China is on an Extraction Mission: Nuclear-Powered Polar Exploration and Ocean Floor Mining

As we continue our unbridled burning of fossil fuels, the Arctic ice continues to melt.  As it melts, new terrains for oil and mineral extraction are opening up, grabbing the attention of nations who border and have stakes in the Arctic (Canada, USA, Russia, China), as well as the attention of global civil society, NGOs and environmental groups.  arctic-fox-winter-ngk1108-ca01_14251_600x450

We do not need to be tapping into yet another source of oil to burn up into our skies and lungs, but the excavation of oil in the Arctic would also devastate the fragile terrain and eviscerate the hope for survival of many beloved Arctic animals.  Concerned citizens, scientists, activists and academics fear that different states may start to militarize the Arctic, making the area a new frontier for conflict over resources.  Another grave fear is that burning the Arctic oil will push us far past the 2°C global temperature rise that we’re already doomed to see (even if we stopped all emissions right this moment), and lock us into a climate change feedback loop in which we’d no longer have any control over rising temperatures.  seal2

This is why China’s new nuclear-powered ships for polar exploration are so disconcerting.  “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,” said Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Science.  China’s state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. received funding to build these ships, but are rather silent on the purpose of the polar missions.  For environmentalists and social scientists watching the world leaders’ increasing interest in Arctic oil, the reason for polar exploration at this point in time is clear.  russian-nuclear-icebreakeryamal-wofratz-wiki

On top of this, China is developing a nuclear-powered ocean floor mining station to drill for oil, gold, copper, zinc, lead and other metals directly from the ocean floor.  This station will be like a luxury hotel, with ports to support the docking of manned or unmanned vessels.  “If a submersible were a plane, this station would be an aircraft carrier,” Ma Xiangneng , a researcher with the project, told China National Radio. “The station will be an underwater palace, with showers, a living room and laboratories.”  The China Ship Scientific Research Center hopes to build a prototype for 2015, with a fully functional station to follow by 2030.


Hopefully, if citizens and activists the world over can be alerted and informed about the dangerous and radically irresponsible nature of these extractive missions, we can nip these projects in the bud before they devastate the world as we know it.  A more egalitarian, healthy, natural and sustainable future will only be possible if we use technology for sustainable innovation –not to create nuclear-powered monstrosities that devour our Earth from beneath our feet.


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5 Comments on “China is on an Extraction Mission: Nuclear-Powered Polar Exploration and Ocean Floor Mining”

  1. arjun bagga February 25, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Your effort here is commendable. Cheers and Good luck!

  2. jpgreenword February 26, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    Imagine what we could do if instead of spend billions of dollars on these “insane” projects, we spent the money on finding solutions to our more pressing problems. Like climate change.

    By the way, Canada is doing the same thing in the rush for Arctic resources: last year, while government jobs and services were being cut left-right-and-center in the name of “austerity”, the government approved over 30 billion dollars for the construction of new ships, many of which are intended for the Arctic.

    Meanwhile, funding for scientific research and scientific research facilities has all but vanished.

    • utopiandreaming February 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

      Yes, Harper’s attack on critical scientific research is deplorable –making it easier to sweep Omnibus budget bills right under our feet. And yes, we need to protest the moves that our own government is making in terms of exploring and militarizing the Arctic. The melting of the Arctic ice sheets shouldn’t signal an *opportunity* to drill, but should signal the terrifying reality that we need to curb climate change before we destroy that environment completely.

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