Nuclear Power Becomes Critical To Arctic Dominance

For many, the Northeast Passage through the Arctic could one day be a ‘Northern Suez Canal’. While icy waters have frozen such dreams, recent advances in nuclear technology might finally unlock the full economic potential of the once-daunting Arctic waters.

There is no shortage of interest in the High North. In October, the Trump administration in the U.S. approved a project to extract oil from beneath the Beaufort Sea, though melting ice has since forced changes to those plans. That same melting ice, while raising major environmental concerns, simultaneously creates other possibilities: among them, the prospect of dramatically shortened sea routes between Europe and Asia which could cut transit times by two weekscompared to the Suez Canal passage. Those reduced travel times translate to savings of 40%on both fuel and shipping costs, while lowering CO2 emissions by 52%.

However, the Northern Sea Route (NSR) along the Russian Arctic coast – a key leg of the Northeast Passage – has historically been traversable only from July to October. It has mainly been used by domestic Russian players, and requires the use of icebreakers and specially equipped ‘ice class’ vessels. In short, a thriving NSR has been nothing more than a dream, even with the melting ice, because it’s simply impossible to sail in the region for most of the year.

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