China’s quest to fence off a big chunk of the South China Sea may have just gotten another powerful boost: plans for a fleet of floating nuclear power plants that could provide huge amounts of electricity for the far-flung atolls and islets.
While floating nuclear power plants are hardly a novel idea, their use in the South China Sea — a typhoon-wracked hotbed of territorial disputes and increasing military rivalries — would be worrisome both for environmental and security reasons.
Chinese state media said that Beijing plans to build as many as 20 floating nuclear power plants to supply power to remote locations. That could include offshore oil drilling rigs and the sparsely inhabited islands that China has spent the past two years building up and steadily turning into military outposts.
But China’s nuclear plans cause concern for both security analysts and some nuclear power experts. Many Chinese initiatives, from port deals in the Indian Ocean to its frantic building in the South China Sea, ostensibly serve civilian purposes but can also mask military buildups.
In recent years, Beijing has turned tiny atolls into artificial islands, replete with military-grade airfields and, in some cases, with advanced air-defence radars. Adding a big new source of power could make those military systems a lot more powerful, potentially giving China the ability to create a no-go zone in the air and waters around its fake islands. That’s especially worrisome since the United States is trying to ensure free and open access to the waters in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest and most important trade thoroughfares. ? (Associated Press)