The tracking of geopolitics is fundamental to The Counterterrorism Group (CTG), but it is even more important when it is combined with nuclear power and a variety of potential hazards. Both Russia and China have functional floating nuclear power plants with plans to create more in the future. The United States has plans as well, but they are being greatly vetted for safety on all levels (natural disasters and terrorist attacks). What is concerning about the Russian and Chinese floating nuclear power plants is both geopolitical and environmental in nature. CTG takes a look at these concerns with this report.
China is constructing up to 20 floating nuclear power plants with the plan of using these stations to provide power to islands in the South China Sea, as they extend their regional influence. Russia has also produced at least one floating nuclear power plant, with plans to produce more. Among other uses, Russia plans to use the floating nuclear power plants to power remote arctic towns. While the United States has developed models for floating plants, the idea of mounted undersea reactors has become more popular. Lack of development in the United States is claimed to be the result of lengthy and extensive research, legislation, and permitting processes. As multiple countries seek to benefit from the development of floating nuclear power plants, from terrorism, to ship strikes, to natural disaster concerns, these developments present unique and developing hazards on a global scale.
While global superpowers have been developing the idea of floating nuclear power plants on and off again since 2006, Russia began putting their plans into action around 2010. In 2018, they began transporting their first floating nuclear power plant, the Akademik Lomonosov pictured below, to the arctic for use in powering remote arctic villages. Meanwhile, in 2016, China’s National Development and Reform Commission approved the development of two nuclear reactors for marine platforms as part of a five-year plan. As of March 2019, a prototype reactor is being tested near the coastline of China's Shandong province. By 2021, China is predicting its first fully-functional floating nuclear reactor will be seaworthy.
Image 1.0: Russian-made floating reactor plant, the Akademik Lomonosov. On April 28, 2018 the floating plant left St. Petersburg en route to Murmansk for nuclear fueling and testing. The structure arrived in Murmansk on May 17, 2018. Post nuclear fueling process, the plant’s two reactors were successfully operating at 100% capacity on March 31, 2019, according to the plant manufacturer Rosatom. The plant is scheduled to be towed to it final destination at the Port of Pevek in the summer of 2019.
Concerns surrounding the advancement of floating nuclear power plants are on the rise due to their ability to contribute to large scale global hazards. While the United States and France are centered more on ocean-floor mounted designs and moving forward less aggressively, Russia and China are propelling forward, expanding upon the designs of one another as well as developing their own ideas. Primary concerns include personnel safety, accidents, overall costs, natural disaster exposure, nuclear material proliferation, and security, as well as critical infrastructure, economical, psychological, environmental, and geopolitical impacts.
Many issues surrounding floating nuclear power plants are the same that surround land-based nuclear energy sources. This includes hesitation surrounding personnel and public safety and radiation exposure, cost-benefit analysis, natural disaster and environmental exposure, and accident preparedness and consequences. The addition of floating nuclear sites also brings into play a great apprehension to the addition of accessible nuclear sites and increased site vulnerability. More nuclear material at more sites means more vulnerability and targeting opportunities. The creation of fleets of floating nuclear sites not only results in making more sites that are ripe for accidents and environmental exposure, but also results in creating more terrorist targets. The sites could be targeted for a number of reasons, including for the proliferation of nuclear materials for weapons purposes. Furthermore, with escalating incidents of maritime accidents, these nuclear sites will require extensive protection against accidental or planned ship strikes.
Geopolitical concerns about China’s plans for their floating nuclear reactors are prominent as well. China bringing nuclear power sources to the South China Sea, will serve to accelerate their continued efforts to gain territory and increase their influence in the region. Currently, tensions are rising in the South China Sea as China controversially continues to create man-made islands atop reefs through the use of dredging, install military facilities, and intimidate existing populations. There is international concern that nuclear power sources will give China the means needed to expand upon their lofty goals in the contested region.
While Russia has been responsive to increasing international concerns, including changing its initial reactor fueling plan for the first floating reactor in response to expressed state and international concern, there is little assessment on whether China will be as responsive to expressed concern. However, Russia’s response has been encouraging in that it demonstrates a responsiveness to suggestions for adaptation and finding solutions to incorporating safety precautions and measures, when possible while working with this developing technology.
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) works to detect, deter, and defeat terrorism around the world. The progression and use of floating nuclear power structures impacts various dynamics around the world, including public safety, the environment, geopolitics, critical infrastructure, critical infrastructure security, and nuclear proliferation. Furthermore, the addition of small floating nuclear reactors creates new targets for terrorists around the globe. Purposefully investigating and vetting the global progression of floating nuclear reactor developments and the subsequent global impacts will provide CTG with information needed to conduct intelligence and counterterrorism analysis as well as identify threats. The CTG Hazards team is currently tracking all aspects nuclear, as well as natural and man-made disasters; PACOM is actively engaged in South China Sea geopolitics; the Weapons and Tactics is following the creation of islands for landing strips. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any information or questions.
1. China Is Building up to 20 Floating Nuclear Power Plants, Futurism, March 2019, https://futurism.com/china-floating-nuclear-power-plant
2. Floating nuclear power plants: China is far from first, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 2016, https://thebulletin.org/2016/06/floating-nuclear-power-plants-china-is-far-from-first/
3. CHINA is developing a fleet of floating nuclear plants as part of plans to tighten its grip on the South China Sea, The Sun, March 2019,
4. China Is Building up to 20 Floating Nuclear Power Plants, Futurism, March 2019, https://futurism.com/china-floating-nuclear-power-plant
5. The Picture of Akademik Lomonosov is from Margo.aga on Wikipedia.
6. World’s Only Floating Power Unit, Akademik Lomonosov, Takes The Sea, Communications Department of Rosenergoatom, 2018, https://www.rosatom.ru/en/press-centre/news/the-world-s-only-floating-power-unit-akademik-lomonosov-takes-the-sea/
7. World’s Only Floating Nuclear Power Unit to Begin Commercial Operations in Russia, Communications Department of Rosenergoatom, 2019, https://www.rosatom.ru/en/press-centre/news/world-s-only-floating-nuclear-power-unit-to-begin-commercial-operations-in-russia/
8. Russia expects operating licence for floating plant in July, World Nuclear News, April 2019, http://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Russia-expects-operating-licence-for-floating-plan