China plans to install nuclear reactor in disputed South China Sea, analysts call it 'risky for the environment'

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
7 Min Read

The US military has warned that China is moving towards developing a floating nuclear reactor in the South China Sea to maintain its claim over the disputed maritime area, analysts said, reports Voice of America (VOA). Used to be. But it has been emphasized that this will pose a threat to the environment. ,

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According to analysts, the plan to build ships with mobile nuclear power sources will increase tensions with its neighbors and pose a threat to the environment.

Chinese media reports have described marine nuclear power platforms as small plants inside ships that would act as fixed facilities at sea and mobile “power banks” for other ships, VOA reports.

However, according to the South China Morning Post, Beijing suspended the project a year ago due to safety and effectiveness concerns.

But this month, Admiral John Aquilino, the outgoing commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command and the State Department, said China was still building floating reactors to supply power to the disputed islands, The Washington Post reported.

Although US officials said the deployment of such reactors would take several years, Admiral John Aquilino said their development would undermine regional security and stability, VOA reported.

Then, last week, the Philippines reiterated those concerns.

Jonathan Malaya, assistant director general of the Philippines National Security Council, said China would use its floating reactors to power military bases built on artificial islands, including the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

He said China's nuclear plants would further militarize disputed areas of the South China Sea.

“Anything that supports their military presence in those islands is technically a threat against our national security and our interests,” he said. He said Australia and the United States would be among Manila's allies conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea, VOA reported.

Beijing claims to control almost the entire South China Sea, putting it in dispute with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Furthermore, China has already constructed artificial islands along the airport runway to strengthen its claims.

Analysts said Beijing's floating reactors would not only strengthen its military presence in the region, but also give it an excuse to expand its reach through security operations, VOA reported.

Song Yanhui, director of the International Law Society of the Republic of China, Taiwan, said that the current military protection zone for China's artificial islands is a radius of 500 meters (1,640 ft), that is, other aircraft and ships that would enter this radius are not allowed to enter the area. Safe from attack. Can be legally expelled if done.

Song further said that if China deployed a floating nuclear power plant in the South China Sea, it could use it to divert ships from a large area or take defensive measures under the pretext of protecting the environment from radioactive pollution.

As for Beijing, he said, “It kills two birds with one stone. This is a win-win strategy. “It can strengthen its military presence, civilian use and sovereignty claims.”

But as VOA reported, analysts say the potential for radiation leakage is a real concern.

Pankaj Jha, dean of research at the School of International Affairs at India's Jindal Global University, highlighted that China's lack of experience in operating such floating reactors could lead to disaster.

“This is a danger because it will pollute the water and the surrounding areas,” he said. “Any radiation leakage would make the island uninhabitable and could also affect fishermen in the South China Sea.”

Analysts further said that floating reactors could also become military targets in the event of a conflict with China, VOA reported.

China has deployed radar, anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles and fighter jets, among other weapons, on disputed areas of Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross, the three largest artificial islands in the Spratly Islands.

Richard Fischer, senior fellow at the Center for International Assessment and Strategy, stressed that floating nuclear power plants could also one day expand China's weapons capabilities.

“If they were preserved, these nuclear power plants could potentially also power future energy weapons devices,” Fischer said. “Laser weapons that can shoot down missiles and aircraft or even very powerful microwave weapons that can disable missiles and aircraft that come within their range.”

It is noteworthy that China is not the first country which is thinking of building a floating nuclear reactor.

According to the VOA report, the United States took the lead in proposing this concept in 1970, but due to security concerns, they did not develop rapidly.

Meanwhile, Russia is the only country to have a floating nuclear power plant, with the Akademik Lomonosov plant producing electricity and heating from a port in Pevek, a city in the Arctic Circle, since 2020.

Earlier in November last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency at a forum in Vienna had expressed concerns about the development of floating nuclear reactors, especially when they cross international borders or operate in international waters.

“The IAEA is working with our Member States to determine what further guidance and standards may be needed to ensure the safety of floating nuclear power plants,” IAEA Deputy Director-General Lydie Everard said in a press release. ” ,

The IAEA further said that Canada, China, Denmark, South Korea, Russia and the US are each working on a sea-based “small modular reactor design”.

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