Surface Forces: China Orders Surface Nukes


March 4, 2013: China has publically ordered the development of nuclear reactors for surface ships. Or, as sailors term it, “surface nukes.” Four decades ago China developed nuclear powered submarines. The first ones were a disaster. In addition to being very noisy (and easy for American subs to find), their nuclear reactors were poorly built and exposed the crews to dangerous levels of radiation. Learning from their mistakes, they rebuilt these first nuclear boats in the 1990s. This eventually eliminated the radiation problem and some of the noise problem. Thus the Chinese already have small nuclear reactors designed for use at sea and four decades of experience working with this technology. The current work consists of adapting existing naval reactors (only found in subs currently) to use in surface ships. The U.S. did this and had its first nuclear powered aircraft carrier in operation six years after its first nuclear sub entered service in 1955.

China has denied that it is building any more aircraft carriers, but government officials admit that the new nuclear reactor program is intended for large surface warships. No timeline was given for the nuclear reactor program. Based on other military technology efforts by China, 5-10 years seems a reasonable amount of time to have reactors ready for surface ships.

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