US-China civilian nuclear agreement passes congressional review

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An agreement allowing American involvement in China's civilian atomic industry is set to be renewed for 30 years despite some stiff criticism from lawmakers over the Asian nation's record on nuclear proliferation.

A 90-day congressional review period expired on Friday without legislative action or a joint resolution to block or alter the agreement. The State Department said Monday that the U.S. and China will decide "a suitable time in the near future" when the agreement will enter into force.

The current 30-year agreement expires at the end of the year. The Obama administration had warned that ending U.S.-China nuclear cooperation would be devastating to the U.S. nuclear industry and would hurt bilateral relations and diminish American leverage on non-proliferation and nuclear safety.

China has the world's fastest-growing atomic industry. Four American-designed reactors worth $8 billion are under construction in China, and dozens more are planned or proposed that, industry advocates say, could support tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.

Daniel Lipman, vice president at the Nuclear Energy Institute, said Monday he was pleased the agreement is "almost complete." He said China will be the single largest market for U.S. nuclear technology, goods and services for the foreseeable future.

Both Republicans and Democrats, particularly in the Senate, had aired concerns that U.S. civilian nuclear technology may have been adapted for use in Chinese nuclear submarines, which is forbidden by the agreement. Despite some improvements in the Chinese government's record on nuclear non-proliferation since the 1990s, Chinese entities, including those facing U.S. sanctions, are still accused of transferring sensitive military technology to Iran and North Korea. China has also decided to help build more power reactors in Pakistan, although the country's facilities are not under international safeguards.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a 2016 presidential hopeful, had co-sponsored a resolution last month seeking to block the agreement, but it failed to galvanize action.

China has had the bomb for 50 years and has a stockpile of perhaps 250 weapons.

The U.S. has forged civilian nuclear pacts with two dozen countries — including its other main strategic rival, Russia.