Reactors of the grandfathered kind

Getting under the China-Pakistan nuclear deal

Among the news that Asif Zardari brought back from Beijing was that of a deal under which China would supply two more 300MWe(?) reactors to add to the existing ones at the Chashma complex. China, unsurprisingly, has remained silent on the deal. For good reason—because it will likely be a contravention of the rules of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) that China joined in June 2004.

Here’s some background. China applied to join the NSG in January 2004, at its membership was to come up for consideration at the NSG meeting in May that year. Joining the NSG would require it to refrain from supplying nuclear technology and fuel to countries that were not signatories to the NPT. But there is a loophole in the NSG rules—states who had contracted to do this before they joined the NSG are allowed to fulfill their commitments.

In other words, if China were to sign a deal with Pakistan (a non-signatory to the NPT) before it became a member of the NSG, then it could continue its supply relationship even after joining the NPT. And that is exactly what China did. In March 2004, it emerged that a deal was in the works, and indeed, a supply agreement was signed on 4th May. On 28th May, the NSG approved China’s membership, which took effect on 10th June 2004. (This still required Pakistan to accept IAEA safeguards on the reactors, which it did in February 2007.) [See these sources]

Thus the second nuclear reactor at Chasma (Chasnupp 2) was ‘grandfathered’. It is unclear how many reactors were included in the deal they signed on 4th May 2004. That’s not the only thing that is murky. Now, unless China and Pakistan claim that the third and fourth reactors at Chashma were part of the same deal (and they might, because this was talked about), and hence qualify to be grandfathered as well, the deal that President Zardari announced will require China to cock a snook at the rest of the NSG members. It’ll be interesting to see what China says when it breaks its silence. But if it was part of the older deal then President Zardari didn’t bring back anything new.

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