BEIJING • China is getting closer to building its first maritime nuclear power platforms that could one day be used to support Chinese projects in the disputed South China Sea, the state-run Global Times newspaper said yesterday.
The paper said the nuclear power platforms could "sail" to remote areas and provide a stable power supply.
Such floating power platforms could also be used to support offshore oil and gas exploration, reported the China Daily yesterday.
China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, the company in charge of designing and building the platforms, is "pushing forward the work", said Mr Liu Zhengguo, the head of its general office.
"The development of nuclear power platforms is a burgeoning trend," he told the paper. "The exact number of plants to be built by the company depends on the market demand."
Demand is "pretty strong", he added, without elaborating.
Other floating N-power plants
The idea of floating nuclear power plants is not new. They are similar to nuclear- powered submarines and aircraft carriers.
In the late 1960s the USS Sturgis, a converted Liberty ship containing a 10MW nuclear reactor, was used to provide electricity to the Panama Canal Zone. It was shut down in 1976.
Russia is building a floating nuclear power plant, the Akademik Lomonosov, reported the Economist. It carries a pair of nuclear reactors capable of generating up to 70MW together, enough to power a small town. It should become operational in Chukotka for nuclear power plant operator Rosenergoatom some time next year, according to Forbes.
In China's case, China General Nuclear Power Corporation is working on the preliminary design for its offshore multi-purpose reactor ACPR50S. Construction on the 200MW reactor is expected to start next year and it is expected to be commissioned by 2020.
Mr Tang Bo, an official at the National Nuclear Safety Administration, told the Global Times that the administration is working on formulating the relevant nuclear security regulations regarding such platforms.
According to the website eworldship, a Shanghai-based maritime industry information provider, China plans to build 20 of such maritime nuclear power platforms.
Each platform will cost an estimated three billion yuan (S$620 million) and will be able to generate 22.6 billion yuan in electricity sales over a lifespan of 40 years, according to the Global Times.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying played down the story as a media report, however. "I've not heard here of the relevant situation," she told a daily news briefing, without elaborating.
In January, two Chinese state- owned energy companies - China National Offshore Oil Corporation and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) - signed a strategic cooperation framework pact on offshore oil and nuclear power.
CGN has been developing a small modular nuclear reactor for maritime use, called the ACPR50S, to provide power for offshore oil and gas exploration and production. It expects to begin building a demonstration project next year.
The new 200MW offshore reactor is expected to be commissioned by 2020, reported the Global Times.
Mr Xu Dazhe, head of China's atomic safety commission, told reporters in January that 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, defence facilities, airports and harbours in the South China Sea. "Normally, we have to burn oil or coal for power," Mr Li said.
It was important to develop a maritime nuclear power platform as changing weather and ocean conditions presented a challenge in transporting fuel to the distant Spratlys, he added.
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. Beijing has rattled nerves with its military and construction activities on islands it occupies in the sea, though it says most of what it is building is for civilian purposes.