China, nuclear technology, and a US sale
Critics of a deal to sell China cutting-edge reactors hope to stall it in Congress by questioning the sale's taxpayer-backed financing.
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"You're building an infrastructure that can be used and retooled to help out in [China's] naval reactor sector – and they do want this for nuclear subs," says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a think tank on nuclear-policy issues.Skip to next paragraph
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Because China is already a nuclear-weapon nation, others don't see a problem with sharing US light-water power-reactor technology, a design considered less useful for making bomb fuel. But they do have other worries.
"Our concern is more about whether the US should be supporting building a commercial nuclear infrastructure when there are serious questions about whether the Chinese regulatory system [for nuclear-waste disposal] can do this safely," says Edwin Lyman, a nonproliferation expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group.
A boon to US industry?
Westinghouse and administration officials say the sale is economically justified and concerns about technology transfer unwarranted.
"This deal ... would affirm that the US remains a leader in the design and construction of civilian nuclear-power plants," said David Pumphrey, a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Energy (DOE) in February testimony before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. It would also create "some 5,500 new jobs in the US," he said. He echoed DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman, who spoke in December of the deal's potential to "spur development of a nuclear renaissance in the US."
Westinghouse's Mr. Gilbert says a key benefit is simply getting the new design working the first time in China, thereby working out any glitches and lowering costs for at least 10 new plants in the US that would use the same design.
To some, however, it's unclear how much the US benefits or whether the technology will help China's military. Others question whether the deal will create enough US jobs to merit billions in public financing.
"You've got the Japanese making most of the big parts, [and] the Chinese doing at least half the construction and absorbing all the technology to do it themselves later on," Mr. Sokolski says. "I fail to see any boon to US industry."
"We don't think these economic impact and jobs estimates are done very well," says Thea Lee, policy chief for the AFL-CIO, who sits on the advisory board of Export-Import Bank. "It's been our sense that the bank's process of verifying such claims is very inadequate and that there's a lot of phony job-padding going on."
Westinghouse officials say the deal will "load Westinghouse design centers" in Pennsylvania and other states with work and create positions in 20 states – to the tune of about 5,000 jobs.
Though the deal doesn't sit all that well with Lawrence Wortzel, a commissioner with the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, he does not favor blocking it.
"While I have reservations about the financing and technology transfer to third parties, I still wouldn't recommend taking action to block the sale," he says, noting that China certainly has the money to finance the deal itself and has a huge trade surplus with the US.