U.S. Suspends Nuclear Trade With Chinese Group

November 2021

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has suspended shipments of radioactive materials to China’s state-owned and -operated nuclear company, the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN). The action includes restrictions on deuterium, a hydrogen isotope used in nuclear reactors and boosted nuclear weapons.

Concerned about China’s growing nuclear weapons program, the NRC decided Sept. 27 that a suspension was "necessary to further the national security interests of the United States and to enhance the United States common defense and security consistent with the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.” The nuclear cooperation act governs U.S. nuclear trade of sensitive nuclear materials with China and other countries and distributes licenses for “the exportation of nuclear material, reactors, and related technologies” if states party to the act meet specified standards. In 2015 the United States and China signed a 30-year cooperation agreement under terms of the act.

Washington’s apprehension about Beijing’s nuclear advances has been growing for more than a decade. In July 2018, Chris Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, warned of China’s “military-civil fusion” policy. The NRC described its order regarding CGN as “an extension of the [2018] licensing framework for civil nuclear exports from the United States to China established by the Executive Branch,” when U.S. President Donald Trump restricted nuclear trade with China to prevent nonmilitary and unauthorized use of nuclear technology. That same year, the U.S. Energy Department outlined policy guidelines aimed at deterring Beijing from illegally transforming nuclear technology for civilian use to technology for military purposes.

In April, Navy Adm. Charles Richard, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, warned that a new generation of Chinese nuclear power facilities are based on technology that could greatly expand the production of weapons-grade plutonium. It is expected that Beijing will double its nuclear warhead stockpile over the next decade.

The United Kingdom is also planning to remove CGN from the nuclear power plant under construction in Suffolk by selling China’s 20 percent stake in the project.—MARY ANN HURTADO