This is How Russia Fosters China through Nuclear Reactor Technology


During the First Taiwan Strait Conflict in 1954–1955, which involved the Quemoy and Matsu Islands, Mao Zedong made the decision to start China's nuclear weapons development. Mao thought that even a few bombs would boost China's diplomatic standing, even though he did not anticipate being able to equal the vast American nuclear stockpile. Khrushchev's standing within the international communist bloc temporarily deteriorated as a result of the Anti-Party Group incident in the Soviet Union, necessitating the backing of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong. Hence, the CCP exchanged its backing of Khrushchev for Soviet nuclear weapon technology. Then later, the Agreement on New Technologies for National Defense was signed, pledging Soviet cooperation for Chinese nuclear weapon development. Likewise, at present, China is getting a helping hand from Russia. Let us look more into what the agreement is about and its impacts on China.

Russia’s Helping Hand Towards China
According to the reports, Russia intends to give China fast breeder nuclear reactor technology. If this plan materializes, Beijing will be able to considerably increase its nuclear arsenal and upset the current balance of nuclear weapons on the planet. A long-term agreement was revealed by Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep constructing fast breeder reactors that are designed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

China's CFR-600 nuclear reactor, which analysts estimate has the potential to generate 50 nuclear weapons annually, received 25 tonnes of highly enriched uranium from Russia's state-owned Rosatom nuclear power business in December 2022. According to experts from the US Department of Defense (DOD) and American military planners, the CFR-600 will be essential in enabling China to increase its nuclear arsenal from 400 warheads now to 1,500 by 2035. However, China has disagreed with this assessment, claiming that the CFR-600 is part of a $ 440 billion worth initiative to surpass the US as the world's top nuclear energy generator by the middle of the next decade and is connected to its civilian power system.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart declared Russia's increased nuclear aid to China. A no-limits alliance was established between the two leaders just before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. One efficient method Russia can compensate for lost energy and arms exports caused by Western sanctions put in place as retaliation for the war is through its nuclear technology exports, which have increased significantly since the invasion.

China's CFR-600 nuclear reactor, which analysts estimate has the potential to generate 50 nuclear weapons annually, received 25 tonnes of highly enriched uranium from Russia's state-owned Rosatom nuclear power business in December 2022

China's Fast Reactors

There are speculations that China's fast reactors, which employ liquid metal instead of water to moderate operations, are based on Russian technology and that Russia is the world's leading supplier of nuclear reactors and fuel. According to Brian Carlson, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the application of previously unheard-of Western sanctions, and the announcement of a no-limits strategic alliance all significantly altered Russia's strategic calculations about China.

Russia has put aside long-term worries about China's potential threat in Russia's Far East, as seen by its decision to give China nuclear technologies to considerably increase its arsenal. According to Carlson, the action demonstrates Russia's desire for more China-Russia collaboration in dealing with the West and its understanding that a deterioration in relations between the two nations would be detrimental to Russian interests at this crucial juncture.

According to American military authorities, China's nuclear weapons program will continue to be centered on the CFR-600, to which Russia provided uranium in December. This will let China increase its nuclear stockpile by about four times in about 12 years. US and other non-proliferation analysts are alarmed by this because they fear a return to conflicts from the Cold War and an arms race between the US and China.

According to Rajiv Nayan, a senior research associate at India's state-run Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, the details of the latest agreement between China and Russia concerning Uranium supplies for the CFR-600 facility are not public yet, but the possibility of diversion of the fuel for making nuclear weapons and to increase the Chinese stockpile does exist (IDSA).

When it turns out that Beijing has increased its stockpile of nuclear weapons using the CFR-600 facility, as estimated by the Americans, the implications of this Russia-China agreement become a cause for concern, igniting an arms race similar to the one that occurred 30 years ago during the Cold War era.

“Until the uranium supplies and technology transfers are confined to the energy program, it is par for the course under the non-proliferation norms,” said Nayan, an expert on nuclear disarmament, export control, non-proliferation, and arms control. 

The Non-Proliferation Treaty recognizes the United States, Russia, and China as nuclear weapons states in this game of nuclear superpowers (NPT). They belong to the group of nuclear suppliers (NSG). This international system of export controls governs the transfer of nuclear-related goods and technology and keeps them out of the hands of non-member nations. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is an exclusive group of nuclear supplier countries that works to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by enforcing two sets of export regulations for both nuclear materials and nuclear materials themselves.

China is the solitary nuclear weapon state among the five that has prevented India from joining the NSG, the only international export control system that New Delhi has not yet joined. The other four are the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France.

At the same time, the conflict in Ukraine might have seriously damaged Russia's defense sector, a big source of export income. The prolonged conflict has shown Russia's startling reliance on Western technology, raised the risk that international orders for armaments may be rerouted to replace battle losses, and resulted in the introduction of financial restrictions that can prevent foreign clients from making payments.

Russian weaponry's frequently subpar performance in the war, which was evident to the entire world in news reports, may also have hurt their attraction to international purchasers. China's technological breakthroughs, particularly in the areas of jet engines and semiconductors, may already have surpassed those of Russia, negating the necessity for China to purchase Russian weapons. But, China's aspirations to quickly increase its nuclear arsenal may benefit greatly from Russian aid.

The motivations for China's push for nuclear expansion are discussed by Tong Zhao. Zhao points out that as US missile defenses and conventional strike weapons advance, China's nuclear arsenal becomes more exposed, reducing its potential to act as a deterrence.