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Rosatomflot icebreaker fleet may pave way for greater Arctic energy trade

Rosatomflot icebreaker fleet may pave way for greater Arctic energy trade
Vyacheslav Ruksha, ceo of Rosatomflot (a company of ROSATOM Corporation), explains how Europe-Asia energy shipping via Northern Sea Route is expected grow significantly as the next-generation nuclear-powered ice breakers clear the way for higher trade volumes.

The Northern Sea Route (NSR) has a great potential for boosting the world trade and global energy supply. With continued growth of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade worldwide, NSR is a becoming a promising alternative highway to connect European and Asia energy markets.

In 2013, a total of 3.93 million tons (mtn) of cargo were transported via NSR. This is triple the amount compared with the 1998 traffic of 1.46 mtn. Despite this being unlikely comparison to the transit volume of 928 mtn through the Suez Canal, NSR has considerable advantages, which contribute greatly to supplying energy to Asia, including Asean countries.

The cargo transportation from the Northern Europe (e.g. from Norway) to Japan via Northern Sea Route is almost two times faster than via the conventional southern route. If NSR is compared with Suez Canal route, NSR has a sea distance of 6,100 nm compared to Suez’ 12,100 nm. At optimal speeds, the travel time taken is 21 days in contrast to 39 days via the Suez.

Estimated Economic Efficiency for LNG tanker voyage via the Northern Sea Route


Hammerfest -Tobata





12,100 m

6,100 m


Time (maximum speed)*

26 days

17 days


Time (optimal speed)**

39 days

21 days


Fuel Consumption

Cost Efficiency***

Maximum Speed*


Optimal Speed****



                                                  SOURCE: Gazprom Marketing & Trading

* For the purpose of evaluation, the average speed of 19.5 knots was used, except for the voyage via NSR (2,450 m), where the average speed was 12 knots.

** For the purpose of evaluation, the average speed of 19.5 knots was used, except for the voyage via NSR (2,450 m), where the average speed was 12 knots used.

*** Estimated economic efficiency for the transit via NSR compared to the transit via Suez Canal.

**** For the purpose of Suez Canal transit evaluation maximum speed of 19.5 knots was used. For the purpose of NSR transit the optimal speed of 13 knots was used.

The vast distance between hydrocarbon northern extraction sites in Russia and Norway and large Asia seaports, as well as impracticality of navigating through the Arctic seas have long been stumbling blocks vis-a-vis fossil energy producers from the Persian Gulf countries.

All this is about to change with the development of a new generation nuclear ice breaking fleet. Currently, Russia is the only country in the world to possess such vessels.

Atomic icebreaker fleet to ensure safe NSR transit

At present, the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet, operated by Rosatomflot (a company of ROSATOM Corporation) consists: Two nuclear-powered icebreakers with a two-reactor propulsion engines of 75,000 horsepower capacity ("Yamal", "50 Years of Victory"), and two icebreakers ("Taimyr" and "Vaigach") - with a single reactor propulsion engine of 40,000 horsepower capacity, as well the atomic lighter-container ("Northern Sea Route") with the reactor plant of similar capacity.

In 2010, it was first established that large vessels can transport hydrocarbons directly to Asia-Pacific markets via the NSR. For a starter, a tanker with a displacement tonnage of 100,000 tons transported 70,000 tons of gas condensate from Murmansk to the port of Ningbo in China and was piloted by Rosatomflot’s nuclear-powered icebreakers.

This tanker reached the Chinese port in 22 days, compared with what would have taken 44 days to do the same transportation via the Suez Canal.

In 2012, another large tanker transported liquefied natural gas via the NSR for the first time. This time, it was piloted by the “50 Let Pobedy”, “Vaygach” and “Rossiya” nuclear-powered icebreakers. The vessel left the Norwegian port of Hammerfest and arrived at the Japanese port of Tobata.

Rosatomflot has provided good data evidence of the efficiency and safety of piloting large vessels carrying hydrocarbon products along the NSR.

The arrival of the next-generation nuclear-powered ice breakers is expected to set new benchmarks for the transportation of oil and LNG across the NSR. The new ice breakers will deliver on the key benefits of shorter travel routes, lower cost, and time-saving between the Asian and European markets.

The impending delivery of these technologically-advanced vessels will significantly propel the growth in Arctic sea trade. Based on Rosatomflot’s forecasts, there will be a quantitative and qualitative leap in the transportation traffic of hydrocarbon products across the Arctic between 2020 and 2022.

By then, about 30 mtns of hydrocarbons are expected to be transported a year, driven largely by the commissioning of a liquefaction plant in the Sabetta port in the Northern Arctic. At the same time, Rosatomflot will have an LNG carrier departing once every 40 hours and this will be made possible with the company’s next-generation nuclear icebreakers paving the way.

Through the use of the Rosatomflot ice breakers, transportation vessels will create faster access to ports like Samcheok, Incheon and Pyeongtaek in South Korea, and Behai and Ningbo in China. The current alternative to transport energy through the Suez Canal can take longer - as many as 20 days.  

The jump in the Arctic sea trade of energy products is a far cry from the four million tons that is likely to be registered by end 2015.

Arctic Projects with Rosatomflot’s Participation

Unit No:

Project & Port

Projected Capacity per year

Life Span


Yamal LNG, port Sabetta

17.6 mln tons LNG

2018 – 2040


Novoport Oil Deposit of Gazprom Neft, Noviy Port

8.5 mln tons crude oil

2015 – 2030


Norilsk Nickel, Dudinka

1.3 mln tons nonferrous & precious metals



Payaha Oil Deposit, JSC Independent Oil and Gaz Company

7.3 mln tons crude oil

2018 – 2030


Operations on Licensed Areas of Rosneft

Operations of shelf deposits survey

Till 2023

SOURCE: Rosatomflot

New ice-breakers are underway

Currently, two new nuclear-powered icebreakers are being built in Russia at the Baltic Shipyard. On November 5, 2013, the lead nuclear-powered icebreaker, Arktika, was laid down. It will be equipped with a new generation nuclear reactor, RITM-200, and will become the largest and the most powerful icebreaker in the world.

It will be 173.3 m long and 34 m wide; the designed draft will amount to 10.5 m, and the minimum operating draft will amount to 8.55 m. The displacement tonnage will total 33.54 thousand tons. Under the contract, the construction of the lead icebreaker has to be completed in December 2017.

In May 2015, foundations were laid for the second vessel Sibir, also in the LK-60 class, which will become the world’s biggest and most powerful ice breaker. Similar in specifications to the Arktika, the Murmansk-based ice breaker will travel at a speed of 1.5-2 knots when crushing through three meter-thick ice.

Contributed by Vyacheslav Ruksha, CEO of Rosatomflot, ROSATOM Corporation.