China’s Nuclear Exports

It went largely unnoticed, but another nuclear domino just tipped over in the broader Middle East, with Algeria signing two agreements with China last week, one to build a nuclear reactor and the other to train their nuclear technicians to operate it. In addition to the concerns this raises about the entire region pursuing a civil nuclear hedge against an Iranian bomb, this particular deal is problematic for two other reasons.

The first is China’s history of nuclear exports, which have included deals with Pakistan (to build a reactor despite Pakistan’s non-NPT status) and Iran (which included allegations of weapons-related technology transfers). The second is a controversial episode from the early-90’s, when a Chinese-built Algerian reactor caused some concern about weaponization dual use. China has since joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group and strengthened its domestic export regulations on dual use technology. And past performance does not necessarily guarantee future results. But it’s worth keeping in mind.

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