China Wants Floating Nuclear Power Plants in the South China Sea

China’s Global Times reported Friday that state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation has plans to build a fleet of floating nuclear power stations to support maritime operations, including those in the South China Sea, where China has built up a series of artificial islands.

In January, Xu Dazhe, the director of the China Atomic Energy Authority, told reporters that China was planning to develop floating nuclear energy plants. Xu said that developing nuclear power-generating capacity was part of the country’s five-year economic development plan, which runs through 2020. China has more civilian nuclear power stations under construction than any other country. Xu also linked the floating nuclear power plants with China’s desire to become a maritime power.

“China is devoted to building itself into a maritime power and so we will definitely make full use of ocean resources,” he told a press conference.

Diagram of a floating nuclear power station
A diagram of how a ship would be used to contain a nuclear reactor for electricity generation in remote locations. Photo: China General Nuclear

Floating nuclear reactors could be used to support maritime operations such as oil drilling, and also to support the airstrips and ports developed on the artificial islands in the South China sea. China has militarized operations on the islands by recently landing military aircraft, claiming the aircraft had been used to rescue people for emergency medical treatment.

Defense experts quoted in the Washington Times claimed the floating reactors would be a defensive benefit to China, as an enemy would be less likely to strike in the vicinity of the reactor for fear of creating a maritime nuclear disaster.

The Global Times report quoted Tang Bo, an official at China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration, who said that safety regulations were being drawn up and reviewed.

“Nuclear reactors afloat would give the Chinese military sustainable energy sources to conduct their full panoply of operations, from air early warning and defenses and offensive fire control systems to anti-submarine operations and more,” Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told the Chicago Tribune. And more concerning, perhaps, are the potential safety risks associated with such a large undertaking. “China has already done enough damage to the maritime environment by hastily building artificial islands and destroying irreplaceable coral reefs,” Cronin continued. “We do not need a nuclear accident in these important fishing grounds and sea lanes.”

An artists impression of a floating nuclear power station
An artists impression of a floating nuclear power station to be built by China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) Photo: CNNC
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