China to float offshore nuclear power platforms in South China Sea

China aims to launch a series of offshore nuclear power platforms to promote development in the South China Sea despite the recent ruling from an international court that Beijing had no historic claim to most of the waters.

Sovereignty over the South China Sea is contested by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and any move to build nuclear reactors is bound to stoke further tension in the region.

The official China Securities Journal said as many as 20 offshore nuclear platforms could eventually be built in the region as the country seeks to ‘speed up the commercial development’ of the South China Sea.

"China's first floating nuclear reactor will be assembled by the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation's (CSIC) subsidiary, Bohai Heavy Industry, and the company will build 20 such reactors in the future," the newspaper said.

"The marine nuclear power platform will provide energy and freshwater to the Nansha Islands," it said, referring to the disputed Spratly Islands.

The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, announced similar news in April and said the nuclear power platforms could ‘sail’ to remote areas and provide a stable power supply.

"The news is old," an expert with the China Nuclear Energy Association said. "It is repeated in reaction to the latest South China Sea disputes. Little progress has been made on building such a small reactor."

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked at a daily news briefing, said he did not know anything about the plans.

China's claims over around 85 per cent of the South China Sea were declared unlawful by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Tuesday, a decision that Beijing has rejected.

A spokesman for the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) said the floating reactors plan had been drawn up by its affiliate, the Nuclear Power Institute of China, and a final decision would be made by CSIC.

In May, CNNC said it was considering taking a stake in the UK’s upcoming Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in a partnership with the China General Nuclear Power Corporation that would see it take a 33.5 per cent stake in the facility, with French energy giant EDF owning the rest. 

But a government adviser recently admitted that the whole project is now at risk following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, putting the future of CNNC’s involvement at doubt. 

Global construction for new nuclear reactors has fallen to zero globally in the first half of 2016 with the atomic industry struggling against falling costs for renewables and a slowdown in Chinese building. Despite this, construction started on six reactors in China last year representing three times more than the rest of the world combined. 

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