Putin Commissions One Nuclear Icebreaker and Launches His Next

Putin joins the launch and commissioning ceremony remotely (Office of the Presidency of Russia)

Published Nov 22, 2022 10:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin presided remotely over the launch of the Yakutia, the fourth vessel in Russia's Project 22220 nuclear-powered icebreaker series. The ceremony at United Shipbuilding Corporation's Baltic Shipyard also included the commissioning of third-in-class vessel Ural

Yakutia and her sister ships are designed to operate on the Northern Sea Route, the stretch of Arctic waters along Russia's long northern coastline. They are the most powerful icebreakers yet built, with two nuclear powerplants powering three shafts with a combined output of 80,000 horsepower. (This edges out the previous record-holder, the U.S. Coast Guard's Polar Star, which uses gas turbines to produce 75,000 horspower.) 

Sister ships Arktika and Sibir are already in service (after an extended teething period for first-in-class Arktika), and a mega-icebreaker with twice the power is under construction at newly-rehabilitated Zvezda Shipyard in the Russian Far East.

"The start of the Ural icebreaker’s year-round operation on the Northern Sea Route today and the launch of the icebreaker Yakutia, which is to be completed and will be commissioned in 2024, are evidence of the continuing build-up of the competencies we need to ensure the construction of our leading vessel, the 120 MW icebreaker Rossiya," said Russian Minister of Industry Denis Manturov. 

Manturov added that industrial customers Novatek, Nornickel and Rosneft are in talks to build diesel icebreakers for navigation on the Gulf of Ob, freeing up nuclear-powered vessels for the long-sought goal of year-round navigation on the Northern Sea Route.

Russia's icebreaker-building drive contrasts markedly with the United States' long-delayed acquisition process for Arctic capable capacity. The U.S. Coast Guard's sole remaining heavy icebreaker is 46 years old, considerably older than the modern Russian state, and it continues to operate thanks to diligent efforts of the crew and a thorough annual drydocking. Coast Guard leaders and independent strategists have long warned that the slow pace of fielding a replacement - and expanding America's icebreaking fleet - risks ceding control of the Arctic domain to foreign competitors.

The Coast Guard has awarded a contract for the construction of a series of replacement Polar Security Cutters to Gulf Coast yard Halter Marine; however, the shipbuilder recently changed hands amidst questions over the financial sustainability of the icebreaker contract's pricing.