CHINA is building a mysterious 30,000-tonne “nuclear icebreaker” ship that could help it dominate the Arctic.
The enormous craft would be capable of cutting through thick ocean ice sheets in the frozen seas north of Russia and North America.
The enormous nuclear-powered ship would be the first of its kind to serve in China’s global fleet.
China already operates nuclear-powered submarines, but is yet to launch a nuclear-propelled sea-surface vessel.
However, the South China Morning Post reports that the Navy has “nuclear aircraft carriers in the pipeline”.
China’s General Nuclear Power Group asked for companies to bid for a contract to build the vessel.
The vessel is specified as being 152 metres long, 30 metres wide, and 18 metres deep.
That’s small for an aircraft carrier, but one military expert speaking to the SCMP said the ship could serve as a test-bed for improving nuclear “shipbuilding ability”.
China hasn’t said what the ship will be used for, only suggesting that it will be an “experimental platform”.
The deadline for bids was Wednesday, and no businesses from outside China were allowed to enter the running.
The ship is expected to tout two 25-megawatt compact pressurised water reactors.
This will get them a total power output of 200-megawatts, which could propel the ship to speeds of around 11.5knots – about 13mph.
China said that the vessel was an “experimental ship platform”, leading to rampant speculation about how it will be used.
Hong Kong military commentator Song Zhongping said vessel size was similar to Russian nuclear icebreakers, speaking to the SCMP.
Russia is currently only country that operates nuclear icebreakers, likely due to its near-Arctic location.
The country has two different classes of icebreaker. There’s the Taymyr class (150 metres long, 29 wide, 21,000 tonnes), and the Arktika class (148 metres long, 30 metres wide, 23,000 tonnes).
Russia is also working on even larger class of icebreaker that measures 173 metres by 34 metres, with a total displacement of 33,540 tonnes.
Nuclear ships – how do they work?
Here's what you need to know…
- Nuclear propulsion is one way of making a ship move through water
- The ship will be powered by heat provided by a nuclear power plant
- The power plant heats water to produce steam for a turbine
- This is used to turn the ship’s propeller through a gearbox, or through an electric generator and motor
- It allows ships to make very long journeys before needing to refuel
- And because all of the fuel is contained within a nuclear reactor, more space is available for cargo
- However, despite low fuel costs, operational costs and infrastructure investment makes nuclear transport expensive
- That’s why the vast majority of nuclear-powered vessels are designed for military use
Icebreakers are an important strategic technology for China as it expands operations into the Arctic Ocean.
The nation launched its first non-nuclear icebreaker last year to air polar research and expeditions.
But China is keeping mum about whether the nuclear icebreaker will serve a military capacity – or simply be used for research.
“This vessel can verify and experiment with the technologies,” Song said, who added that the same tech could be used to create next-gen aircraft carriers.
China only has two aircraft carriers right now, one of which was a Soviet ship bought from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the USA has a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier powered by 550-megawatt nuclear reactors, and a Ford-class carrier with 700-megawatt reactors.
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Russia recently revealed a nuclear spaceship that it hopes will fly to Mars “in the very near future”.
Nasa wants to have a manned Moon base by 2028, and turn it into a lunar “gateway” for crewed Mars missions.
China recently landed on the “dark side of the Moon”, and snapped the first-ever image of an uncharted lunar surface.
What do you think China will use its new ship for? Let us know in the comments!
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