China launches nuclear company to build 20 floating reactors

China plans to build 20 floating nuclear power stations to help consolidate its hold on the South China Sea. 

Announced last week by China National Nuclear Power (CNNP), the barge-based power stations would be used to provide electricity and thermal energy for desalination in disputed areas.

A statement carried by state-owned Global Times said the aim was to develop China’s sea power, further the maritime silk road and integrate civil and military nuclear-powered vessels.

Spearheading the move will be a new company based in Shanghai formed by five existing companies, led by CNNP and Shanghai Electric Power. It will have a registered capital of $150m. 

Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow at the National Institute for the South China Sea, told the Global Times yesterday that the power stations would be used to provide electricity and thermal energy for desalination in the South China Sea. He said: "The plants will provide environment protection, weather observation, navigation and oil and gas development." He added that wind and solar power were also being considered for the area.

The reactors that will be fitted to nuclear barges will have a rating of about a quarter that of a typical civil nuclear reactor. Their design will be a form of small modular reactor, and will be mass produced in Shanghai ship yards.

The strategic aim of the project is to develop infrastructure in the South China Sea to strengthen China’s grip on the area. Beijing’s claim to an area extending about 1,500km from its own shores is contested by its neighbours and the US.

The idea was first trailed in April last year. This was followed in February by the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence that China would develop floating nuclear power stations during the 13th five-year plan, which runs between 2016 and 2020.

CNNP is controlled by the China National Nuclear Corporation, and has the China Three Gorges Corporation, China Ocean Shipping Company and China Aerospace Investment Holdings as its shareholders. It acts as is a nuclear developer and researcher. It runs about 11GW of installed nuclear capacity, and has some 12GW under construction. 

Earlier this month, CNNC succeeded in connecting Unit 4 at the Fuqing nuclear power station to the grid. This project marks the successful debut of the HPR 1000, a "generation 3-plus" pressurised water reactor that uses Chinese technology, which China aims to export. One possible destination for the HPR 1000 is the UK’s Bradwell project in Essex.

Image: A rendering of the nuclear barge (CGN)

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