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Russia floats idea of selling seaborned nuclear power plants

The Kremlin calls them safe; critics see grave dangers

MOSCOW — Russia has started building the world’s first floating nuclear power station, officials said, a project antinuclear activists say is the most dangerous in the atomic sector for a decade.

Russia hopes to export the power plants for use in seas from the Indian Ocean to the Arctic. The first floating station is due to be ready in 2010, and there are plans to build six more.

Russian officials say the stations are a safe way to supply power to desolate regions and the energy-9hungry economies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America without risking the proliferation of nuclear know how.

Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s first deputy prime minister, presided over the start of work this week on the first floating station at a secret submarine plant on the White Sea.

‘‘Many countries are beginning to ask us, ‘When can we buy these plants?’.’’ Ivanov was quoted as saying by Rosenergoatom, the agency that runs Russia’s nuclear power stations and is footing the bill for building the plants.

‘‘This is the most dangerous project that has been launched by the atomic sector in the whole world over the past decade,’’ said Ivan Blokov, campaign director of Greenpeace Russia. ‘‘It is scary, as this is basically going to be a floating atomic bomb.’’

Last year, President Vladimir 8Putin approved the biggest 8revamp of Russia’s nuclear industry since the Chernobyl accident, which curbed the Kremlin’s appetite for atomic energy.

The explosion of reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, on April 26, 1986, spewedradioactive dust over much of 8Europe. But Kremlin leaders now see the development of the nuclear sector as a way to boost Russian clout on the world stage.

On Sunday, Ivanov unveiled Russia’s first new-generation 8nuclear submarine since the fall of the Soviet Union. The submarine will enter service in the Northern Fleet, based at Severomorsk, 930 miles north of Moscow.

The $352-million floating 8stations will have two nuclear 8reactors, which use uranium 8enriched to a maximum of 20 percent. Total capacity will be 70 megawatts, and the stations will 8also desalinate sea water.

Nuclear officials say the reactors, used by atomic icebreakers, are sturdy enough to withstand earthquakes. They say the reactor powering the Kursk nuclear submarine survived intact despite a blast that sunk the vessel in 8August 2000 with the loss of all 118 crew members.

‘‘The reactor [on the Kursk] was put through an incredible trial, but afterwards experts said it could have been immediately 8restarted,’’ Russian nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass news agency.

The first plant will be named Academician Lomonosov. Mikhail Lomonosov was an 18th-century Russian scientist who achieved worldwide acclaim for his work in chemistry and physics and was founder of Moscow’s state uni8versity.

Customers could include the Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom, the northern region of Chukotka, and countries from 8Namibia to Indonesia, industry sources said.

Russia’s leading physicist, 8Yevgeny Velikhov, predicted high demand. ‘‘It will be like an order for an aircraft,’’ he said. ‘‘Want a nuclear power station? Then order one.’’

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