A bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement was signed between the United States and China in 1985. Because the agreement is expected to expire by the end of this year, the Obama administration plans to make a new deal known as 123 agreement with China based on the Atomic Energy Act. It will help regulate the sharing of nuclear technology. During the hearing held on May 12 on the new agreement, Corker said that China is in violation of the current agreement as it provided a US nuclear reactor to Pakistan.
The 1985 agreement was held up for 13 years to allow the US to negotiate measures to prevent China from sharing nuclear technology with Iran and North Korea. Eventually, it was approved in 1998 by then president Bill Clinton. “We have a country like China that is not honoring the spirit of the law,” said Corker. “They’re not honoring previous agreements with the nuclear group. We know they’re going to take this information and use it for military purposes. We know that, even though the agreement says they won’t do it.”
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He asked two officials from the Obama Administration about whether nuclear cooperation will be suspended if Chinese violations are confirmed. Senator Robert Menendez expressed his concern over China’s buildup of nuclear submarines. The senator said that China probably possesses reactor cooling pumps produced by the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, an American company that makes the pumps for US nuclear-powered submarines to upgrade the design of its own submarines.
“Concerns have been raised that China may be diverting US nuclear power technology to its nuclear naval program,” said Senator Ed Markey. “Would such a transfer violate the peaceful use provisions of the 1985 Nuclear Cooperation Agreement?” Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security answered that this would constitute a violation of the current agreement and the proposed successor agreement.
Menendez said that the Curtiss-Wright Corporation is also producing a scaled-up version of this pump for Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactors. Since the technology has been provided to China, Menendez questioned if Beijing can reverse engineer the pumps that they have received from Westinghouse for the nuclear-powered submarine designed for the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Countryman said that the issue was discussed by officials of the state department one night before the hearing.