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Nuclear Secrets China Cheney*

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Last update: April 9, 2004 at 8:26 PM

Cheney's mission to China includes nuclear sales pitch

H. Josef Hebert

Associated Press

Published April 10, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On a trip to China next week to talk about such high-stakes issues as terrorism and North Korea, Vice President Dick Cheney will have another task: making a pitch for Westinghouse's U.S. nuclear power technology.

At stake could be billions of dollars in business in coming years and thousands of American jobs. The initial installment of four reactors, costing $1.5 billion apiece, would also help narrow the huge U.S. trade deficit with China.

China's latest economic plan anticipates more than doubling its electricity output by 2020, and the Chinese government, facing enormous air pollution problems, is looking to shift some of that away from coal-burning plants. Its plan calls for building as many as 32 1,000-megawatt reactors over the next 16 years.

No American utility has ordered a reactor since the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and the next one, if it comes, is still years away. So, China is being viewed by the U.S. industry as a potential bonanza.

Cheney's three-day visit to Beijing and Shanghai next week is part of a weeklong trip to Asia that will also include a stop in Tokyo. He departed Washington on Friday.

A senior administration official, briefing reporters about the trip, said Cheney will not "pitch individual commercial transactions." [BS. Only one US company has nuclear capability Dresser/Halliburton--RSB.] But he intends to make clear "we support the efforts of our American companies" and general access to China's markets, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some critics are concerned about such technology transfers.

"This pitch could not be more poorly timed," Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told a hearing of the House International Relations Committee recently.

Citing recent Chinese plans to help Pakistan build two large reactors capable of producing plutonium, he said it is not the time for China to be rewarded with new reactor technology. U.S. officials said the Chinese have given adequate assurances that such sales will not pose a proliferation risk.

Bid solicitations for four reactors are expected to be issued by the Chinese within months.

The leading competitors are U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Co. and a French rival, Areva, which is peddling its next-generation reactor built by its Framatome subsidiary.

China has nine operating reactors, including French, Canadian, Russian, and Japanese designs as well as their own model, producing 6,450 megawatts of power, or about 1.4 percent total capacity. Even with the surge in reactor construction, nuclear power will account for only 8 percent of China's future electricity needs.

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