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China starting new breeder reactor near Taiwan

Fast breeder reactor off coast of Matsu can produce plutonium for nuclear weapons

Construction site of the CFR-600 Unit 2. (China National Nuclear Corporation photo)

Construction site of the CFR-600 Unit 2. (China National Nuclear Corporation photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China is constructing a new breeder reactor near Taiwan that can be used to produce plutonium as part of what the Pentagon fears is a joint project between Beijing and Moscow to expand both countries' nuclear arsenals.

The New York Times on Thursday (April 20) reported that China is starting a new breeder reactor in Fujian County's Changbiao Island. It is one of two fast-neutron breeder reactors being built right across from Taiwan's Lienchiang County and is only 217 km from Taiwan Proper.

The first one is slated to be connected to the grid this year and the second in 2026. Both are a type called China Fast Reactor 600 (CFR-600), according to Popular Mechanics.

According to the newspaper, the nuclear material for the new plant is being provided via Russia's state corporation, Rosatom. The firm has reportedly delivered 25 tons of highly enriched uranium to kickstart the facility.

This transfer appears to be part of a deal signed by Rosatom and the China Atomic Energy Authority to extend cooperation for many years. In a policy document issued last year, the Pentagon expressed concerns that in the 2030s, the "United States will, for the first time in its history, face two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors and potential adversaries."

While China insists that the purpose of building breeder reactors along the coast is entirely for civilian purposes, John F. Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, recently told Congress: "There’s no getting around the fact that breeder reactors are plutonium, and plutonium is for weapons.” He then added that this "matches our concerns about China's increased expansion of its nuclear forces as well, because you need more plutonium for more weapons."

In contrast, Taiwan is dismantling its nuclear power plants in favor of green energy sources, with the No. 2 generator at Taiwan's second power plant decommissioned on March 14. In 1974, all U.S. nuclear weapons were removed from Taiwan under orders from President Richard Nixon, and Taiwan in 1976 agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, though it was not fully terminated until 1988.