Russia Set to Dismantle First Nuclear-Powered Icebreaker

The nuclear-powered icebreaker Sibir. Photo: Atomflot
The nuclear-powered icebreaker Sibir. Photo: Atomflot

Russia is set to begin dismantling the nuclear icebreaker Sibir marking the first time ever that a nuclear-powered icebreaker has been sent for recycling.

The icebreaker, which was built in 1978 at the Baltic Shipyard, was retired from service in 1993. With funding now approved, the icebreaker is set to be towed from Atomflot harbor to the Nerpa Shipyard north of Murmansk where it will be dismantled beginning in 2017.

“The first project to dismantle and remove the reactor of a nuclear icebreaker is an important and emblematic moment because in the future there will be other such vessels that need to be dismantled,” said Andrei Zolotkov, a nuclear expert with Bellona.org, an Oslo-based environmental watchdog.

While Russia has past experience dismantling submarines, taking apart a nuclear icebreaker is seen as “emblematic” as it has never been done before.

The cost to dismantle the Sibir is estimated to be just $25 million, and the vessel is expected to fetch nearly $2.2 million from scrap, according to Bellona. 

Russia is hoping that the recycling of the Sibir will show that the cost of decommissioning such ships does not have to be overly expensive or time consuming. Russia currently has two additional nuclear-powered icebreakers that are currently in cold shutdown and are expected to be dismantled with funding from the same federal target program as the Sibir.