By Jeremy Page for The Wall Street Journal
BEIJING—China’s main nuclear power company announced that it is in talks to build a one-gigawatt nuclear power plant in Pakistan, even as the two countries face U.S. and Indian concerns over their cooperation to build other plants in Pakistan.
Pakistan has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and U.S. and Indian officials worry that nuclear material might fall into the hands of al Qaeda and Taliban militants based near the Afghan border in northwestern Pakistan.
The state-run China National Nuclear Corp. has already helped Pakistan build its main nuclear power facility at Chashma in Punjab province, is completing a second reactor there and has contracts to build two more 300-megawatt reactors.
Qiu Jiangang, vice president of CNNC, told a meeting in Beijing on Monday that the first reactor was operating safely, the second one was now being tested and expected to start formal operations by the end of the year. “Both sides are in discussions over the CNNC exporting a one-gigawatt nuclear plant to Pakistan,” he added, without giving details.
There was no immediate reaction from the U.S. or India. Officials from both countries expressed concern after China signed a deal in February to build the additional two 300-MW reactors. U.S. officials said such plans required special exemption from the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which China joined in 2004, and which is supposed to regulate the global nuclear trade.
Vann H. Van Diepen, the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, suggested before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July that the U.S. would vote against such an exemption.
The U.S. and many other NSG members have long had concerns about nuclear proliferation from Pakistan, especially since A.Q. Khan, its top nuclear scientist, confessed in 2004 to selling nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya.
Abdul Basit, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman, declined to comment on the one-gigawatt plant, but said Pakistan’s nuclear cooperation with China was for civilian purposes. “The nuclear cooperation between the two countries are in accordance with international obligations and comes under IAEA safeguards,” he said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
China and Pakistan argue that the U.S. set a precedent by sealing a landmark deal to sell civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India in 2006 even though New Delhi had yet to sign the NPT.
That agreement, which lifted a U.S. ban imposed after India tested its first nuclear device in 1974, is seen as the cornerstone of a new partnership with New Delhi designed to counterbalance China’s influence in Asia.
Critics, however, say it undermined the global non-proliferation regime by recognizing India as a global nuclear power, but not Pakistan, even though the South Asian rivals developed nuclear bombs simultaneously.