Russia's Test of Nuclear-Powered Icebreaker Fails As There's Not Enough Arctic Ice to Test It On

Russia has failed to complete tests on its newest nuclear-powered icebreaker—the largest of its kind in the world—as there was not enough ice in the Arctic to carry out the trials.

The Arktika icebreaker set off on its maiden voyage to the Arctic in September and returned to the city of Murmansk on October 12. The icebreaker's 4,900 nautical mile trip was intended to test the ship's capabilities and to look at the region's commercial potential.

The ship has been viewed by many as a signal of Russia's intent to increase its presence in the Arctic region. At almost 600 foot long and 170 foot high, it is thought to be the most powerful icebreakers ever constructed.

State-run news agency Tass said on Monday that Arktika had completed its first voyage, having traveled through approximately 1,030 miles of ice. However, the ice was too thin for the ship's capabilities to be fully tested, Arktika Delivery Team Captain Oleg Shchapin told the agency.

"The ice tests are still ahead, probably, this year because now the ice trials did not work with an ice of 1.1 [to] 1.2 meters (3.6 and 3.9 feet) thick. It was thin and loose and the icebreaker did not get any resistance. We tried to find an ice floe three meters (9.8 feet) thick but to no avail," he is quoted as saying.

The Arctic has been hit by an unprecedented heatwave this year, with record-breaking temperatures recorded in several regions. In June, the Russian town of Verkhoyansk saw temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit—the highest temperature ever recorded for an area north of the Arctic circle.

Arctic sea ice levels also fell to a near-record low this year. The sea ice minimum, recorded on September 15, fell to 1.44 million square miles—the second lowest level ever recorded.

The unusually warm temperatures in the Russian Arctic have also meant the ice in Siberia is yet to start re-freezing. This is the first time that the water in this region has not started to freeze by the end of October since records began, the Guardian reports.

According to the Barents Observer, the Arktika will travel along the Northern Sea Route ploughing ice as it goes. Despite being unable to show its capabilities, Shchapin told Tass the ship is far superior to its predecessors. "When we used to come across an ice block aboard the icebreaker 50 Years of Victory, we would simply break through it and this was still noticeable whereas the new icebreaker sails actually without a stir," he said.

The Arktika is the first in a series of nuclear-powered ships that are being built for the purpose of developing the Arctic. According to Tass, ships in the Project 22220 will provide year-round navigation of the western Arctic, meaning it will be possible for a greater level of cargo ships to travel along the Northern Sea Route.

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The Arktika icebreaker is thought to be the biggest and most powerful in the world. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images