Yet again, China is floating around the idea of building floating nuclear plants, but this time they are planning on an entire flotilla — in the South China Sea.
To provide power to the cozy artificial islands it has built up from reefs just sticking over the surf, China announced on Friday that it will construct a fleet of 20 power plants floating over the hotly disputed waters, People’s Daily reports.
These power plants could provide electricity to offshore drilling rigs, as well as to the man-made tourist paradises of the South China Sea — already filled with airstrips, vegetable gardens and lovely ladies with clarinets.
As part of China’s Five Year Plan, it was announced in January that the country’s first floating power plant would be ready to go by 2020. While it may seem dangerous at first, floating power plants have actually been in use for decades, particularly by Russia, which uses them to provide power to remote locations around the Arctic Circle. Meanwhile, the US Navy has operated over a hundred nuclear-powered vessels with a virtually spotless track record. Beijing certainly doesn’t seem worried about the idea, quickly ordering 19 more plants just three months later.
“The Chinese have been operating nuclear-powered submarines for a number of years. It’s not a big leap to modify those power plants into electricity generators,” Rod Adams, an expert on nuclear technology, told The Washington Post.
Instead, the larger obstacle will be international pressure. Last year, China raised a bit of stir by beginning construction on a filling station on Woody Island in the Paracels. While Beijing has claimed again and again, that their intentions in the region are entirely peaceful and they do not plan to militarize the South China, neighboring countries have been skeptical.
With a fleet of nuclear power plants, China could more easily project force over the large region that is claimed by other nations — including Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines — and contains one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and some of the best fishing grounds.
In an area known for powerful typhoons, environmentalists are also concerned about the very minor chance of a meltdown or accident at sea that would cause catastrophic damage to the surrounding ocean, which Beijing has declared indisputable sovereignty over.
However, China already has a lot of experience in dismissing international worries over its South China Sea intentions. Despite protests from neighboring nations, China has still built more than 3,000 acres of new territory on seven reefs in the past two years. A case brought by the Philippines to the United Nations challenging China’s nine-dash line claim on the South China Sea is due for a ruling in the next month or two. To strengthen its claim, China has gathered up a coalition of nations that support its position, including Laos, Cambodia, Brunei and Gambia.