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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiriyenko: Floating Nuclear Plant 'Absolutely Safe'

ReutersThe Akademik Lomonosov, a floating nuclear power plant, in St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — Russia has taken a big step toward the controversial creation of the world's first floating nuclear power station, putting a barge that will house the plant into the water.

Environmentalists say Russia's plan to dot its northern coastline with floating nuclear power plants is risky.

Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko said Wednesday that the plant would be "absolutely safe" and predicted "big interest from foreign customers."

The vessel housing the plant, which Kiriyenko said should be ready to operate in late 2012, was launched at the Baltiisky shipyard in Russia's Imperial-era capital on the Baltic Sea.

Kiriyenko said nuclear fuel for the plant would be loaded later in the Murmansk region, further north, and the station towed to its place of operation. It would be hauled away after 32 years of service, he said, leaving the surrounding area "the same as before the station arrives."

Environmentalists are not convinced.

"The danger begins when the reactor is installed and nuclear fuel put there," said Vladimir Chuprov, Greenpeace Russia's energy projects chief.

"If something goes wrong … it could mean the nuclearization of several dozen hectares of land at a minimum and tens of thousands of people evacuated from the polluted area," he said.

Critics also warily recall Soviet-era nuclear accidents and Russia's naval disasters such as the loss of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk, which sank in the Barents Sea after explosions on board, killing all 118 crew members.

Kiriyenko said the floating plant, called the Academician Lomonosov, would have the capacity to produce 80 megawatts of electricity. He said at least six potential sites for such plants have been chosen in northern Russia.