chapter  3
18 Pages

Cruising to the North Pole Aboard a Nuclear Icebreaker

ByRobert K. Headland

Russia, and previously the Soviet Union, has by far the largest and most e§cient icebreaker ·eets. Indeed, Russians are also the oldest and most experienced icebreaker operators. £e reason for this is purely geographical because Russia has 164° of longitude facing the Arctic Ocean, and the Northeast Passage has become a major commercial waterway (in contrast to the Northwest Passage, where only two commercial cargoes have ever made a transit). Political and military considerations have also applied, which were, for a long period, why nearly all the Soviet Arctic was e¢ectively a closed territory (until 1991 only three foreign ships had made a transit, and very few others had entered its waters). £ere have been many rapid changes in Russia from 1990: the consequences of several made tourist voyages to the North Pole a practical proposition. £ere are many aspects of these voyages that, with one exception, were aboard atomic-powered icebreakers (the Russian term is atomic ledokol – ‘icebreaker’ – rather than a nuclear one). £ese are described by a series of separate themes. £e author has accompanied 18 North Pole voyages to 2008, lecturing on historical geography, thus most of this chapter reports direct personal experience. £e role of Russian icebreakers in polar tourism, more generally, is discussed by Splettstoesser and Headland (2009).