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Proposal to lift ban on US nuclear technology exports to China

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 21, 1997) On Wednesday 28 November US president Bill Clinton announced that Washington will lift the ban on nuclear technology exports to China. The announcement came after Chinese President Jiang Zemin pledged that the technology would not end up in any troublesome nation, such as Iran or Pakistan.

(481.4772) WISE-Amsterdam -Lifting the ban will mean that US companies like Westinghouse, General Electric and ABB Combustion Engineering can join the competition for China`s fast growing nuclear power market -- a market in which France`s Framatome, Canada`s AECL, and Russian firms have already concluded lucrative contracts. It could be very hard for the American companies to compete with those firms, but as one industrial expert says, 'US nuclear firms are very competitive in both their product quality and prices'. It has been US export control legislation that put them at a disadvantage. To get this ban lifted there has of course been great pressure exerted on President Clinton. The nuclear industry claimed that potential exports between now and 2010 just for new plants would create about 225,000 man-years of work and could be worth as much as US$15 billion. And because it is obvious that the nuclear industry is almost dead in the United States (due to lack of a domestic market), US nuclear power companies are eager to get a slice of what is believed to be the world`s fasted growing industrial market. But penetrating the Chinese market will be very hard due to the strong competition.

With two reactors at Guandong (Daya Bay) and one in Quinshan, China's current capacity is about 2,100 megawatt. This is only one percent of the electricity supply to the national grid. Plans call for an increase of capacity to 50,000 MW by the year 2020. This means the installation of 40-50 large nuclear reactors. Thus it is expected that China will spend some US$50-US$60 billion on this in the next two decades. US firms hope to snare half that market by 2010. But we have learned from the history of the nuclear industry that plans on this scale are very optimistic and most likely will not be realised.

There is still one difficulty to be overcome before the ban is actually lifted. This also means that there is still an opportunity to pressure for maintaining the ban. The US Congress, which has often criticized the disregard for human rights by the Chinese government, first has to agree to the export accord. That means that President Bill Clinton has to certify to the Congress that China will halt its spreading of nuclear weapons. China has already given written assurance that it will end all new nuclear cooperation with Iran and quickly phase out two existing projects.

On November 5, the Congress voted by an overwhelming margin of 394-29 to give itself three more months to decide this issue, extending the certification investigation from 30 days to 120. For further information see WISE NC 479.4756: 'US-China agreement to be certified.'


  • Reuter, 7, 24, 30 October, 3 November 1997
  • AFP, 30 & 31 October, 1 November 1997
  • UPI, 22 October 1997.

Contact: Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), 1000 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 804, Washington, DC 20036, USA
Tel: +1-202- 822-8444; Fax: +1-202-452-0892

Don't make the same mistakes! To urge China to reject nuclear power, a coalition of green groups in the US (Nuclear Information Resources Service, the Sierra Club and Public Citizen) wrote a letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin advising him to consult energy experts to consider "cleaner and less costly alternatives for China." The groups say in the November 3 letter: "We hope to have China benefit from our own experiences. We would like to help China avoid wasting its resources on a failed and faulty technology that will saddle the Chinese people with enormous debt and the intractable problem of dealing with long-lived radioactive waste." They further pointed out that US investors do not consider nuclear power a cost-effective way to produce electricity and warned China not to commit itself to an expensive, dangerous and unsustainable energy course.

Japanese nuclear export to China. The Japanese Government has decided to lift the current ban on export of nuclear plant equipment from Japan to China. The decision came after the recent US-China agreement.
Asahi (Japan), 11 November 1997