China's controversial man-made islands under construction in contested South China Sea waters could see their electricity supplied by some unconventional power sources.
China's state-run Global Times reports that a subsidiary of the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. plans to build a fleet of floating nuclear power plants for a variety of offshore electricity demands, including offshore oil rigs.
The project, however, is particularly expected to speed up construction of the islands, which are located thousands of miles from China's coast — and power grid — in areas claimed by the Philippines.
The vessels resemble large barges, according to a Global Times rendering, and would provide electricity for both benign activities on the islands — lighthouses, desalination facilities and rescue capabilities — and more concerning projects such as airports, harbors and weapons.
Bohai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Co. is eventually expected to build around 20 floating power plants, depending on demand, with the first to be deployed in 2019.
Although setting nuclear reactors afloat could draw concerns from environmental and safety advocates, The New York Times noted that China's vessels would be far from the first. Nuclear power has fueled submarines for decades, and the U.S. supplied nuclear power to the Panama Canal Zone aboard a Navy freighter some 50 years ago.
In addition, Chinese authorities told the Global Times that safety and security regulations are under development and that they will evaluate the vessels' ability to weather natural disasters — including the South China Sea's frequent typhoons.