Russia Launches World's Biggest, Most Powerful Icebreaker : The Two-Way The 568-foot-long Arktika is powered by two nuclear reactors and capable of breaking through ice 13 feet deep. Russia's interest in the Arctic is rising along with global temperatures.
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Russia Launches World's Biggest, Most Powerful Icebreaker

The new Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika launches in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday. Russia has been modernizing its icebreaker fleet as part of its efforts to strengthen its Arctic presence. Evgeny Uvarov/AP hide caption

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Evgeny Uvarov/AP

The new Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika launches in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday. Russia has been modernizing its icebreaker fleet as part of its efforts to strengthen its Arctic presence.

Evgeny Uvarov/AP

Russia launched the world's biggest, most powerful icebreaker on Thursday in St. Petersburg.

The Arktika is 568 feet long and powered by two nuclear reactors. It can break through ice 13 feet deep, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.

The ship set forth early, ahead of its planned 2017 launch, according to Sputnik News and the shipyard where the Arktika was built.

The Arktika is the world's largest, most powerful icebreaker. Nikita Greydin/Courtesy of Baltic Shipyard hide caption

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Nikita Greydin/Courtesy of Baltic Shipyard

The Arktika is the world's largest, most powerful icebreaker.

Nikita Greydin/Courtesy of Baltic Shipyard

"She is one of several new icebreakers planned for Russia's growing fleet — a fleet already bigger than all other countries, combined," Mary Louise reports.

"Russian interest in the Arctic is rising, as global warming opens up shipping routes and access to mineral resources."

In addition to launching new icebreakers, Russia is building new bases in the Arctic Circle and modernizing its nuclear submarines.

The steps are "unmistakable signals of Russia's intent to reassert itself on the global stage," Mary Louise says.

Another Russian nuclear icebreaker, Yamal, travels through the Arctic Ocean on its way to the North Pole in 2007. Russia is the only country with nuclear-powered icebreakers. NBC NewsWire via Getty Images hide caption

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NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

Another Russian nuclear icebreaker, Yamal, travels through the Arctic Ocean on its way to the North Pole in 2007. Russia is the only country with nuclear-powered icebreakers.

NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

As we've previously reported, the U.S. Coast Guard currently operates one heavy icebreaker that can access the Arctic, as well as one smaller research vessel.

Russia has more than two dozen oceangoing icebreakers, Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, told NPR's Jackie Northam last year.

Five countries have territorial claims to the Arctic's lands and waters: the U.S., Russia Canada, Norway and Denmark.