• An icebreaker clears ice drift in the Yellow River on Jan. 28, 2008, in Jinan of Shandong Province, China.

An icebreaker clears ice drift in the Yellow River on Jan. 28, 2008, in Jinan of Shandong Province, China. (Photo : Getty Images)

The new deal between China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) and China State Shipbuilding Corp (CSSC) will breathe new life in developing of China's maritime nuclear power technologies, experts said on Wednesday.

Although details of the agreement were not disclosed to the public, the deal will push both state-owned companies to speed up the development of nuclear-powered icebreakers and maritime nuclear power platforms, according to report from China Daily on Thursday.

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The CNNC and the CSSC signed a strategic cooperation framework agreement last week to improve the integration of civil and military industries under the Belt and Road Initiative.

"China currently only has one diesel-powered icebreaker-the Ukraine-built Xuelong, or Snow Dragon-but its ice-breaking capacity is still insufficient in certain polar areas under extreme weather conditions," Zhang Luqing, a nuclear expert at CNNC's science and technology commission, told China Daily.

"The country therefore needs advanced vessels to carry out scientific research in both the Arctic and Antarctic waters," he added.

While several countries including Russia, Ukraine, Canada, and the Netherlands are major builders of icebreakers, only Russia is capable of manufacturing nuclear-powered icebreakers and currently has a fleet of up to 10 ships.

An icebreaker is equipped with a strengthened hull, an ice-clearing shape, and a powerful engine that enables it to carve through sea ice, which normal sea vessels do not possess.

"For a nuclear-powered icebreaker, 10 kilograms of nuclear fuel is equal to burning 25,000 metric tons of standard coal," said Dong Liwan, a shipping industry professor at Shanghai Maritime University.

"Producing nuclear-powered icebreakers will not only test a shipyard's ability to manufacture such a high-end ship, but also provide a test for nuclear technology companies to install all the equipment for the ship's power system," Dong said.

Hu Keyi, technical director of Jiangnan Shipyard (Group) Co Ltd, a Shanghai-based CSSC subsidiary, told China Daily that bids for the construction of China's second polar research ship is expected to be completed this year and would feature stronger ice-breaking capabilities.

The ship is estimated to cost more than 1 billion yuan ($149.93 million) and construction to take approximately 24 months.

"China has excess capacity in building conventional ships, but not in complex and high value-added ships," said Hu.