A model of nuclear-powered patrol ship is on display at the 2017 China Maritime Expo. Photo: CSIC
A model of nuclear-powered patrol ship is on display at the 2017 China Maritime Expo. Photo: CSIC

A fleet of vessel models on display at the 2017 China Maritime Expo in Shanghai this week has drawn attention given the exhibitor, state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, no longer shies away from acknowledging its capabilities from design to building nuclear-powered vessels, which look set to propel the Chinese Navy into the world’s elite club of countries with a nuclear aircraft carrier.

CSIC finalized its master design for shipborne miniaturized reactors in 2015, having surmounted a slew of technical challenges from safety and maintenance to integrated propulsion system, according to Xinhua.

The Chinese shipbuilding conglomerate can now install two compact,  uranium-splitting reactors in one ship, which is rumored to have a similar layout to US nuclear carriers, including the A4W reactors for the Nimitz class supercarriers.

A model of a floating nuclear-power plant being developed by the China National Nuclear Corp. Photo: Xinhua

A CSIC technical note said the major technical hurdle is that, while ensuring absolute shield and containment of radiation from reactors, the steel walls, plenum and coolant equipment must not be too heavy, so as not to become a drag on a ship’s cruising speed, and in turn the takeoff of fighter planes on deck.

China developed indigenous nuclear submarines as early as the 1960s, so a third-generation of such submarines are near inauguration. That helped technicians to build reactors that can generate electrical and motor energy for its future carriers.

France “transplanted” submarine reactors onto its Charles de Gaulle carrier, though the flagship of the French Navy can only sail at 25 knots due to inadequate horsepower.

The now decommissioned USS Enterprise had eight such reactors to propel the huge carrier.

Observers say if China can use just two reactors to set its future nuclear carrier in motion, then the reactors must be highly efficient. But it’s also possible that the first Chinese nuclear carrier will sail no faster than the Charles de Gaulle.

Earlier reports said that China’s first mobile nuclear reactor is undergoing final tests before sailing into the South China Sea to power islands and drilling platforms in the vast ocean.