In a move that will provide a significant boost to its military as well as economic capabilities, China has managed to develop the world’s smallest nuclear power plant. The plant will apparently help the country in asserting its control over the disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The reactors have reportedly been developed using the same technology that was once used to power some of Soviet Union’s submarines. The safety of these reactors were questionable back in the twentieth century, although China is certain to have made improvements to the design.
The new reactor has been funded in part by the People’s Liberation Army, which is why its purpose has been brought into question. Ostensibly, the reactor will be used to supply electricity to new settlements and desalinate sea water for drinking, however, why would a plant with such peaceful aims be funded by the PLA, unless at least some of their aims coincided together.
The islands are not particularly important if you are planning to create cities on them, indeed, many of them are no more than outcroppings that are submerged in high tide. However, they are valuable from a strategic standpoint and may have a significant impact upon the mining of minerals from the sea and future exploitation of the sea’s resources.
The plant has been developed by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Nuclear Energy Safety Technology. Speaking to the local newspaper, the researchers also confirmed that the first reactor to the South China Sea, may be dispatched as early as within the next five years. They also said that the country could also come up with plans to sell it to other countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and Middle East.
Speaking on the topic, Professor Huang Qunying said,
Part of our funding came from the military, but we hope – and it’s our ultimate goal – that the technology will eventually benefit civilian users.
However, many experts have been begging to differ. According to several well known researchers (Non-Chinese of course) the soviet reactors were unsafe at a fundamental level and China’s newly forged reactors — which use the same lead-bismuth technology — are not particularly different. The soviet technology had been known to kill submarine crews and experts are raising questions about whether China has tweaked the technology sufficiently.
Speaking on the topic, a researcher told the South China Morning Post,
Many fish and marine creatures will not be able to deal with the dramatic change of environment caused by massive desalination and the rise of sea temperatures caused by a nuclear reactor. If a nuclear disaster happened in the South China Sea, it would not have an immediate effect on people living on the mainland owing to it being a great distance away
Well, let’s hope that the reactors are safer than the soviet contraptions, which were also responsible for the sinking of one of its Kursk submarines in 2001. Meanwhile, if truly safe, they could be a huge step forward in a nuclear powered world and might give the dragon significant economic and political leverage, as countries without the technology to create their own reactors, rush to purchase these mini ones from China.