Leaking nuclear icebreaker escorted out of ice covered Kara Sea

Nils Bøhmer with the Bellona Foundation. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

UPDATED: “Taimyr” was Friday evening escorted by the the nuclear powered icebreaker “Rossia” into a bay on the Vaigach island. - Ongoing leakages of cooling water from the reactor can evolve into a serious accident with potential for radioactive leakages, says nuclear physicist Nils Bøhmer in Bellona.


The nuclear powered icebreaker was earlier this week escorting vessels on the Yenisei river north of the port-town of Dudinka when increased levels of radiation were detected in the air ventilation system of the reactor. The icebreaker aborted its mission and started Thursday to sail back towards the homeport in Murmansk on Russia’s Kola Peninsula.

This map shows the sailing route of “Taimyr” and “Rossia” into the bay on Vaigach island Friday evening. The image is provided by the Norwegian Coastal Administration.

On Friday the two icebreakers were heading southbound through the Kara Sea. Then, early Friday evening, “Taimyr” and “Rossia” suddenly turned east from the normal lane through the Kara port and entered a bay north on the Vaigach island between Novaya Zemlya and the Russian mainland.

The map with the routes of the two icebreaker is provided to BarentsObserver by the Norwegian coastal administration’s vessel traffic service in Vardø. The plots shows that ”Taimyr” has been escorted all all the way through the Kara Sea by the nuclear powered icebreaker, “Rossia.”

The Kara Sea is still ice-covered and the escorting of “Taimyr” could indicate that the crew are ready to close down the reactor on short notice and therefore need another icebreaker to assist in the ice-covered waters.

It is unclear why the two vessels suddenly sailed into the bay on Vaigach.

The public relation department of Rosatomflot, the operator of the nuclear icebreaker fleet, issues a statement Thursday evening ensuring that the situation onboard “Taimyr” is safe for both the crew and environment.

Murmansk passenger harbour with the nuclear powered icebreaker Taimyr in dry-dock in the background.
This photo show “Taimyr” in a dry-dock in the central harbour area of Murmansk. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

The incident is by Rosatomflot categorized as level zero on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), as reported by BarentsObserver yesterday.

- To me this seems like a more serious accident that a 0 on the INES-scale, says Bellona’s Nils Bøhmer. He believes it is indeed possible that the Russians are underestimating the severity of the incident.

According to an unnamed highly placed source within Atomflot that Bellona has spoken to there is a leak of some 20 to 30 liters of cooling water a day, discovered in the welding of the circuit in the reactor compartment.

The reactor is still running as the icebreaker is sailing through the ice-covered Kara Sea towards the Barents Sea Friday afternoon. Rosatomflot informs that all main technological parameters of the first cooling circuit of the reactor, including pressure, temperature and water level is within normal operating range.

- Once again I want to emphasize that the nuclear power icebreaker “Taimyr” is safe for both staff and the environment, says Vyacheslav Ruksha, director of Rosatomflot in Murmansk.

Vyacheslav Ruksha is director of Rosatomflot - the Russian fleet of nuclear powered icebreakers in Murmansk.
Vyacheslav Ruksha, director of Rosatomflot says the nuclear powered icebreaker “Taimyr” is safe for both the staff and environment. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

However, Ruksha says that “Taimyr” will close down the reactor before she enters the port in Murmansk. This will, according to Ruksha be done in order to reduce the preparation time to repair the reactor.

Although the incident with the Russian nuclear icebreaker has raised concerns among the public in northern Norway, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities (NRPA) has a relaxed view on the situation.

- We were not notified from international or Russian authorities about this situation. We did not either expected to be notified, says head of section for nuclear preparedness in NRPA Eldri Naadland Holo to BarentsObserver.

Nils Bøhmer in Bellona does not agree with the Norwegian radiation authorities.

– NRPA must be more ahead, and put pressure on Russian authorities so that Norway is continuously thoroughly briefed on the status and development of the situation, especially now since it is an ongoing leakage of cooling water that can develop into a serious accident with potential for releases of radioactivity, says Nils Bøhmer to BarentsObserver.

Bøhmer also underlines the need for full openness about the investigation into the incident and following repair of the cooling circuit in the reactor compartment of “Taimyr” when the vessel arrives at Atomflot port in Murmansk.

The Murmansk-based nuclear icebreaker fleet has one similar vessel like “Taimyr.” That is “Vaigach”, an icebreaker that recently worked in the Gulf of Finland to assist vessels through this winter’s heavy thick ice in and out of St. Petersburg. “Vaigach” sailed around the coast of Sweden, Denmark and Norway some few weeks ago on its way back to Murmansk.

Both “Taimyr“and “Vaigach” were built in Finland and are more than 20 years old.