found the solution. During an on-the-spot visit to one of the USC shipyards, they discovered that the launching grease coated on the keel tracks of the shipyard, was tolerant to mild weather. Apropos: the words “launching grease” date back to the foretime, as ships were floated out by using green bacon. Further tests at the Baltic Shipyard showed its quality. When the “Siberia” icebreaker was floated out in 2017, the mixture showed greater thread slip and immunity to elevated temperatures. Thus, the asset of the Baltic shipbuilders not only broke the new ground to launch icebreakers in the summertime, but it also ensured the increase of ships’ launching weight without the need to refit the keel tracks.      

Loading reactors on the stocks

Today the launching weight of the “Urals” ready for the launch is close to 20,000 t. Whereas the “Arctic” icebreaker was launched being fitted out just with electric propulsion system components, on the “Siberia”, in its turn, the system was installed almost completely and the “Urals” will leave the stocks with reactor plants already loaded. As explained by the project manager 22220 Alexei Smirnov, the next two production icebreakers would be assembled not of structures/ sections weighing 70–80 t each, but of structures/ sections more saturated with marine systems, and they would be floated out with submerged steam-turbine plants. Such an approach allows easing the shipbuilders’ job, cutting the costs and time for construction to 5 to 6 years and therefore ending up with batch production to develop the Northern Sea Route.

Increasing the launching weight of the “Urals” icebreaker meant that the loading of the equipment for the first time should better take place amid the sloping pile. In the past, as icebreakers had been built at the Baltic Shipyard, loading of reactors had been carried out on the surface of the water by use of a crane boat.

Primarily shipbuilders of the rigging sector, design-engineering support, solved the problem. Specialists of special energetics section, machine shop and Chief Metrologist Department were responsible for design implementation in the operating mechanism. The rigging in use enabled them to install the reactor to the ship under construction with pinpoint accuracy. This included casters and guiding grooves that declined the reactor axis by 2.81°. The reactor’s journals moved through guiding grooves being an extension of jacks in the shielding metallic tank. This scheme has ensured that the reactor is positioned properly.

Flagship at the northern sea route

The construction of three nuclear icebreakers, scheme 22220, the beginning of the construction of 4th and 5th production icebreakers are, among others, part of the schedule chart for the implementation of the Federal Project “Northern Sea Route”. As President V. Putin said in his Address to the Federal Assembly, the Northern Sea Route would become a key to developing Russian Arctic and Far East regions”.  

The Arctic Region is essential to the economic endeavors of Russia. According to official statistics, ca. 20% of GNP and over 25% of the national export are provided here. In the Arctic Circle, the major raw material base is situated where over 80% gas, 25% crude oil, 60% copper, 95% Russian nickel and cobalt are located and produced.

The importance of the Northern Sea Route connecting European and Far Eastern ports is an obvious stuff. Its reclamation will enable us to considerably cut the GNC haulage cost, cut the gas delivery time to Asia by almost one hundred per cent. In accordance with the Project, by 2024 a year-round navigation must be organized at the Northern Sea Route with a transportation load of more than 80 m t /year. Nowadays, the global traffic flow between Asia and Europe leaves Russia out using the Suez Canal, whereas the Northern Sea Route is very nearly twice as short. Thus, the distance between Vladivostok and St. Petersburg via the Suez Canal makes 23,000 km, via the Northern Sea Route – 14,000 km, whereas 18,000 ships pass via the Suez Canal annually, via the Northern Sea Route – up to a maximum of 100.

Rationalizing from one icebreaker to another, the Baltic shipbuilders boost the launching weight of all ships under construction

Apart from reduction in expenses for fuel and reduction of the journey time, the haulage via the Northern Sea Route cuts labor costs and brings down the freight value. Another advantage is a no-queue state and non-payment for ship journey. Besides, the northern route is safer in terms of piracy.

Negative factors also have an impact on shipping in the North Polar Region: harsh weather conditions and terminable navigation season. The nuclear icebreakers solve exactly this problem, but their number is not sufficient as yet. Offshore from the Northern Sea Route, eight icebreakers are active today, just four nuclear ones among them (scheme 10521 “Yamal” and “50 years of Victory” as well as shallow-draught icebreakers, scheme 10580, the “Taymyr” and the “Vaigach”).

“The active nuclear icebreakers have next to reached the end of their service life and need changing, the project manager 22220 Alexei Smirnov says. – Now, amid brisk growth of natural gas extraction, liquefaction and deliveries, high-cube energy commodities are to be transported, particularly fuel gas. With this purpose, north polar tankers are built that need ice-routing services. The minimum requirement will be secured by three (under construction) and two future all-powerful nuclear-powered icebreakers, scheme 22220, which the Baltic Shipyard is supposed to hand over to Atomflot in 2020–2026. Besides, the Customer considers an option of building four gas-diesel icebreakers in their capacity as escort vessels able to operate in outflows of north polar rivers. Finally, the construction of three icebreakers “Leader” of 120-megawatt capacity would allow to launch a line of ice-routing services for gas carriers at a commercial rate of sailing of up to 12 knots per hour from Arctic center to the Far East. These are the major prospects in developing the Northern Sea Route”.

The universal nuclear icebreakers, scheme 22220, are being built “per class” of the Russian Registry of Shipping at the Baltic Shipyard by order of Rosatom State Corporation to become the biggest and the most powerful nuclear icebreakers worldwide.

The keel of the head nuclear icebreaker, scheme 22220, the “Arctic”, was laid down November 5, 2013 and it was floated out June 16, 2016. The keel of the first production nuclear icebreaker, the “Siberia”, was laid down May 26, 2015 and it was floated out September 22, 2017. The keel of the second production nuclear icebreaker, the “Urals”, was laid down July 25, 2016 and it is to be floated out this year.

“We make preparations for this as for a blessed event. Day after day, month after month, we gently raise this ship, and soon it will touch water for the first time ever. We find it solemn and also frightening to a certain extent. This is the instant when we pride ourselves on doing his”, Valeria Ditkovskaya is getting things out in the open.

Icebreakers of this scheme are fitted out with a front-side split plant, whereas the steam major source is the new breed reactor plant, RHYRHM-200, of 175 megawatt capacity specially designed for this type of a vessel by I.I. Afrikantov Experimental Mechanical Engineering Design Bureau”.

The team of the Iceberg Central Design Bureau developed the engineering design of the nuclear icebreaker. Its dual-draught structure will allow utilizing the ships both in arctic waters and in the outflows of polar rivers. The vessels will be operating in western Arctic: the Barents Sea, the Pechora Sea and the Kara Sea as well as in shallower water areas of the Yenisei outflow and off the Gulf of Ob.

Icebreaker [ Scheme 22220 ]

Capacity: 60 megawatt (shafting)

Rate of sailing: 22 knots (open water)

Length: 173.3 m (160 m design waterline)

Width: 34 m (33 m design waterline)

Height: 52 m

Draught: 10.5 m / 8.65 m

Maximum icebreaking capability: 2.8 m

Full displacement: 33,540 t

Rated effective life: 40 years

Atomic keys from the North sea route
Atomic keys from the North sea route
Atomic keys from the North sea route
Atomic keys from the North sea route
Atomic keys from the North sea route