China has approved funding to develop core technologies for nuclear-powered ships amid speculation about Beijing's plans to build nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, one of the two dominant shipbuilders in China, said that one of its research institutions has received State approval and funding to formally begin research on core technologies and safety for nuclear-powered ships, state-run China Daily reported today.
"Compared with ships that use conventional propulsion, nuclear-powered ships can travel farther and are more reliable, factors that make the ships a reasonable choice for polar expeditionary missions," Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science, told the Daily.
Many military followers link the announcement to widespread speculation that China may develop its own nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the Daily said.
"I think the research will definitely pave the way for our nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," it quoted a micro-blogger who uses the name Shangoufu.
China launched its first conventional aircraft carrier last year which is still undergoing trials.
Du said he considers it possible that the Chinese navy's next carrier will be equipped with nuclear propulsion.
"China already has the technology and industrial capability to develop and build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," he said.
"We already have nuclear-powered submarines, which require more sophisticated technologies and manufacturing capabilities, so developing a nuclear-powered carrier will not be difficult."
Li Jie, a professor at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said it is "more likely" that China will install nuclear reactors on its next aircraft carrier.
"We have command over most of the essential technologies of building a nuclear-powered carrier," he said, adding that some technical problems still need to be resolved.
The US navy has all but one of the world's nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, with 10 in service after the USS Enterprise was deactivated in December.
The only operating aircraft carrier outside the US is France's Charles de Gaulle, also the first French nuclear-powered surface vessel.