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Politics

Russia building largest nuclear icebreaker

New class of icebreakers a show Arctic muscle as country continues plans to establish its dominance in the region
Politics
The new icebreakers will be able to year round, including during the darkness of the Arctic winter (Photo: Colourbox)

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Russia has started building the world’s largest nuclear-powered icebreaker capable of navigating in the Arctic. The ship, one of three due to come into service by 2020, is seen as part of a Russian display of its dominance in the region.

The 173m ship is being built by the Baltiysky Zavod shipyard in St Petersburg, and should be completed by 2017. The ship will be 14 metres longer and 4 meters wider than the current record-holder.

VIDEO: Russian nuclear icebreaker goes through ice to the North Pole (at end of story)

The vessel, which is expected to be christened ‘Arctic’, will cost 37 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) to build. Its two pressurised water-cooled nuclear reactors will allow it to crack ice fields 3 metres thick. The ship will be able to break ice in the Arctic area all year round.

SEE RELATED: The new cold war

The icebreaker’s design will allow it to alter its draught from between 8.5 to 10.8 metres, enabling it to navigate shallow Siberian rivers along with the Arctic seas and tow ships of up to 70,000 tonnes.

Two similar icebreakers are already planned, with delivery expected sometime between 2018 and 2020. The main objectives of these new icebreakers would be servicing the Northern Sea Route and carrying out various expeditions to the Arctic.

Russian expansion
The icebreakers will instrumental for Russia as it seeks to make territorial claims in the Arctic. The US, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) and Iceland have also announced claims to exclusive rights along the Arctic shelf. Russia argues that ‘Lomonosov Ridge’, extending north from Siberia, is an extension of its continental shelf, and therefore belongs to Russia exclusively.

The Arctic’s potential as a source of natural resources could be a source of conflict among countries bordering the Arctic Ocean. The exact borders between countries' sovereign zones are far from defined.For example, the Lomonosov Ridge, traverses the Arctic Ocean, and Denmark and possibly Canada have legitimate claims to it.

Preparing for worst-case scenarios, Russia is currently beefing up its Arctic military forces, including reopening old bases and building new ones. Canada, too, has announced its plans to increase its military presence in the region.

SEE RELATED: Shippers: plenty of potential for Arctic sea route

Russia’s sector of the region also offers an alternative sea route from the Pacific to Europe: shorter and free of the pirates that plague than the primary transit through the Indian Ocean and via the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. 

Russia is currently the only country with nuclear-powered icebreakers. It currently has five such vessels operating in Arctic waters.