Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were set to grill Obama administration officials on Monday night in a closed-door hearing about nuclear cooperation with China, The Washington Post reports.
Experts say a pending deal to sell nuclear power plant equipment to the Chinese has raised concerns on Capitol Hill about proliferation and transfers of highly sensitive technology, the Post reports.
In April, the administration quietly gave notice
of a nuclear agreement renewal allowing China to buy more U.S.-designed reactors, take steps toward reprocessing plutonium, and acquire a technology that could also be used to make Chinese submarines stealthier, the Post reports.
The initial notice came and went with little discussion, but the issue now has the Senate's full attention, especially with the administration defending the deal in terms "similar to those deployed in the debate over Iran," writes the Post's Steven Mufson.
"We are just beginning what will be a robust review process," Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in an email to the Post. "These agreements can be valuable tools for furthering U.S. interests, but they must support, not undermine, our nation’s critical nonproliferation objectives."
Five administration officials were scheduled to testify on Monday night in a private session beginning at 6 p.m. that would also include details from a classified assessment of China's nuclear export controls and China's relationships with "other countries of proliferation concern," the Post reports.
If Congress votes to block the agreement renewal with China, the world's biggest market for nuclear energy, the Chinese will feel free to do business with "another country with lower levels of proliferation controls," a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post.
But some nonproliferation experts fear the new deal will allow China to ramp up its already sizable nuclear weapons program and possibly equip its submarines with noise-dampening technology that was developed in the U.S., the Post reports.
A Senate Armed Services Committee aide, speaking anonymously, told the Post that because China appears to be constructing a new military base on reefs in the South China Sea, military applications for nuclear technology are a focus of the hearing.
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