China is developing floating nuclear power stations to support its construction activities in the South China Sea, according to an article in the Communist Party’s Global Times magazine.
The article said the plants could sail to wherever they were needed and "significantly boost the efficiency of the country’s construction work".
Liu Zhengguo, a director of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), the country’s largest shipbuilder, told the magazine that it was "pushing forward with the work".
He declined to confirm reports that China was planning to build as many as 20 of the plants. He said: "The development of nuclear power platforms is a burgeoning trend. The exact number of plants that we will build depends on the market demand. Judging by various factors, the demand is pretty strong."
Liu added that the units would be based on well-established technology, and would be mainly for civilian purposes, such as providing electricity for oil platforms.
The figure of 20 units was based on a report published on Wednesday, 20 April, on a Shanghai shipbuilding industry website.
This reported that CSIC subsidiary Bohai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Company would be responsible for building "about 20 such platforms in the future".
It added that the National Development and Reform Commission, the body that approves large-scale public investment projects, had approved that plan, and that discussions were under way on where to carry out the work.
The China General Nuclear Power Corporation has been developing a small modular nuclear reactor for maritime use, called the ACPR50S. This is aimed at offshore oil and gas production, and a prototype is expected to be launched next year.
Xu Dazhe, head of China’s atomic safety commission, told reporters in January the floating platforms were in the planning stage and must undergo "strict and scientific demonstrations".
Chinese naval expert Li Jie told the Global Times the platforms could power lighthouses, defense facilities, airports and harbours in the South China Sea.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and is building islands on reefs to bolster its claims. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters.
The US and Japan have been a vocal critic of China’s South China Seas policy, in particular its construction of artificial islands to bolster its legal case, as well as for use as airbases.
A hostile article in Japan’s Nikkei Asian review yesterday, 21 April, noted that "the US plans to start joint patrols in the waters with Japan, Australia and the Philippines. Bilateral cooperation is also deepening to curb China’s military ambitions".
Meanwhile, the idea of floating modular reactors is also being persued by Russia for use in oil and gas projects in the Arctic ocean. This time last year Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the country would have its first floating reactor in action by October 2016.