Russian Nuclear Icebreakers: to the North Pole!

Posted: March 30, 2008 in GENERAL NEWS

Odyssey in the Arctic with Russian Icebreaker Fleet

The nuclear-powered icebreakers
served as a symbol of Soviet technological power for many decades.
Today this fleet is used to aid ship navigation in the seas north of
Siberia – and for elite tourism, which helps to pay the bills.

most powerful of all icebreakers "50 years of Victory" (one of six
"Arktika" class) has two nuclear reactors and is capable of reaching
North Pole in a couple of days.

"Vaigach" and "Taimyr"

Svetlana Bogdanova has recently returned from a very special trip on board of icebreaker "Vaigach"
and provided us with these unique pictures. Thanks to her exclusive
permission (and collection of photos by seamen of the Murmansk Sea
Shipping Company) we can now have a glimpse of what it means to follow
along the caravan of ships in the northern seas, led by a colossal
nuclear-powered vessel.

says: "A nuclear icebreaker almost feels alive, like a huge proud
creature with a benevolent and dependable character. See it moving in
the dark of night, projecting a powerful light ahead, making the snow
sparkle in a misty path, feel it tremble under your feet… Its sheer
immensity is inspiring, making one think of heroic exploration of
unknown lands, the stuff that kids should be dreaming about"

"Vaigach" in the mist:

The blizzard is getting worse:

Unexpected Rescue:
This truck got in trouble on treacherous ice, so a professional team quickly comes up with a plan:

The journey resumes:

Breaking the way for a caravan of ships:

Arriving into Dixon: a small town of about a thousand people –

population lives in the Arctic wasteland, enduring the most extreme
climate. A significant part of Dixon has become a ghost town during
Soviet years – and a series of ghastly buildings line up to haunt the
endless night:

easy to start imagining vampires, but the buildings are long abandoned
– though one has to wonder about what looks like a cannon nearby:

Back to the Arctic trail –
Serene and wide-format views along the way – Svalbard archipelago:

Franz Josef Land also has fascinating rock formations:

And mammoth fossils lying around:

A day in the life of Murmansk Sea Shipping Company

This custom-paint job looks appropriately aggressive on an icebreaker:

Business as usual, leading the way (though the towline between ships sometimes breaks, leading to all kinds of emergencies)

Launching the deep sea research vessel (Bathysphere) "MIR-1":

Encountering some heavy seas:

"Yamal" towing the oil rig:

Land-based oil rigs are usually towed by a chain of tractors:

And so, after breaking the ice trail for so many days:

Finally, a clear way beckons home –

Staying in port for maintenance:

Here are Some of the Giants of the Arctic Fleet:

was the first Russian nuclear icebreaker, built in 1957. It looked
imposing, but suffered two nuclear accidents while in operation till
1989, and now is being converted into a museum ship. Another milestone:
"Arktika" became the first surface ship ever to reach the North Pole in 1977.

"50 Years of Victory" – is the largest, most powerful icebreaker ever constructed.

This lid covers a nuclear reactor:

Nuclear reactor room:

meters in length, the "50 Years of Victory" has TWO nuclear reactors,
develops 75,000 horse power, and its huge steel ice belt 5 meters wide
can easily break through ice up to 2.5 meters (9.2 feet) thick. (The
"victory" in its name is the Russian people’s victory over the Nazis in

And by the way, in case you’re thinking that no ice can
ever stop such behemoths, let me remind you that the nuclear icebreaker
"Soviet Union" was trapped in ice for three days in 1998 (which is
nothing compared to Mother Russia trapped in communism for 70 years)

Here is that "Soviet Union" ship –

The rest of 10 nuclear icebreakers are described in detail here.
  1. Mike Carroll says:

    These pictures are amazing. I’m doing a project on the Yamal for my ship construction class at SUNY Maritime Academy in New York City. I want to be a 3rd mate when I graduate and these kind of expeditions look amazing. Let me know if there is any kind of unusual or not common knowledge you know about the Yamal and if there is any way I can get involved with what you guys are doing. It looks truly amazing!

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