Dec 28, 2008

Nuclear cooperation prospects unclear

By Li Xiaokun and Wu Jiao (China Daily)

Chinese experts said on Friday US President-elect Barack Obama's proposal to resume exchanges with Chinese nuclear weapons laboratories would accelerate bilateral nuclear energy cooperation. However, they also said it is difficult to predict China's response.

The Washington Times reported on Thursday that Obama had said in an interview with Arms Control Today magazine that in addition to holding a strategic nuclear dialogue with China, he wants to resume "laboratory to laboratory exchanges that were terminated in the 1990s".

Zhou Shijian, a senior researcher with Tsinghua University's Center for China-US Relations Studies, said Obama's proposal would boost Sino-US cooperation on the "peaceful utilization of nuclear energy", which is the major goal of nuclear laboratory exchanges.

"Nuclear energy will replace large aircrafts to provide the greatest business opportunities between China and the US in the future," said Zhou, who witnessed the decades of uneven Sino-US negotiations on nuclear energy cooperation.

It would benefit both countries, because it would bring a substantial amount of jobs and profit to the US, while helping China update its nuclear energy facilities, Zhou said.

China plans to build four nuclear energy power plants every year until 2020, with each plant to cost an estimated 10 billion yuan, he said.

However, Fan Jishe, a senior researcher of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it is still tricky to predict China's response to Obama's proposal, as Washington's "Chinese espionage" smear during previous exchanges deeply hurt Beijing.

Beijing and Washington engaged in such exchanges in the 1990s. But these faltered in the late 1990s, as US intelligence and security officials accused China of using the program to extract classified information through question-and-answer sessions with US scientists.

This led to the case of Los Alamos National Laboratory Chinese-born American scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was accused but never convicted of passing nuclear secrets to China.

In 1999, the CIA produced an assessment claiming China obtained data on every deployed nuclear weapon. But the FBI never identified any "spy" who allegedly gave China the data.

Lee was freed in September 2000. At his plea hearing, Judge James Parker of the US District Court, New Mexico, apologized for the "unfair manner" in which he was detained.

Fan said the "lies deeply hurt" China then, so Beijing did not answer the Bush administration's calls for bilateral strategic nuclear talks.

Obama has vowed to push the US Congress to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, with some reports claiming the US may ratify the treaty within two years.


Anonymous said...

'Washington's "Chinese espionage" smear during previous exchanges deeply hurt Beijing.'

Well let's put a band aid on Beijing's boo boo then. It would be unwise to think that Chinese espionage was/is a figment of our imaginations.

How much interchange must take place between US and Chinese nuclear weapons labs in order to facilitate sales of nuclear reactors? Hopefully not any more than what we supply to any other nation.

If US designed reactors can be sold to China I would hope that it would kickstart the use of them on our shores. On a dark windless night those windmills and solar arrays don't put out a lot.

Anonymous said...

The infamous Red Scare period of the late 90's was an ugly time for the DOE nuclear weapon labs. Do we really need to dig up memories of this awful stuff, yet again?

To my way of thinking, the Wen Ho Lee incident was the beginning of the end for the once great lab called LANL. It's all been pretty much down hill ever since 1999.

Anonymous said...

Filed under "The Next Obama Scandal" (FireDogLake blog):

*** Christopher Cox: A Blast from the Past ***

By: Phoenix Woman Tuesday December 23, 2008 7:00 pm

As Christy's piece reminds me, Chris Cox stinks every bit as much today as a Bush-appointed money watchdog at the SEC as he did a decade ago as a self-appointed weapons-technology watchdog in Congress.

Cox is the fine gentleman who, as the Republican representative from Newport Beach in California's Orange County, gave us the Cox Report, which was part of the "Chinagate" prong of the hydra-headed and bogus Vast Right Wing Conspiracy attacks on the Clintons in the 1990s. The whole point of Chinagate was to accuse Bill Clinton of giving away key defense-related technology to the Chinese, which is why it was so ironic that the Cox Report was itself accused of revealing classified nuclear-weapons information. (And three weeks after its release, Chris Cox voted for releasing important computer technology to China.)

When he wasn't harassing the Clintons or Wen Ho Lee, Cox spent the 1990s dreaming up ways to make life easier for his buddies on Wall Street, usually at the expense of investors. (In other words, he did then pretty much what he's done since becoming head of the SEC, whose budget he's slashed.) His crowning legislative achievement, enacted over President Clinton's veto, was the 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, which -- under the guise of stopping frivolous lawsuits -- made it much harder to successfully sue securities firms, thus removing an important restraint on their conduct. Bernard Madoff might not have got away with his Ponzi scheme for so long if this act wasn't around. And FDL commenter bigbrother reminded us that Cox was involved with a pretty sleazy investment fraudster -- and had inveighed against regulations that would have reined in that fraudster -- even before he became a congressmember. Amazingly, he held his anti-regulation stance even after being a witness to what happens when regulation is absent: The 1994 bankruptcy of Orange County. With guys like Cox on the case, it's no wonder our financial system is a mess.

Anonymous said...

What a stupid idea. Are there any brains left in government?

The best US company (Westinghouse) sold to Japan (Mitsubishi) the most viable commercial nuclear power plant (PWR) technology in the 1990s when it was apparent the US would not build another nuclear power plant in a commecially viable period.

20 years later, the US has nothing to say to China about commecial nuclear power, we are still nuclear Luddites. China should talk to Japan.

And what the heck does Obama think Labbies can contribute to the nuclear power discussion, very rapid detonation?

We understand things that go boom, not boil water. The Chinese want things that go boom, ah. oops.(not politically correct), I mean boil water.

I hope Chu straightens out Obama before DAgostino talks to him.

Anonymous said...

Off on a tangent, but does LANL currently have any NRC work?

Anonymous said...

The US use to be good at designing things that go "boom" to protect this country. The rapid decline of scientific expertise at the nuclear weapon labs is such that I doubt we will be able to do this for much longer.

As Sig Hecker told Congress, no scientist in his right mind wants to come out to these scientific "gulags" to launch a career. Lab privatization and the for-profit motive along with the intense risk adverse culture of DOE/NNSA have pretty much killed off the US nuclear defense labs. Given that we clearly have a Congress which is disinterested in this subject, it's probably too late to begin to turn things around.