July 27, 2009

Today, senior government officials from the U.S. and China will meet in Washington for the inaugural Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which is the successor to the Bush Administration's Strategic Economic Dialogue.  The Atlantic Council timed the release of its latest energy report, United States-China Cooperation on Nuclear Power: An Opportunity for Fostering Sustainable Energy Security, to coincide with these important talks.
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The report is based on dialogues sponsored by the Atlantic Council and the U.S./China Energy and Environment Technology Center at Tsinghua and Tulane Universities.

There is hope that the dialogue will address the challenges and opportunities facing both countries on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues of immediate and long-term strategic and economic interest.  It will also set the stage for a series of bilateral discussions on energy security and global climate change.

Energy security and climate change have played a prominent role in the bilateral agenda since January 2009.  In late May 2009, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation from the U.S. Congress to China on a working visit devoted mostly to energy and climate change issues.  This was followed by U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern’s visit to China in June 2009; Stern’s visit was marked by a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry stating that China and the U.S. “had unanimously agreed, on the basis of the principle of common yet discriminative responsibility,” to strengthen their “partnership cooperation” on clean energy and climate change.

While the recent statements paint an image of good intentions, it is clear that China and the U.S. need to make progress in strengthening cooperation on clean energy.  Both countries face very similar energy challenges.  Forecasts predict an increase in energy demand and in the utilization of coal, but both are also under significant pressures from the international community to agree to Green House Gases reductions later this year in Copenhagen.  Thus, there is a very strong platform for cooperation and significant benefits for both countries in advancing clean energy from nuclear and renewable sources.

While the S&ED is trying to establish itself as a new path for cooperation between China and the U.S., it should build upon ongoing successful dialogues in the private and nongovernmental sectors.  Over the past several years, the Atlantic Council partnered with the U.S./China Energy and Environment Technology Center to hold such a series of dialogues designed to foster bilateral cooperation on developing secure and sustainable energy supplies.

Early meetings concluded that in a carbon-constrained environment both countries must increase their use of nuclear power to help meet energy demands.  From March 4 and 6, 2009, a “Dialogue on United States-China Cooperation on Nuclear Power” was held in Washington, D.C.  There was a wide range of U.S. and Chinese participants closely involved in commercial nuclear commerce and bilateral government programs.  Recommendations resulting from this dialogue will serve to advance the cooperative relationship between the U.S. and China, who will have the world’s two largest nuclear programs within the next 20 years.

The Chinese delegation showed a strong desire to improve both government-to-government cooperation and commercial sector ties.  U.S. participants were equally interested in working with China to tackle the overarching challenges of developing a safe and secure commercial nuclear fuel cycle.  By supporting and participating in this dialogue, U.S. industry and government representatives have demonstrated their commitment to addressing any future challenges to the burgeoning nuclear trade between the two countries.

Throughout the Council’s March dialogue, participants called for ways to accelerate commercial nuclear power cooperation in public and private spheres.  Given the importance of developing nuclear trade between the two countries, pragmatic and integrated cooperation is needed.  China and the U.S. have the capability to become leaders in solving global nuclear concerns such as global acceptance of nuclear power, solutions to nuclear waste and improvement of proliferation resistant technologies.

Cooperation between the U.S. and China are mutually beneficial.  China is a significant market for the American nuclear industry and provides an opportunity to maintain manufacturing capabilities until new U.S. orders are placed.  As Chinese capabilities grow, the nuclear supply chain thrives, supporting further opportunities for U.S. companies to expand reactor sales abroad.  The large scale transfer of U.S. nuclear technology will help develop the clean sources of electricity China needs to address growing economic and social needs.

Bilateral cooperation and leadership are vital to ensuring that nuclear power has a role in meeting domestic clean energy demands.  Cooperation on issues of technology development, human resources, security and safety will form the basis for U.S.-China leadership on the world stage.  The incorporation of track-two dialogues such as the Council’s Dialogue on United States-China Cooperation on Nuclear Power into the new S&ED will help realize adequate clean energy supplies in a climate of economic growth.