EU forges secret deal with China

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Series Details Vol.9, No.22, 12.6.03, p1-2
Publication Date 12/06/2003
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Date: 12/06/03

By Simon Coss

EUROPEAN firms could soon benefit from China's burgeoning nuclear industry - thanks to a controversial plan set to be agreed by the Union's governments this week.

The plan is due to be rubber-stamped by EU ministers during a meeting that began yesterday (11 June), and it gives the European Commission the right to "negotiate an agreement for cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy between the European Atomic Energy Community and the People's Republic of China".

The proposal is so sensitive that it has been classified 'restricted'.

But European Voice has spoken to officials who have seen the text, and they say the document essentially deals with the question of nuclear safety inChina. In particular it touches on a number of areas where European firms could provide expertise and possibly win some important contracts.

The subjects listed include de-commissioning old nuclear power stations, managing nuclear waste, radiation protection and sharing research information on controlled nuclear fusion.

European firms already have significant experience of nuclear safety questions having worked on a number of ailing nuclear reactors in the former Soviet bloc in recent years.

Although atomic power currently accounts for less than two percent of China's energy needs, the country's nuclear sector is expanding rapidly.

Four new reactors came on stream in 2002 bringing the total number of working plants to seven.

A further four power stations are currently under construction.

As atomic power becomes increasingly unfashionable in Europe, analysts say EU firms linked to the nuclear industry are constantly looking for new markets.

And the idea of getting a foothold in a country as huge as China is particularly attractive.

But environmental groups were quick to condemn the planned new agreement, arguing that the EU should stop backing nuclear power and its associated industries and concentrate on promoting renewable energy sources.

"We are totally opposed to the idea of the EU helping China to expand its nuclear industry in any way," said John Bowler, an atomic energy expert with eco-campaigners Greenpeace.

"This sort of agreement just shows that, behind a lot of fine rhetoric from the EU about renewables, nuclear power is really still at the top of their list of energy priorities," he added.

The planned EU-China nuclear agreement would ban any activities that could be used for developing atomic weapons.

The text states that cooperation between the EU and China must be "exclusively for peaceful and non-explosive purposes".

EU ministers are expected to agree to a European Commission proposal for co-operation between the EU and China on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

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