State-owned enterprise China National Nuclear Power is establishing a new joint venture (JV) company with registered capital of RMB one billion ($150 million) in collaboration with Zhejiang Zheneng Electric Power, Shanghai Guosheng Group, Jiangnan Shipyard and Shanghai Electric to build a floating nucler power station.
The JV is aimed at strengthening China’s nuclear power and maritime capabilities and supporting the various infrastructure initiatives that are part of its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, which aims to build a network of infrastructure connecting Eurasian and Indo-Asia Pacific markets.
The JV’s business activities will involve maritime nuclear power research, development, building, operation and management, as well as power sales and seawater desalination.
Floating nuclear power plants are smaller than their onshore counterparts and have an estimated 25 per cent of their electrical production capacity. Their mobility also means they can support remote projects in distant ocean sites.
This is coupled with potentially more benefits than land-based nuclear power plants; land-based power stations are bespoke structures that require specialised design while marine stations can be mass produced in shipyards, resulting in cost efficiencies and economies of scale.
This means they can be exported to economies with large populations but scarce land resources – such as Bangladesh – and economies participating in the OBOR initiative like Pakistan and Myanmar.
Aside from the cost, there are also safety and security factors to consider. Maritime reactors would never lack a water supply for emergency cooling – a problem that caused the Fukushima meltdown in 2011 – and would have greater security against threats such as terrorists flying an aircraft, earthquakes and tsunamis.
The latest project is part of a five-year plan by China to expand and deepen its nuclear energy capabilities. In 2016, the China Securities Journal reported that China could potentially build up to 20 such floating nuclear plants to accelerate commercial development of the South China Sea and entrench itself in the region, where it has adopted an increasingly aggressive stance.
2017 has seen a renewal of interest in maritime nuclear power as emerging markets struggle with power demand and pollution concerns.