If the U.S. were serious the request-for-proposal would be for six ships and they would have been started five to ten years ago.It appears the rumors were true.
China, a non-polar nation already has a small fleet of light and medium icebreakers and is rumored to have plans for a new medium with a 3-3.5 meter-thick-ice capability as a stepping-stone to a couple heavy icebreakers by the mid-to-late 2020's. They are serious about their Polar Silk Road.*
From The Barents Observer, June 27:
A powerful nuclear ship could open new waters for China's Arctic strategy.
China National Nuclear Corporation on June 21st said bids are welcome from domestic yards to build the country’s first nuclear-powered icebreaker, newspaper Global Times reports.
The ship is said to be an “icebreaker support ship” indicating a multi-role purpose more than simply breaking the ice for other vessels in convoy. China’s current only ocean-going icebreaker, the “Xue Long” (Snow Dragon) is an icebreaking research vessel. Last summer, the ship sailed the entire Arctic rim with several stops en route where the on board scientists worked on different ice- and climate related research projects
Bidders are required to take part in research, appraisal, building and testing, as well as providing technology support to the operator.
Russia is today the only country in the world that operates a fleet of civilian nuclear powered vessels; four icebreakers and one container ship, all with Murmansk as homeport. Three new, even more powerful, nuclear-powered icebreakers are under construction.
China has experience in naval nuclear propulsion from a fleet of currently six military submarines of three different classes.
Song Zhongping, a military expert, said to Global Times the new icebreaker’s reactor can be applied to a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier once updated....MOREThat makes a nice jumping off point to the asterisked footnote from that March post:
*A month ago Bloomberg told us not to sweat it:
"Don't Fear China's Arctic Takeover"
On the other hand, if you read Xinhua's translation of January's "Full text: China's Arctic Policy" you'll note they call themselves a ‘Near-Arctic state’.
This is to counter people like me using the 'non-polar' or 'non-Arctic' phrasing.
Additionally China is couching their interest in terms of research:
States from outside the Arctic region do not have territorial sovereignty in the Arctic, but they do have rights in respect of scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines in the high seas and other relevant sea areas in the Arctic Ocean, and rights to resource exploration and exploitation in the Area, pursuant to treaties such as UNCLOS and general international law. In addition, Contracting Parties to the Spitsbergen Treaty enjoy the liberty of access and entry to certain areas of the Arctic, the right under conditions of equality and, in accordance with law, to the exercise and practice of scientific research, production and commercial activities such as hunting, fishing, and mining in these areas....and is dedicating 1100 square feet of space on the latest planned icebreaker to laboratories.
For some reason I'm reminded of the time the Chinese bought their first aircraft carrier from Ukraine.
The Ukrainians wouldn't sell if the big boat were going to be used for military purposes.
So the Chinese said "Ahhh...casino"
"That's it, we're only going to use it as a floating casino, Chinese people like to gamble, come on lucky 4, that's the ticket!"
Here's the Casino:
As can be seen, gamblers are able to fly right in for the action, Pai Gow to starboard, baccarat to port.
I can't wait to see what's cookin' in the icebreaker laboratories.
Even "near-equatorial" Singapore wants to get into the act, albeit by way of the Russian icebreakers.
I suppose it's only a matter of time before right-on-the-equator Brazil or Gabon declare themselves "next-to-near arctic states"
It's a small world after all.