Already in the process of building man-made islands in the heavily disputed South China Sea, China is partially funding a research institute’s effort to develop the world’s smallest nuclear power plant. It could be installed in the contested waterway and further entrench China in its fight with neighbors and the United States.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Nuclear Energy Safety Technology, a national research institute in the Anhui province, is building a “portable nuclear battery pack” with partial funding from the People’s Liberation Army. It would measure 6.1 meters long and 2.6 meters high and could generate enough power to light 50,000 homes, the South China Morning Post reported Tuesday.
"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," Professor and nuclear scientist Huang Qunying told The Post.
According to the report, researchers also said the device is so small and quiet it could be installed on an island and no one could notice. The device could even run for decades without refueling. However, an accident could be catastrophic not only to China but to other nations given it’s potentially central location in the South China Sea.
The “portable nuclear battery pack” is just the latest example of China expanding its nuclear research and capabilities beyond its mainland. The state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation, in partnership with France, was given the green light last month to build a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in the United Kingdom. The $24 billion project was initially put on hold by new British Prime Minister Theresa May, according to the New York Times.
Researchers told The Post they hope to finish and install the device in five years, which could give China enough time to settle its dispute with nearby nations and the U. S. over sovereignty in the South China Sea.
In contention for decades but recently gaining more attention, a United Nations-backed court ruled China didn’t have outright autonomy over one the globe’s most important trade routes earlier this year. However, the Chinese government has snubbed the ruling.
Other nations in the South China Sea, like Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and, in particular, Japan, are all angling for more access to the waterway. Last month U.S secretary of defense Ash Carter stated the U.S. plans to increase its presence there, even militarily.