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Russian Nuclear Icebreakers: What they do and why they ARE needed

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

The 50 Let Pobedy (50 Years of Victory) is Russia's most recent Icebreaker ship. Named after the fiftieth anniversary of the surrender of Germany in World War II, it is powered by 2 nuclear reactors, each capable of providing one hundred and seventy megawatts of power. The 50 Let Pobedy uses around half a kilogram of uranium per day when at maximum capacity to produce over seventy thousand horsepower. 

To generate similar power using heavy fuel oil (HFO) would require over a hundred tonnes of fuel a day and emit an immense amount of carbon dioxide. With modern sensitivities regarding greenhouse gases, the 50 Let Pobedy can move under full power with virtually no CO2 produced. 

Although it is not the biggest icebreaker ever built, that distinction went to the Arktika until its decommissioning in 2008. Despite this, it is the newest, largest, and strongest nuclear-powered icebreaker currently in service. 

Specifications for the 50 Let Pobedy icebreaker

Why is the 50 Let Pobedy needed?

The 50 Let Pobedy, along with all Russian icebreakers, is used to escort merchant ships through the Arctic ocean, tourism, and scientific expeditions. The vessel's usage includes recreational purposes, such as the maiden voyage in 2008, when it was chartered to take a group of eclipse chasers to the North Pole. The vessel made the trip from its homeport of Murmansk, on the Kola river, to the North Pole in just 4 days.

With the impressive nuclear-powered engines at full power, the 50 Let Pobedy can smash its way through ice up to two and a half meters thick, at 15-16 knots. Its excellent maneuverability allows it to sail to the exact position of the North Pole.

Tourism and Science

Of course, this would not have been possible in previous years, as the summer ice that covered the North Pole would have been several years old and several meters thicker. This change in the Arctic environment has allowed polar tourism to flourish aboard the 50 Let Pobedy. Alongside paying customers, the cruises offer opportunities for easy and regular access by researchers looking to visit the frozen far north of our planet.

The vessel has even sported its own expedition staff, who trained guests to take measurements and observations as the vessel traveled through the ice, adding to scientific data and our understanding of the changes occurring in the Arctic ice.

The 50 Let Pobedy spends its time creating channels through the winter months, allowing commerce to continue flowing out of the northern Russian ports that border the Barents Sea.

What the future holds for the 50 Let Pobedy ?

The 50 Let Pobedy has only one older sister, the Yamal, which also offers excursions to the North Pole in summer, and works through the winter in the same capacity as the Pobedy. Yamal is due to be decommissioned in 2022 after 32 years of service. Including the Yamal, the 50 Let Pobedy's predecessors were decommissioned after 15-32 years. While we don't yet know how long this impressive ice breaker will continue at its task, it is believed that it will continue sailing into the 2030s.


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