China is looking to launch a floating nuclear power station in the disputed South China Sea to boost its claims in the sovereignty dispute, according to the US.
Russia’s Akademik Lomonosov, the first ship of its kind, was named after the 18th-century Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, could be copied around the world before the ecological impact of what has been called a floating Chernobyl has been studied.
While the Russian barge will have to cope with the rough seas and ice of the Arctic Ocean, any Chinese vessel will need to be equipped to endure Asian typhoons.
China plans to power some of its occupied islets with nuclear energy, the US Department of Defence reported. It reported that China last year said it was planning to install “floating nuclear power stations” by 2020.
Observers say the Russian technique could help China strengthen its grip on the disputed region
“You are literally facilitating an increase of physical control of the South China Sea,” said Collin Koh of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
“I think the more immediate concerns of anyone, be they claimants, be they non-claimants, is a huge ecological risk, and taking into account that Chinese nuclear-energy technology may not necessarily be one of the best in the world,” the academic said.
China was unlikely to conduct an environmental-impact study on any nuclear-power barge before launching them, Koh said.
Russia announced floating nuclear power programme in 2000 with a Ministry for Atomic Energy project that saw construction begin in 2007 and the first barge is currently being loaded with uranium in Murmansk on the Arctic ready to start operations near Pevek on the northeast tip of Russia.
Russia’s Akademik Lomonosov is 144 metres long and 30 metres wide and has a vast displacement of 21,000 tonnes.
The lifecycle of the Russian floating power station is 40 years with the possibility of being extended to up to 50 years, Moscow says.
A stable power supply would help the Chinese military ensure it can develop the artificially enlarged islands, while other claimants like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan, would be likely to steer clear of floating power plants to prevent accidents.
China is currently using generators to power the seized islets more than 1,000km from the Chinese mainland, according to Koh.
More than 1,000 Chinese citizens are now living on the showcase Woody Island in the Paracel islands, where Beijing is also looking to promote tourism.
Washington might take nuclear power in the South China Sea as a new cause to send its navy into the sea to warn Beijing, said Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines.
The US says it supports freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and challenges Beijing’s ever-growing grip. It helped Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines militarily in recent years.
The Akademik Lomonosov could be replicated around the world, Russia says. Picture credit: YouTube