Hugh Pickens writes "Eve Conant reports that Russia's dream to dominate the Arctic will soon get a boost with a $1.1 billion nuclear-powered icebreaker 170 meters long and 34 meters wide. It's designed to navigate both shallow rivers and the freezing depths of the Northern Sea. Powered by two 'RITM-200' compact pressurized water reactors generating 60MWe, the world's largest 'universal' nuclear icebreaker is designed to blast through ice more than 4 meters thick and tow tankers of up to 70,000 tons displacement through Arctic ice fields. Why the effort and cost? 'Climate change is a pivotal factor in accelerating Russia's interest in icebreakers,' says Charles Ebinger. 'With climate change we are seeing a major change in the Northern Sea Route, which is a transport route along Russia's northern coast from Europe to Asia. Just in the last few years, with less and less permanent sea ice, maritime traffic across the Russian Arctic has risen exponentially.' The expectation is that the melt will continue, but there are still sections of route that would require icebreakers to keep it open year round. Icebreakers are an excellent example of a special purpose vehicle that is very poorly designed for operation outside its specific envelope. The key element is the rounded bow, a shape best suited to riding up on ice shelves and crushing them from above, causing the ships to roll from side to side in the waves when sailing on open water, making for a very seasick ride for the crew. Russia is the only country in the world currently building nuclear icebreakers, and has a fleet of about half a dozen in operation, along with a larger fleet of less powerful, diesel-powered icebreakers. The U.S. has been relying on a Russian diesel icebreaker to deliver supplies to Antarctica due to our own shrinking fleet of the cold-water, diesel-fueled vessels."
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