Ananth Krishnan

Before it exports nuclear power reactors to Pakistan

BEIJING: China will first have to seek an exception from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) before it can go ahead with its plan to export two nuclear power reactors to Pakistan, a top United States official has said.

China last month announced it would set up two civilian nuclear power reactors in Pakistan. The deal has triggered debate in India and the U.S. on nuclear proliferation, as the NSG guidelines disallow the transfer of nuclear equipment to countries who have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

While the Chinese government has insisted its agreement with Pakistan followed international guidelines, U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake said on Tuesday the U.S. government's position was the deal could not go ahead unless China first obtained an exception from the NSG. “I would just say that we are aware of those reports [of the deal] and to the extent that China does want to try to provide additional reactors to Pakistan, that would require an exception of the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group,” he said in Beijing, when asked about the deal. “So it would be important that China seek the exception from the NSG.”

He added: “I don't want to prejudge what the outcome of such a discussion would be, but I think that is our position.”

Beijing, however, maintained that the deal “respected international obligations”, Asked by The Hindu if China would seek an exemption, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “In recent years, China and Pakistan have been cooperating in the field of civilian use nuclear energy. This cooperation respects international obligations, for peaceful purposes, and accepts the International Atomic Energy Agency's regulation and supervision.”

China's largest operator of nuclear power plants, the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), revealed last month that China and Pakistan had signed a $2.375-billion agreement for two 340 MW power reactors. The CNNC has already set up two nuclear power reactors in Pakistan — the 325 MW Chashma-1, which became operational in 2000, and Chashma-2 which will go online next year.

Chinese officials and analysts have argued that the deal for Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 was part of the earlier agreement for C-1 and C-2, which the NSG had granted exception to. But this position has been questioned by officials and analysts in India and the U.S., who say the deal for C-3 and C-4 was not included in China's declaration of its nuclear commitments to the NSG in 2004.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday did not answer questions from The Hindu on whether China had indeed earlier notified the NSG of the deal for C-3 and C-4, or if it had now sought an exception. The NSG's guidelines prevent the sale and transfer of nuclear equipment to countries who have not signed the NPT and do not have a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. India was granted a special waiver to this requirement for the civilian nuclear deal with the U.S.