China has approved the building of its first maritime nuclear power platform to boost the efficiency of projects in the volatile South China Sea, where Beijing is locked in disputes with several maritime neighbours.
At least 20 such platforms could be in the pipeline, the influential Global Times tabloid quoted an official from the government ship-building industry association as saying.
The foreign ministry on Friday said it hadn’t heard of the development.
“The development of the nuclear power platforms is a burgeoning trend,” Liu Zhengguo, director of the general office of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), told the newspaper.
Asked about an earlier report that mentioned 20 platforms would be built, Liu said demand will decide the number.
“The exact number of plants to be built (by CSIC) depends on the market demand,” he said, without confirming or denying the reported number. “Judging by various factors …the demand is pretty strong.”
The report added: “Analysts believe that the platform, once accomplished, could significantly boost the efficiency of the country’s construction work on islands in the South China Sea.”
The report quoted Liu as saying “construction of the platforms was based on mature technology and that plants were mainly for civilian use, such as providing electricity for oil drilling platforms”.
Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, said the platforms could provide reliable power for lighthouses, seawater desalination, rescue and relief equipment, defensive weapons and airports and harbours on islands in the region.
“Normally we have to burn oil or coal for power. Given the long distance between the Nansha Islands and the Chinese mainland and the changing weather and oceanic conditions, transporting fuel could be an issue, which is why developing the maritime nuclear power platform is of great significance,” Li said.
China’s apex planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, approved the building of the first platform and directed experts to carry out viability studies.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying did not elaborate when she was asked about the report at the regular news briefing on Friday. “What you just mentioned is a media report. I haven’t heard about that,” she said.
China is involved in claims in the South China Sea with several countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. China is already building artificial islands and runaways on several islands in the region. The region is said to be rich in oil and gas.