China signs $15bn reactor deal with Argentina

China’s drive to export its nuclear technology has scored a significant success with a $15bn deal to finance and build two nuclear power stations in Argentina. The deal was signed by China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and Nucleoeléctrica Argentina on Sunday, 15 November during the G20 meeting at the Turkish resort of Antalya.

A factor in China’s success was its ability to provide favourable financial terms to the government of Argentina.

According to a statement from the office of the Argentine president, China will provide 85% of the financing for the deal. Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido told Argentine state news agency Telam that the contracts were the "largest loan with the lowest rate and the longest repayment period in Argentina’s history".

A statement from the Argentine economics ministry said the loan was over 18 years and had a total financing cost of less than 6.5% of the principal. It comes at a time when Argentina’s credit on world capital markets is stymied by its numerous defaults on sovereign bonds since the 2002 financial crisis.  

The plants will be Argentina’s fourth and fifth and will roughly double the country’s nuclear capacity.

The deal has been under discussion for some years. In July 2014, the two countries signed an agreement to build a third pressurised heavy water reactor at the Atucha plant near Buenos Aires. That deal allowed Nucleoeléctrica Argentina to build a 700MW reactor using Canada’s Candu technology, to which it holds the licence. This plant, which used natural uranium fuel, will be made up of 62% Argentine components and 38% Chinese. CNNC is familiar with the technology as it operates two Candu reactors at its Qinshan plant.

One of the new plants, called Atucha 3, is expected to cost almost $6bn and to take eight years to build.

The fifth reactor will use China’s own enriched uranium light-water Hualong One technology, which Beijing is trying to export around the world. It has not been decided where this reactor will be situated, although it is expected to have a generating capacity of 1GW.

Axel Kicillof, the Argentine economics ministers, said the deal would secure the country’s energy supply into the future.

Photograph: The Atucha nuclear site, which holds two of Argentina’s three reactors, and will acquire a third in 2024 (Nucleoeléctrica Argentina)

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