MOSCOW :  Russia launches floating Nuclear Reactor in Arctic despite warnings.

Russia will launch the world's first floating nuclear reactor and send it on an epic journey across the arctic on Friday, despite environmentalists warning of serious risks to the region.

Loaded with nuclear fuel, the Akademik Lomonsov will leave the Arctic port of Murmansk to begin its 5,000 km [3,000 mile] voyage to northeastern Siberia.

Nuclear agency Rosatom says the reactor is a simpler alternative to building a conventional plant on ground that is frozen all year around, and it intends to sell such reactors abroad.

But environmental groups have long warned of the dangers of the project, dubbing it a potential  ''Chernobyl on Ice'' and a ''nuclear Titanic.''

A deadly explosion this month at a military testing site in Russia's far north causing a radioactive surge, has prompted further concerns.

The reactor's trip is expected to last between four and six weeks, depending on the weather conditions and the amount of ice on the way.

Work began on the 144-meter [472 foot] Akademik Lomonosov in Saint Petersburg in 2005.

When it arrives in Pavek, a town of  5,000 in the Siberian region of Chukotka, it will replace a local nuclear plant and a closed coal plant.

It is due to go into operation by the end of year, mainly serving the region's oil platforms as Russia develops the exploitation of  hydrocarbons in the Arctic.

Rashid Alimov, the head of the energy sector of Greepeace Russia, said environmental groups had been critical of the idea floating reactor since the 1990s.

''Any nuclear plant produces radioactive waste and can have an accident, but Akademik Lomonosov  is additionally vulnerable to storms,'' he told AFP.

The float is towed by other vessels, making a collision during a storm more likely, he said.

Because Rosatom plans to store spent fuel on board, Alimov said ''any accident involving this fuel might have a serious impact on the fragile environment of Arctic.''

He added ''there is no infrastructure for a nuclear clean up,'' in the region.

Global warming and melting ice has made the Northeast Passage - which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific along Russia's northern coast - more accessible. [Agencies]


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