Project Management Institute

Underwater Ambition

Russia Is Building A Nuclear Submarine To Help Tap Fuel Deposits In The Arctic

Who says water and oil don't mix?

Billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas sit untapped beneath the Arctic's frozen surface. The Russian government wants to kick its extraction activities into high gear, so it's sponsoring Project Iceberg to build a submarine that would be the world's first underwater nuclear power source. Also designed to search for oil and gas in the Arctic, the submarine completed its predesign phase last year.

At 184 meters (603.7 feet) long, Belgorod will be the largest nuclear submarine ever built—and be operated remotely. It will feature specialized technologies, including seismic scanners, to search for precious compounds and minerals in the seabed. Additional capabilities will include laying communication cables under the ice and serving as a charging station for other submarines. The sub's 24-megawatt nuclear reactor is designed to operate autonomously and last 25 years.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting Alexandra Land Island in the Arctic

PHOTO BY MIKHAIL METZEL\TASS VIA GETTY IMAGES

Yet while Russian government officials herald the project's technical progress, others have raised concerns over safety risks: Russia's military has accounted for several of the deadliest nuclear incidents at sea. Still, some nuclear experts argue that the project's unmanned design could mitigate safety risks—with no humans aboard, there's less chance of a human error that could spark a nuclear meltdown.

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An artist's rendering of Belgorod, the largest nuclear submarine ever built

IMAGE BY H I SUTTON/COVERT SHORES

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