Russia is known for its domes, which generally sit on top of Orthodox churches. Soon, one might be on top of the world in Russia’s neck of the Arctic, this time sitting atop a city. During the Arctic: Territory of Dialogue conference last month in Murmansk, Putin reviewed plans and mock-ups for a a 5,000-person domed village in the Arctic called Umka, named after a popular cartoon polar bear in Russia. The village would be tiny, covering only 1.2 square kilometers of land on Kotelny, the largest of the New Siberian Islands. Yet despite its small size, the Daily Mail quoted architect Valery Rzhevskiy as saying, “This city will be of strategic importance as Russia’s northern outpost.” In fact, lying 1,000 miles from the North Pole, Umka would become Russia’s northernmost settlement, though it would still fall shy of the record. That belongs to Alert, Nunavut, a permanently inhabited weather station and military intelligence facility 508 miles from the North Pole. However, Alert only has five permanent residents, so Umka would have a population one thousand times larger.
The blueprints for Umka take inspiration from “an imaginary Moon city or a completely isolated space station.” Just as the International Space Station allows astronauts to live for long periods at a time in outer space, Umka would let scientists and researchers stay permanently very far north in the Arctic, 1,000 miles from the North Pole. Umka would come at a fraction of the space station’s price tag, however. Whereas the ISS has so far cost upwards of $100 billion, making it the most expensive infrastructure project of all time, it is estimated that Umka would cost around $4 billion. The dome would be able to shield the village from the effects of the harsh climate outside, particularly the strong winds and freezing temperatures. Electricity would be supplied by a floating nuclear power plant, a technology that Russia has been trying to develop since the early 2000s. Unsurprisingly, given that Umka is already not the most practical of projects, the architects have included a water park and a bread and fish processing facility in the plans.
For comparison’s sake, McMurdo Station in Antarctica covers 1.5 square kilometers and is home to 250 permanent staff. The population swells to 1,200 people in the summer. Thus, Umka could be much more densely populated than its southern counterpart. Ny-Ålesund, on Svalbard, has sixty buildings and houses 12 people in the winter and 180 in the summer. Its location has a much milder climate than the New Siberia Islands, making it more easily hospitable.
Domed cities have long been the stuff of science fiction. They have also filled the dreams of residents of wintry places like Buffalo, Chicago, and Murmansk, but these castles in the air have never come to realization. In Russia, plans were even unveiled in November 2010 for a glass-domed underground city that would fill an abandoned mine in Siberia. Russia’s domed city project in the Arctic is in the same vein as the proposed tunnel from Siberia to Alaska, another idea that has been floated by the Russian government. Lately, it seems that the Kremlin has been giving more attention to grand projects in the Arctic than more mundane infrastructure needs, such as improved roads, airports, and search and rescue facilities. Still, Russia should receive its due for its vision in the Arctic, for no other country in the Arctic has announced such grandiose plans. Then again, no other country in the Arctic ever tried to reverse the flow of three major rivers.
“Putin shown the Umka project in the Arctic Circle,” RIA Novosti
“Arctic for new generations – Vladimir Putin,” Government of the Russian Federation