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Energy

China breaks ground on Russian-designed nuclear reactors

Xi and Putin tout partnership ahead of G-7 summit as US pressure mounts

Cooling towers of a Czech nuclear power plant with Soviet-developed reactors. The four reactors under construction in China are being made with Russian technology.   © Reuters

BEIJING/MOSCOW -- China launched construction on four nuclear reactors made with Russian technology in a project symbolizing the tight bond between the two countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin joined the groundbreaking ceremonies via video conference on Wednesday. The two sides first agreed to the nuclear project in 2018.

Pervading the occasion was Russia and China's desire to play up their close cooperation in the face of pressure from the U.S. and its allies.

The nuclear project adds two reactors each to Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in Jiangsu Province and Xudapu Nuclear Plant in Liaoning Province. Operations are set to begin between 2026 and 2028, according to the agreement. The cost of construction is an estimated $1.7 billion at each site.

The reactors will be powered by third-generation pressurized water reactor technology supplied by Russian nuclear company Rosatom.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping join the groundbreaking ceremonies for the nuclear power project via video conference. (Image from CCTV site)

China now has 49 nuclear reactors in operation, according to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum. The country ranks third globally in nuclear reactors behind the U.S. and France.

In addition, it has 16 reactors under construction and 39 in planning stages. China previously adopted nuclear technology mainly from the U.S. and France, but it has been deepening its ties with Russia.

Xi and Putin are personally highlighting the promotion of nuclear power to show that the two countries are working together to contribute to decarbonization. It appears they seek to seize the initiative on climate change, a high-priority issue for U.S. President Joe Biden.

During Wednesday's video call, Putin and Xi affirmed they would extend the Sino-Russian treaty of friendship. July marks the 20th anniversary of its signing.

Xi said that he and Putin have agreed to further bilateral relations to a higher level and expand the ties to broader fields.

Echoing the sentiment, Putin said: "I am convinced that Russia and China will have many more ambitious and successful projects together."

In the treaty of friendship, Russia acknowledges "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China" and that it "opposes any form of Taiwan's independence."

Taiwan is expected to be a topic of discussion during June's summit between Group-of-Seven leaders. China looks to push back on the G-7 by reaffirming bilateral cooperation with Russia.

Russia is also helping China build an early-alert system against missile attacks. In recent years China has purchased Russia's advanced fourth-generation fighter jet, the Su-35.

In March, China and Russia agreed to build a manned station on the moon. In April, the two sides released a joint statement inviting all interested nations and international organizations to participate in the moon station project.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting face-to-face with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Iceland on Wednesday. The two sides are exploring a potential presidential summit in June. Both China and Russia are attempting to gain as much leverage as possible ahead of future negotiations with the U.S.

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