MOSCOW       -    “I feel like I’m one of the first cosmonauts going into space,” said Vladimir Irminku, one of the chief engineers of the Akademik Lomonosov, as he stood on the deck of the giant, box-like platform on a chilly summer morning at Kola Bay in the Barents Sea. Russia is planning to dispatch the vessel, its first floating nuclear power station, on a 4,000-mile journey along the Northern Sea Route, in a milestone for the country’s growing use of nuclear power in its plans for Arctic expansion.

If all goes to plan, the Akademik Lomonosov will be towed to the Arctic port of Pevek this month, where it will use its twin nuclear reactors to provide heat and energy to homes and support mining and drilling operations in Russia’s mineral-rich Chukotka region.

Russia claims the project will provide clean energy to the remote region and allow authorities to retire an ageing nuclear plant and a coal-burning power station.

But the Akademik Lomonosov has raised safety concerns among environmental groups, including accusations from Greenpeace that it could be a “floating Chernobyl”, and doubts about whether floating nuclear power stations meant to provide power to remote regions are economically viable.

The Northern Sea Route – shipping lanes opened by melting ice sheets in the Arctic – presents new trade routes between China and Europe that Russia hopes to make navigable year-round.

The prospect of lucrative trade routes, as well as the region’s military importance, has led to a proliferation of nuclear-powered icebreakers, submarines and other high-tech nuclear technologies in the Arctic region.

Thomas Nilsen, the editor of the Barents Observer newspaper, based in the Norwegian town of Kirkenes, has estimated that by 2035, the Russian Arctic “will by far be the most nuclearised waters on the planet”.