by Will Davis
Several news items have come in this week which have one common theme – nuclear energy operation on the water.
It’s been reported that the second of China’s nuclear giants, China General Nuclear (CGN) has invited bids for the construction of some sort of experimental, twin-reactor nuclear powered vessel.  The tender, which closed Wednesday, was, according to reporting in in the South China Morning Post, for an “experimental nuclear powered vessel” whose dimensions and tonnage are appropriate for a large, ocean going icebreaking vessel.  A similar tender by competitor CNNC requested offers last June.
Polar icebreakers are, of course, not only a very sensible application of nuclear energy on the water; they’re also one of the earliest.  The Soviet Union produced the first nuclear icebreaker, the LENIN, at the very end of the 1950’s, and experience with this vessel (and the ironing out of many details during several years) led to the construction of today’s large fleet of nuclear icebreakers now operated by Russia.  These exceedingly sturdy vessels are used to break shipping routes for remote areas that are ice-bound much of the year – a capability that China, with what appear to be growing imperial aspirations, would very much like to have.
Artist’s concept of floating SMR nuclear power plant courtesy CGN Nuclear; these floating plants and the nuclear powered icebreaker projects are expected to use roughly similar reactors. The technologies of “small floating nuclear plants” and nuclear icebreakers are considered complimentary to each other.
The interesting point about the CGN deal is that it does not specify that the ship will in fact be an icebreaker – although the characteristics of the specification don’t seem to point up military service, it’s possible that it’ll be something else.  However, since both companies usually compete for the

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