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No future for nuclear-powered container ship

"Sevmorput" is today laid-up at the nuclear powered icebreaker base in Murmansk. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

The world’s only nuclear-powered container ship, the Murmansk-based “Sevmorput”, faces a future as scrap metal, two decades before its original service life expires.

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The vessel, which has been lying idle in the Atomflot base outside Murmansk for years, was on 31 July this year taken out of the Russian Ship Register. The unique ship will end up a scrap metal, experts in Murmansk confirm.

The “Sevmorput”, which in the 1990s experienced major problems in international shipping following port restrictions, was used mainly on the route between Murmansk and Dudinka, the main port on the Yenisey River. In a bid to get the ship back in active service, the Murmansk Shipping Company in 2007 proposed to rebuild it into an oil drilling vessel. That initiative, however, stranded as the federal nuclear power company Rosatom took over the responsibility of the icebreaker fleet in 2008.

In 2009, Atomflot General Director Vyacheslav Ruksha himself admitted that the “Sevmorput” has no work, and that the fate of the ship is sealed. “If the situation lasts into 2010, the ship will be turned into needles”, he told B-port.ru.

The vessel, built at the Zaliv yard in Kerch, Ukraine, was a unique contribution to the Soviet fleet of civilian nuclear vessels when entering service in 1988. Until then, the world had seen only three other nuclear powered civilian merchant ships, all of which ended up as failed experimental vessels. The 260 meter long and 61.000 ton deadweight “Sevmorput” was to show that the Soviet Union could extend its nuclear power capacities also into merchant shipping. The ship was built in a period of booming shipping in Soviet Arctic waters.

The “Sevmorput”, which also has powerful icebreaking capacities, for several years shipped in both international and Russian domestic waters. However, shipping along the Russian Northern Sea Route declined dramatically in the 1990s and the ship was soon blocked access to most international ports.