Desperate for new and cleaner sources of power, China is leading an Asian revival of interest in nuclear energy, unveiling plans to build 30 nuclear plants within 15 years.
Eager to acquire new technology, officials have said some contracts, averaging US$2bn a plant, will go to overseas contractors offering advanced designs.
For US-based companies in particular, such as Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric (owned by Britain's BNFL), that's a potential US$60bn bonanza for an industry that has not seen a new domestic reactor order since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
Until recently, US companies had been barred from selling nuclear technology to China amid concerns over the proliferation of nuclear technology.
However, shortly before the election, the Bush administration announced that it would likely give the green light to such a sale, clearing the way for Westinghouse to compete against rivals such as Europe's Siemens and Areva.
Company spokesman Vaughn Gilbert told China Economic Review that Westinghouse would be bidding for four plants initially, offering the "proven technology" of its AP1000 pressurized water reactor (PWR), which he described as safer, more reliable and more economical to run than existing Chinese models.
While there would be "a broad range of technology" transferred in accordance with Chinese specifications, the materials and know-how would, he said, provide "no new technology directly transferable to weapons development."
In addition, he said, as part of the export process China would provide assurances that the reactor elements would "not be used for purposes other than intended for commercial power generation."
The nuclear contracts come as China seeks to more than double its overall power generating capacity from 400,000MW now to 900,000MW by 2020. A key part of the plan calls for the share of nuclear energy to jump from just 1.7% now to 4%.
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