China, Pakistan Set Reactor Deal

Daniel Horner

China reportedly has reached a deal to sell two nuclear reactors to Pakistan, a country that does not open all its nuclear facilities to international inspections.

Under the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which China joined in 2004, countries other than the five recognized nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are not eligible to receive most nuclear exports from NSG members unless they agree to accept such inspections, known as full-scope safeguards.

In an April 28 article, the Financial Times cited an interview with a Pakistani official and a statement on China National Nuclear Corporation’s Web site as confirming the deal, which has been the subject of conflicting information over the past few months. The Times also cited diplomats in China as saying Beijing had approved the deal, but that it had not been sealed.

The NSG, which is currently chaired by Hungary, is scheduled to hold its annual plenary meeting June 21-25 in New Zealand. In a May 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Hungarian diplomat said that “the Chinese-Pakistani deal on nuclear reactors has not been formally discussed within NSG but we anticipate the issue will be raised” during the New Zealand meeting. The diplomat added, “We hope to learn more about the deal during the plenary after which the Group can formulate a well-informed position on the issue.”

When China joined the NSG, it had already built a power reactor at Pakistan’s Chashma site. It claimed at the time that, under the NSG’s “grandfather” provisions, it was entitled to build a second one, on the grounds that the second project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan.

China made “a declaration of existing projects” that covered Chashma-1 and -2, which “were grandfathered as conditions of China’s NSG membership,” a U.S. official said in a recent e-mail to Arms Control Today.  “There was no declaration at that time, and subsequently no NSG approval, of any intention to build additional nuclear power plants at Chasma,” the official said.

“Without an exception granted by the NSG by consensus, Chinese construction of additional nuclear power plants in Pakistan beyond what was grandfathered in 2004 would be inconsistent with NSG guidelines and China’s commitments to the NSG,” the official said.

The U.S. government “has reiterated to the Chinese government that the United States expects Beijing to cooperate with Pakistan in ways consistent with Chinese nonproliferation obligations,” the official said.

In 2008 the NSG, led by the United States, granted an exemption making India, which also does not apply full-scope safeguards, eligible to receive nuclear exports from NSG members.

The NSG is not a formal organization, and its guidelines are not binding.