EU-China nuclear deal wins backing from energy chief

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Series Details Vol.7, No.26, 28.6.01, p2
Publication Date 28/06/2001
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Date: 28/06/01

By Laurence Frost

THE European Commission has backed confidential plans by energy chief Loyola de Palacio for a nuclear cooperation deal with China under the Euratom treaty.

The initiative would help companies take advantage of "important and increasing business opportunities for the EU nuclear industry", according to the proposal, a copy of which was obtained by European Voice.

If approved by ministers, it would allow the Commission to negotiate a far-reaching agreement with China covering nuclear plant construction, as well as services such as the transport, treatment and reprocessing of nuclear waste.

But the inclusion of "research into new types of reactors" is especially likely to antagonise anti-nuclear EU governments such as Austria which are against any moves to promote or prolong the use of nuclear power.

German Commissioner Michaele Schreyer is understood to have opposed the EU-China plan at the 6 June meeting at which it was adopted, along with Sweden's Margot Wallström and Austria's Franz Fischler.

During her official visit to China ending last week (16-19 June), de Palacio held further talks on a possible agreement, with the backing of External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has condemned the plan. "This is the first time the Commission has admitted that Euratom is a mechanism for the promotion of its own nuclear industry rather than safety," said activist Tobias Muenchmeyer.

He argued that the involvement of German firm Siemens in supplying control systems for less reliable Soviet-designed reactors in Lianyungang, China, showed that safety was not a top priority. But de Palacio's spokesman, Gilles Gantelet, defended the move to boost access to China for EU industries.

He said: "Let's be serious - China is going to have nuclear energy. We can either say Europe's not interested, or we can help the industry gain access to this market and to trade with China."

Gantelet maintains that the new deal would allow the EU to demand higher standards of nuclear safety in China as well as further commitments to non-proliferation.

Senior nuclear industry players agree that the Euratom-China accord would be an improvement on the bilateral agreements which are already in place between China and a handful of nuclear EU countries.

Dominique Vignon, president of Franco-German joint venture Framatome ANP, said former US President Bill Clinton's 1999 visit to China had delivered huge benefits to American firms. "The EU can open the door in the same way, Political involvement is needed at the highest level."

The EU already has nuclear cooperation agreements with several other countries under its 1957 Euratom Treaty.

The European Commission has backed confidential plans by energy chief Loyola de Palacio for a nuclear cooperation deal with China under the Euratom Treaty.

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