Beijing is working to develop a 33,000-ton nuclear-powered icebreaker described in the tender documents as an “experimental platform.” It may pave the way for China’s production of a fleet of nuclear-fueled vessels.
China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) has invited bids for the contract to build a state-owned vessel, dubbed a “nuclear icebreaker,” according to South China Morning Post. The vessel will be 152 meters long (498 feet), 30 meters wide and 18 meters in depth. It will be fitted with two 25-megawatt water reactors, allowing travel at a max speed of 11.5 knots, or just over 13 miles per hour. The ship is designed to cut through the frozen seas north of Russia and North America.
A Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said the vessel’s size was very similar to that of Russian nuclear icebreakers. China does not have a nuclear-propelled surface ship but has a fleet of nuclear-fueled submarines. Experts claim the new vessel could help develop China’s shipbuilding ability, explaining that it could be a testing ground for future attempts to create a fleet of nuclear-powered vessels.
If experiments using icebreakers go well, the technology and experience could be used for next-generation aircraft carriers, said Song. “This vessel can verify and experiment with the technologies,” he added.
At the moment, Russia is the only country that operates nuclear icebreakers. In September 2017, it launched the first serially-produced Sibir nuclear-powered icebreaker, designed to reinforce the country’s leadership in the Arctic. The 33,500 ton and 173.3 meters long Sibir icebreaker is one of the three Project 22220 vessels, which are to become the world’s largest and most powerful nuclear icebreakers. The lead ship of the project, the Arktika, was commissioned a year earlier. The third icebreaker, the Ural, is planned to be delivered in 2021.
With its 30 diesel and four nuclear icebreakers, Russia has become the primary operator in the Arctic. It plans to build another nuclear icebreaker, the Leader, designed to keep the Northern Sea Route, along with the country’s Arctic coast, open all year round.