China is getting closer to establishing maritime nuclear power platforms which could one day be used to support projects in the disputed South China Sea, a state-run newspaper reported on Friday, but the foreign ministry said it had not heard of the plans.
The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said that the nuclear power platforms could provide a constant power supply.
The paper referred to a January report, published by the China Securities Journal, that a demonstration platform is planned to be completed by 2018 and put into service by the next year.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying played down the story as a media report.
"I've not heard here of the relevant situation," Hua told a daily news briefing, without elaborating.
Liu Zhengguo, head of the general office of China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, which is in charge of designing and building the platforms, told the paper that the company is "pushing forward the work".
"The development of nuclear power platforms is a burgeoning trend," Liu said. "The exact number of plants to be built (by the company) depends on the market demand."
Demand is "pretty strong" he added, without giving details on the subject.
China has expanded its military and construction activities on the islands it occupies in the South China Sea, including building runways, while Beijing claims most of what it is building is for civilian purposes, like lighthouses.
The state-run China Daily newspaper reported in 2014 that Beijing would build five new lighthouses on the South China Sea's Paracels chain.
Chinese naval expert Li Jie told the newspaper the platforms could provide power for lighthouses, search and rescue equipment, defence facilities, airports and harbors in the South China Sea.
"Normally we have to burn oil or coal for power," Li said.
It was important to develop a maritime nuclear power platform due to changing weather and ocean conditions presented a challenge in transporting fuel to the distant Spratlys, he added.
"Given the long distance between the Nansha Islands and the Chinese mainland and the changing weather and oceanic conditions, transporting fuel could be an issue, which is why developing the maritime nuclear power platform is of great significance," he added, using the Chinese name for the Spratlys.
In January, two Chinese state-owned energy companies, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN), signed a strategic cooperation framework pact on offshore oil and nuclear power.
CGN has been developing a small modular nuclear reactor for maritime use, called the ACPR50S, to provide power for offshore oil and gas exploration and production. It expects to begin building a demonstration project in 2017.
Xu Dazhe, head of China's atomic safety commission, told reporters in January that the floating platforms were in the planning stage and must undergo "strict and scientific demonstrations".
Chinese naval expert Li Jie told the Global Times the platforms could power lighthouses, defence facilities, airports and harbours in the South China Sea. "Normally we have to burn oil or coal for power," Li said.
The parties’ overlapping claims on maritime transportation, navigation, exclusive economic zones, fishing grounds, undersea bed gas and oil reserves have already deteriorated the problem as China started to build an artificial island last year.
China has long been confronting its maritime neighbours Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei in the South China Sea territorial waters.
The Philippines was the loudest side against China’s territorial water claims in the region and believes that unless the ASEAN countries halt “Chinese revisionism,” the area will be taken under the “de facto Beijing control” in the medium term.
Visiting Brunei, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated China's stance that disputes should be resolved peacefully through negotiation between the parties directly concerned, China's Foreign Ministry said late on Thursday.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. But neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters.