A planned civilian nuclear deal between China and Pakistan moved a step closer to completion, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors on March 8 approved safeguards agreements for the two power reactors that would be involved.
The units would be built at Pakistan's Chashma site, which already houses two Chinese-built power reactors.
The deal is controversial because the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which China joined in 2004, allow members to export nuclear goods such as reactors and fuel only to countries that accept IAEA safeguards on all their nuclear facilities. Pakistan does not apply these so-called full-scope safeguards.
When China joined the NSG, it had already built a power reactor at the Chashma site. It claimed at the time that, under the NSG's "grandfather" provisions, it was entitled to build a second reactor, on the grounds that the second project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan. According to several accounts, the NSG agreed that the second reactor would be allowable under the grandfather provision but that subsequent power reactor sales would not.
The 46-member NSG is not a formal organization; its export guidelines are nonbinding.
Reiterating the position the United States has held since mid-2010 (see ACT, June 2010), Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake told reporters in Beijing March 18, "We expect China to abide by the commitments that it made when it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004, and in particular we think the construction of new nuclear reactors such as the Chasma 3 and 4 would be inconsistent with those commitments," according to a Department of State transcript.
"We've been very clear in the Nuclear Suppliers Group context about that position, but we've also been very clear on the need to support Pakistan's energy development," Blake said. "]T]here's a lot that can be done in non-nuclear areas that help do that," he said.
In a March 23 e-mail to Arms Control Today, another State Department official drew a distinction between the IAEA and the NSG in the context of the deal. The United States supported approval of the safeguards pact because such agreements "play the key role of providing greater assurance and transparency that civilian activities are not diverted to other purposes," the official said. "We believe the Nuclear Suppliers Group is the appropriate venue to discuss concerns about this transfer, not the IAEA," the official said.
Waiting for Information
According to the official, the United States has "asked China to present the scope and details of its intended nuclear cooperation with Pakistan to the NSG," but "China has yet to provide such details."
The NSG discussed the matter last year during its plenary meeting in New Zealand. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) In recent interviews, diplomats said it is not on the agenda for this year's plenary meeting, which is scheduled for June in the Netherlands, but could be discussed there.
Some observers have said the United States needs to raise the issue in venues other than the NSG. State Department officials declined to say …