While the US nuclear power industry stagnates, China is moving full speed ahead with its plans to expand its nuclear power presence by developing floating nuclear power stations which could sail to an oil rig, artificial island or any other site, anchor near that location and supply it with energy.
China Atomic Energy Authority chairman Xu Dazhe says that China, which is looking to double its atomic capacity by 2020, is planning to have these “marine floating power stations” operational within a few years.
Two marine nuclear power plants will be built by China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN). The CNNC plant plant should be up and running by 2019 and the CGN plant by 2020.
These floating power plants would provide a tremendous boost to China’s goal of becoming a net energy exporter. At present China operates 30 nuclear reactors. It plans on adding another 24 reactors which would nearly double its nuclear power output. According to one of its recent Five-Year Plans, China will have 110 reactors in operation by 2050, an expansion that will cost the country around $1 trillion.
Some site safety concerns about China’s plans to mount nuclear power plants on marine vehicles and shuttle them across bodies of water. However, others point out that nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and missile submarines have been operating around the globe for decades.
China is intent on building floating nuclear power plants for a number of reasons. For one, in theory China could export power by simply moving one of these marine vehicles to any country’s coastal city or town and begin to serve as its power source. Such floating plants could become a major revenue driver for this emerging global power.
Also, China has shown much interest in expanding its global reach in a novel way, not by conquering foreign lands but by simply building islands in areas it covets. Floating nuclear power plants would serve as an immediate source of portable energy that would make these artificial islands a permanent fixture wherever they are constructed. In theory, China could just sail a floating nuclear power plant to an artificial island, drop anchor, and become this island’s permanent source of electricity generation.
China will be competing with Russia, whose Akademik Lomonosov floating nuclear power plant is supposedly ready for deployment this October. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin says this floating plant could produce up to 70 megawatts of electricity, and will serve as an energy source for and oil and gas drilling rigs and refineries and possibly cities and could be an asset in Arctic exploration.
Meanwhile, US nuclear plant construction has stagnated for decades. weighed down by a combination of cost overruns, bureaucratic quagmire, and environmental politics. The last American reactor, Tennessee’s Watts Bar nuclear structure, came on line in 1996, 23 years after the construction process began. A second nuclear power plant at Watts Bar is slotted to come on line in late-2016, the first nuclear power plant constructed in the US in the 21st century.
China, Russia and the rest of the world seem quite content to watch the slow decline of the US nuclear industry as these countries participate in a worldwide nuclear power renaissance. Only time will tell if the US economy becomes less globally competitive as a result.