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. US likely to approve exports of nuclear reactors to China: official
BEIJING (AFP) Oct 19, 2004
The United States' nuclear regulator said Tuesday it is likely to approve the export of US-designed reactors to China soon, giving American companies access to a multi-billion-dollar market.

Nils Diaz, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told reporters it was reviewing export licenses for Westinghouse's recently approved "state of the art" AP-1000 reactor.

He said he was unaware of any significant objections to exporting the technology to China.

"The commission will actually vote on this issue hopefully in the next couple of months," Diaz told a news conference.

"The process is relatively simple once we get to this stage ... I haven't heard of any significant opposition to the issue."

Diaz, who tried to sell the safety of the AP-1000 to Chinese officials on his visit, said China would be the first country to put the recently approved reactor to use if it makes a purchase.

China currently has nine nuclear reactors, most of which are imported from France or are locally designed.

To meet its huge energy needs, the rapidly industrializing country plans to build some 30 nuclear-power plants by 2020, triggering competition among foreign reactor suppliers.

While Beijing has not said it wants to buy the US reactor, it has long sought US nuclear power technology. US companies have also lobbied hard to sell to China.

Having lagged behind their counterparts in France and Canada, they do not want to be left out of the world's only major market for reactors.

It is estimated that as a result of this vast expansion plan, 80 percent of all new nuclear power plants over the next two decades will be built in China.

Trade in US nuclear technology to China was blocked due to sanctions imposed on Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, as well as by additional export controls and concerns about Chinese proliferation of nuclear technology to Pakistan and Iran.

China has sought to appease US concerns in recent years, giving reassurances it will not transfer technology to third parties and joining a US-backed nuclear non-proliferation group.

"My understanding is that China is looking for an advanced reactor that provides greater assurance of safety, a reactor that has more passive fission so it requires less personnel involvement and less safety systems," Diaz said.

"They are looking I think for a reactor with reduced maintenance, reduced monitoring, something that is state of the art, and the AP-1000 is a state-of-the-art reactor."

If a sale goes through, the reactor will be the first US-designed reactor to be sold to China.

Diaz said Washington will seek assurances from China that it will not transfer the technology to other countries. The reactor costs 1,200 to 1,500 US dollars per kilowatt of electricity, he said.

China will not be limited on how many reactors it can buy.

Power generated by nuclear power plants currently accounts for about two percent of China's total output.

Coal-generated power meets about 80 percent of its energy needs but China is looking for alternative sources, including nuclear power, to ease pressure on fuel transportation and reduce environmental damage.

China hopes to achieve a total nuclear power capacity of 36 million kilowatts by 2020, almost four times the current capacity.

A move by the US to allow exports will offer China more choices, and likely stronger bargaining power for a reduced price from companies competing for bids.

Two new nuclear power projects on its east coast -- at Sanmen in Zhejiang province and at Yangjiang in Guangdong province -- are in the works.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said the government was inviting bids for reactors and hoped US companies would "actively participate".

Westinghouse will likely bid its AP-1000, with its main rival being French company Areva which is expected to bid its EPR reactor.

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