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US Officials Brief Key Lawmakers on China Nuclear Deal

FILE - A nuclear power plant station model by China National Nuclear Corporation is pictured at the World Nuclear Exhibition 2014, the trade fair event for the global nuclear energy sector, in Le Bourget, near Paris, October 14, 2014.

U.S. security and nuclear energy officials briefed key lawmakers Monday about the proposed 30-year extension of a U.S. nuclear power cooperation deal with China.

The closed-door meeting in Washington was called as Congress begins to consider whether to renew a pact that has been in effect for the past 30 years and expires at the end of this year.

A new agreement would permit China, with the biggest nuclear power market in the world, to buy more U.S.-designed reactors and other nuclear technology to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel.

Like the one with China, the U.S. has 21 such nuclear power deals with other countries, plus Taiwan, and President Barack Obama is calling for Congress to authorize the new deal with Beijing.

In sending the request to Congress asking for "favorable consideration," Obama said the extended agreement would provide "a comprehensive framework for peaceful nuclear cooperation with China based on mutual commitment to nuclear nonproliferation."

Review period

But Congress has 90 days to review the agreement with China and key members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are promising a close review of the terms, especially since the U.S. and China are the world's two biggest economic powers and the West is warily watching as Beijing moves to expand its interests in the South China Sea off its shores.

At the same time, some in Congress question whether Beijing is living up to its commitments under international nuclear nonproliferation treaties, particularly any technology transfers to neighboring North Korea.

If Congress does not act before the review period expires, the agreement will go into effect.

The Obama administration has dispatched five officials to brief the foreign relations panel, including several involved with nuclear nonproliferation, international security, overseas trade and nuclear safety.

The review of the Beijing deal comes at the same time as Congress is considering contentious legislation calling for a 30-day congressional review period over a potential agreement the United States and five other world powers, including China, are negotiating with Iran to restrain Tehran's development of a nuclear weapon.

The Senate has approved the measure and now the House is considering it, with Obama saying he would sign it if Congress gives its final approval.

The Congressional Research Service said U.S. nuclear commerce has increased with China over the past decade. A major U.S. company, Westinghouse, is building the first four reactors it is selling to China, with six more planned and as many as 30 more proposed.