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26 Earth's equators in the ice

65 years ago, the Lenin icebreaker, the pioneer of the world's only nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet, was launched

5 december 2022

On 5 December 1957, an event of historic significance occurred: the world's first nuclear-powered icebreaker was launched. It was the Lenin, a unique nuclear-powered surface vessel, which for a long time had no equal in power. Over decades of trouble-free operation in the Arctic, the icebreaker has proved by example that it is not only safe but also efficient to use nuclear power in shipping.

In 1953, the founders of Russian nuclear energy, Academicians Igor Kurchatov and Anatoly Alexandrov, approached the Soviet government with a proposal to use the atom to develop the Arctic. They said: if a nuclear-powered icebreaker could be built, it would be indispensable for expeditions to the northern seas and for guiding other ships along the North Sea Route. Most importantly, this is how the Soviet Union will prove to the world that it intends to use the energy of the atom for peaceful purposes.

The initiative of the academicians was supported by the USSR Council of Ministers. On 20 November 1953, Decree No. 2840-1203 was adopted to develop the world's first nuclear-powered icebreaker. Less than three years later, on 17 July 1956, the nuclear-powered icebreaker Lenin was laid down at the Admiralty Shipyard in Leningrad.


During the design and construction of the vessel, 76 new types of machinery were developed and more than 150 new pieces of equipment were tested.

On 5 December 1957, the Lenin was safely launched and handed over for operation to the Murmansk Shipping Company. All that remained was to equip it with the OK-150 nuclear power plant, the installation of which was completed another year and a half later. On 3 December 1959, an act of the State Commission was signed to commission the world's first surface ship with a nuclear propulsion system. This was the beginning of Russia's nuclear-powered icebreaking fleet.

The Lenin could navigate through two-metre-thick ice at a speed of two knots and was capable of speeds of up to 18 knots in clear water. The vessel participated in 26 navigations, navigated 3,741 ships through difficult sections of the North Sea Route and covered 655,000 nautical miles, including 564,000 nautical miles in the ice and 26 of the Earth's equator.

It was the Lenin that delivered and landed the expedition of the research drifting station Severny Polyus-10 on an ice floe near Wrangel Island in 1961. In 1970, the nuclear-powered icebreaker made a voyage from Murmansk to Dudinka to Murmansk, marking the beginning of winter navigation in the Arctic. Between 1977 and 1978, the vessel spent more than a year at sea, setting a world record for the longest voyage by a nuclear-powered icebreaker. The Lenin is also still the only ship to have had one nuclear power plant replaced with another.

The first nuclear-powered vessel in history was soon surpassed by its successors, but it has become a striking tourist brand for the entire Murmansk Region. Two decades after, it was decommissioned, the icebreaker—already without a nuclear reactor—stood eternally moored outside Murmansk's seaport. Even today, the museum and information centre of Rosatom operate aboard the world's first nuclear-powered vessel—visited annually by thousands of tourists from Russia and abroad.

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