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China's Floating Nuclear Plants in South China Sea: Focus on Energy, Not Warfare

© Sputnik / STR / Go to the mediabankThe world's first floating nuclear power plant (NPP) Akademik Lomonosov is pictured at the port of Murmansk, Russia.
The world's first floating nuclear power plant (NPP) Akademik Lomonosov is pictured at the port of Murmansk, Russia.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.05.2024
While US officials claim Beijing's plans to deploy floating nuclear power plants in the South China Sea could endanger US national security and regional stability, experts interviewed by Sputnik appeared skeptical about the threat allegedly posed by China’s initiative.
US military and State Department officials have sounded the alarm over China’s intent to develop floating nuclear power plants that could be deployed in the South China Sea.
“Our concern is that the closer they get to deploying floating nuclear power plants, the faster they’ll use them for purposes contrary to the national security of the United States and broader security in the region,” an unnamed US State Department official told the Washington Post.
Ret. Adm. John Aquilino, former head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, also warned that “China’s intended use of floating nuclear power plants has potential impacts to all nations in the region,” alleging the plants could allow Beijing to further exert its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Such floating stations may indeed be used to supply power to Chinese military and civilian facilities alike, noted Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales Canberra at the Australian Defense Force Academy.
Thayer claimed Western powers’ real concern in this matter is the fact that these power plants would serve as “an assertion of China's sovereignty” as they would enable Beijing to lower the costs of maintaining its bases on South China Sea islands.
China may also use such mobile nuclear power plants for disaster relief, providing power to areas where infrastructure is devastated by calamities such as typhoons, tsunamis or floods, argued Jeff Brown, author of The China Trilogy and editor at China Rising Radio Sinoland and the founder of Seek Truth From Facts Foundation.

“In a country the size of China with 1.4 billion citizens, prone to natural disasters and faraway projects in the western half of the country, the possibilities are endless,” he remarked.

Brown also speculated these nuclear plants’ mobility would make them a potent asset for the Chinese military as well.

“China has built numerous sophisticated military installations across the South China Sea. A hard-wired nuclear power plant could be hit by NATO missiles, but a floating/mobile one around and on the islands would be much more evasive and harder to target,” Brown explained.

Finally, military expert and Russian Navy Captain First Rank Igor Kurdin said China might outfit such plants with various defensive measures – most likely air defense systems and counter-sabotage defenses – to ensure the safety of these facilities.
Kurdin did note, however, that the only operational floating nuclear power plant in the world, Russia’s Alademik Lomonosov, is not equipped with any armaments and that such facilities are not designed for warfare.
Эскадренный миноносец ВМС США USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98)  - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.04.2024
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Though the concept of a floating nuclear power plant was investigated by the United States during the second half of the 20th century Washington ultimately gave up on the concept in the 1970s, only to resume investigation of the idea in 2022.
As of 2024 Russia remains the undisputed leader in this field, with the world’s only operational floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov helping generate electricity in the Chukotka Region.
The fact that such plants might present an elegant solution for meeting the energy needs of remote island installations apparently did not elude China.
Though the development and construction, not to mention the operation, of such mobile nuclear plants is no easy task, it does not seem like an unattainable objective for a world power of China’s caliber.
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