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China plans to build floating nuclear plants in South China Sea

| FEBRUARY 15, 2017, 12:00 AM IST

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China has said it will develop floating nuclear power plants on a priority basis in the South China Sea as it seeks to beef up electricity supply to the islands in the disputed maritime region.

China will prioritise the development of a floating nuclear power platform in the coming five years, in an effort to provide stable power to offshore projects and promote ocean gas exploitation, Wang Yiren, vice director of the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.

Wang told Science and Technology Daily that Chinese authorities have already carried out research on relevant core technologies as well as the standardisation of maritime nuclear power plants.

The development of the facility is a crucial part of the country's five-year economic development plan, running through 2020, state-run People's Daily Online reported today.

An article published on its official WeChat account in July the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) said China is expected to build 20 floating nuclear power stations in the future, which will significantly beef up the power and water supplies on the South China Sea islands, another official daily Global Times reported.

Sun Qin, former chairman of the National Nuclear Corporation, said in March 2016 that the facility is scheduled to be put into operation in 2019.

"Floating power stations are less susceptible to natural disasters. In an emergency, the station could pump seawater into a boat to prevent core melting. Besides, the platform is small and can be dragged to a suitable place for maintenance," reported in February, quoting an expert.

China currently has 23 nuclear power generating units in operation and 27 under construction, about one-third of the world's unfinished nuclear units.

The construction of new plants resumed after the Chinese government which put the brakes on nuclear power plant approvals following the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011 permitted resumption after a safety review.

The floating nuclear power plants were aimed at improving power supply to the island areas in the South China Sea, (SCS) despite the maritime dispute.

China claims almost all of the SCS. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the islands.

Last year, an international tribunal quashed China's claims over the area, a verdict Beijing rejected questioning the legality of the tribunal.

Justifying the setting of floating nuclear plants, Wang said diesel generator is currently the main power source for China's offshore operation and the daily lives of residents on the Nansha and Xisha Islands, the Chinese names for Spratly and Paracel islands in the SCS.

He also played down concerns over nuclear plants in the high seas and coastal areas in the aftermath of the Japan's Fukushima power plant.

Floating power stations will aim to promote the exploitation of oil and gas resources and provide safe and efficient power supply to remote islands in the South China Sea, Wang said.

Wang said there are around 400 nuclear power stations in the world, most of which are located inland and therefore not usually affected by tsunamis, typhoons or other extreme coastal weather phenomena, he said.

"If it is safe to build nuclear power plants in coastal areas, it is also not a problem to build them inland," Wang was quoted as saying by Global Times in an interview to China National Radio.

Nuclear power development is one of the best ways to reduce emissions of carbon-di-oxide and major pollutants, he said, adding that China has an urgent need for inland nuclear power plants to meet power demand and ensure stable electrical supply.

According to the plan, China's nuclear power capacity would reach 58 million kilowatts by 2020. The total capacity of the plants currently under construction will be 30 million kilowatts.

Wang said the third-generation nuclear power technology has greatly promoted the safety of the reactors.

Three inland nuclear reactors with an investment of over 10 billion yuan have already obtained approval from the National Development and Reform Commission.

"Technology is not a problem. The difficulty lies in letting the public accept the plan," an employee from the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) told the Global Times.

The population density in the three sites is much higher than in European countries while the atmospheric dispersion conditions for possible radioactive emissions is not as ideal as the US.

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