TAIPEI, TAIWAN —
Floating Chinese nuclear power plants stationed in the South China Sea would help Beijing fortify its claims in a decades-old maritime sovereignty dispute, but come with environmental risks, scholars say.
China plans to power some of its claimed islets with nuclear energy, the U.S. Department of Defense recently told Congress in an annual report on Chinese military activities. Beijing had indicated last year it was planning to install “floating nuclear power stations” that would start operating before 2020, the report says.
That development would bulk up China’s maritime claim after about a decade of land reclamation in parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea and the sending of military units to some of the artificial islands, analysts say. Rival maritime claimants Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam lack similar means to electrify their holdings.
“You are literally facilitating increase of physical control of the South China Sea,” said Collin Koh, maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
“I think the more immediate concerns of anyone, be they claimants, be they non-claimants, is a huge ecological risk, and taking into account that Chinese nuclear energy technology may not necessarily be one of the best in the world,” he said.