The announcement from China's biggest nuclear power firm that it was in talks to set up a one-gigawatt plant in Pakistan underscores the rising overseas ambitions of China's nuclear power industry, say analysts.

Following an unprecedented expansion since 2005, and with more than 28 power reactors slated to be built in China within the next 10 years, Chinese firms are now increasingly turning to overseas markets.

Pakistan, according to analysts and officials, is serving as a launch pad for the industry's overseas ambitions.

The state-run China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), which is involved in four nuclear power plant projects – another in the talks stage — in Pakistan, is investing 800 billion yuan ($117.6 billion) to build 10 reactors in China by 2020, Sun Youqi, its vice president, said this week. The company operates seven of China's 11 running power reactors — which have a combined capacity of 9,100 MW, accounting for

one per cent of China's energy needs. Capacity is forecast to reach up to 80,000 MW by 2020, or five per cent of the energy requirements.

Mr. Sun said following the domestic expansion, the CNNC was now “looking to tap overseas markets.” Since June, when Ye Qizhen, an analyst with the CNNC, said in a statement the company was “basically ready to export a mega nuclear power plant”, CNNC officials have been pressing Beijing to give it the go-ahead to begin work on a “mega plant” in Pakistan. However, following international concerns after the CNNC's announcement in March that it had signed deals to build two 300 MW reactors in Pakistan, the status of a fifth mega deal was unclear.

The CNNC has, in the past decade, emerged among a group of state-run firms in the energy sector that have an increasing influence in foreign policy, even overriding diplomatic interests, says a recent report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

According to Dean Knox, an analyst with SIPRI, the CNNC had been pressuring the government to support an overseas expansion starting in Pakistan. The government, he said, initially resisted the pressure, prompted by China's joining of the 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2004 and international concerns over Pakistan's proliferation record. But following a waiver granted to the civilian nuclear agreement between India and the United States, the Chinese government's “political will to block the CNNC project evaporated”, according to SIPRI.

Earlier this year, the CNNC signed deals with Pakistan to build two 300 MW power reactors, Chashma-3 and Chashma-4, following the two power reactors it has already built — the 325 MW Chashma-1 that started operating in 2000, and Chashma-2, which will be unveiled next year. The deal stirred debate, going against the mandated guidelines of the NSG that do not allow the transfer of nuclear technology to countries who have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The CNNC's announcement on Monday that talks were under way for a fifth one-GW plant, estimated at 14 billion yuan ($2 billion) was not immediately confirmed by officials. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said China had notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the deals for the two 300 MW reactors, and “invited the IAEA to exercise safeguards and oversight of this project”. She did not, however, deny a deal for a fifth plant was in the works, only telling reporters “to check with the company”.

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