Gravity pole

Gravity pole

Mikhail Ustinov

One of the series of events celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Nuclear-powered Icebreaker Fleet was a round table hosted by USC’s President Alexei Rakhmanov aboard the Krasin icebreaker. The participants discussed the role of shipbuilding and navigation in exploration of the Northern Sea Route and development of the Arctic territories

The wardroom of the icebreaker Krasin moored at Vasilyevsky Island gathered prominent shipbuilders, scientists and officials – those who call the shots in development of Russia’s North and pave the way for its exploration. Present were USC’s President Alexei Rakhmanov, Deputy Minister of Transport Yury Tsvetkov, Rosatom’s Deputy Director General Vyacheslav Ruksha, Head of the Kurchatov Institute Alexander Blagov, Alexander Makarov running the Arctic and Antarctic Institute, as well as numerous heads of shipyards, parented by the Corp., and directors of museums and experts engaged in the sector. They met to make sure they remained on the same page for it is their decisions and fine-tuned actions that shape the success of the Arctic development.

It is not fortuitous that they met aboard Krasin. It is this class of icebreakers that paved the way for exploration of Russia’s North. In the early 20th century, this ship (christened Svyatogor at the time) constructed at Armstrong Whitworth in Newcastle, GB, seemed the pinnacle in engineering. However, today Krasin of colossal size looks like a toy compared to the giants of the new family of Russian general-purpose icebreakers, Project 22220.

There is no way to overestimate the importance of the exploration of the Northern Sea Route. Its cargo traffic is to jump to 80 mln. tones in 2024 and continue rising to 100 mln. tones through 2035, provided everything stays on track. However, even today’s indicator has hit an all-time high by all means. According to Mustafa Kashka, heading Atomflot, this year’s cargo traffic reached almost 30 mln. tones, a fivefold jump from the USSR’s level. Yet there is much to do to build up the fleet capacity further.

“All in all, besides the icebreakers we will need 200-plus ice-capable ships to carry cargo from the Arctic. These include bulk freighters and super-tankers for handling LNG and oil,” says Deputy Minister of Transport Yury Tsvetkov.

The construction of the Project 22220 icebreakers is aimed at providing uninterrupted 24/7 operation of Gazprom Neft’s oil terminal Arctic Gates, Sabetta in the interest of the Yamal LNG project, as well as another large terminal looming on the horizon, Arctic LNG-2. “These two projects will propel Russia to the level of 6-8 percent of the world LNG production volume. But the fleet is of the essence. We need to have another five nuclear icebreakers by 2025,” notes Vyacheslav Ruksha, the Director of the Norther Sea Route. According to the official, by the mid-2030s, major cargo ways on the route will have turned east, granting Russia for the first time ever in its history a unimpeded access to markets in the Pacific, with USC playing a major hand in making it possible.

The approach to the North exploration, now more systemic and focused on the future, has changed as well. All participants of the round table echoed the idea that it was essential to plan 15-20 years ahead. Needed are hydrographic surveys and routing for navigation of large ships, as well as emergency response and safety protocols, communications arrangements and development of the regional energy sector.

Apart from the construction of icebreakers, an area where the Russian shipbuilders are the recognized world leaders, USC’s specialists are engaged in development of robotic underwater platforms. Work is apace at the Sredne-Nevskiy Shipyard to build the automated research vessel Pioner-M, while spring 2019 witnessed the laying down at Admiralty Shipyards of the Severny Polus, a floating laboratory for conducting a great diversity of researches, self-sustained in ice conditions and boasting a mind-boggling endurance for a conventional craft of two years.

The year 2019 was declared the Year of Science at USC. And it very much resonates with the occasion. Half a century all major scientific endeavors were channeled away from Earth. The solar system became better known to humans than the world ocean. Only think that people reached the Northern pole aboard the Arktika icebreaker only in 1977, 16 years after the first space flight. The challenge of overcoming gravity turned out to be an easier thing to do than to plough the way through the ice field of northern seas.

However, the exploration of the North was a bigger factor, encouraging technological development. It shows in the development of the first nuclear-powered icebreaker. The project resulted in enormous scientific groundwork: conducted were numerous studies of materials, nuclear interactions and chemical aspects of reactors, methods for calculation of physical fields were developed and biological protection issues were solved. These once put the Russian shipbuilders ahead of its counterparts in the world and still bear fruits. Today, as 60 years ago, Russia faces global challenges, requiring a joint and united response. The time has come for another united endeavor.

The USSR attributed much significance to the exploration of the world ocean. Many of the Soviet discoveries are still relevant on the global scale. This said, the Arctic exploration calls for more knowledge. The year 2019 saw the first in two-plus decades large-scale high-latitude Arctic expedition encompassing all seas of the Arctic ocean, namely Transarctic 2019. Scientists are going the whole nine yards, studying the bottom, the composition of ice, ocean and atmosphere.

In 2021, the UN is to kick off the implementation of its program Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Museums’ contribution to the ocean exploration is not least important for they bringing up the interest in seas and shipbuilding and are engaged in serious researches. Svetlana Sivkova, running the Kaliningrad-based Museum of the World Ocean, approached USC to secure assistance in preserving museum ships and their hulls. In her address the curator suggested that a number of historical ships, including Lenin, Vityaz and Krasin, be granted the status of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, as well as put forward the initiative of naming one of the icebreakers in construction Svyatogor. It is not fortuitous, since it is the would-be namesake, later renamed into Krasin, that led the way in the active exploration of the Northern Sea Route.

Many young people lament that they were born into the wrong period: too early for flights to other planets and too late for exploration of Earth. But they are wrong, for it is here in Russia’s North a new front has been established for future researches and explorations. Ignored in the 20th century, it has to be taken care of in the 21st. USC believes that thorough researches, ecosystem preservation and thoughtful utilization of the world ocean resources are essential ways for future development of the whole humanity.