China is to decide who is the best - U.S., France, or Russia

China is still weighing bids by competing U.S., French and Russian suppliers of nuclear power technology before making a closely watched multibillion-dollar decision on equipping two new power plants, a senior official said Monday.

The contracts, reportedly worth up to US$8 billion (Ђ6.5 billion), are expected to be the biggest in years in the world's nuclear power industry, which is looking to China to drive equipment sales as it tries to meet surging energy needs.

Suppliers' willingness to transfer technology to China is among key issues still being examined, said Kang Rixin, general manager of the China National Nuclear Corp.

Chinese news reports have said contracts for the two nuclear plants might be awarded in October. But asked about timing at a news conference, Kang would say only, "We will make a decision in due time."

The two planned facilities are at Sanmen in the eastern province of Zhejiang, just south of Shanghai, and Yangjiang in Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong.

Competitors to equip the facilities are the French nuclear group Areva; Westinghouse Electric Co., the U.S. unit of British Nuclear Fuels PLC; and Russia's AtomStroyExport.

China is in the midst of a boom in power plant construction as it tries to cope with rapidly increasing energy demands that have caused blackouts in areas throughout the country.

Kang rejected speculation that France or Russia might have an edge in the bidding because Beijing's relations with Washington are cooler.

"We don't consider politics," Kang said. "We choose the best technology for China's power development."

China expects the share of its power supplied by nuclear generation to grow to 4 percent by 2020 from 2.3 percent today, Kang said.

"But that 4 percent isn't our final goal," he said.

The country has a total of nine nuclear generating units operating, with two more under construction.

The Qinshan plant in Zhejiang, with five generating units, was built with Chinese technology. But the government says future plants will rely more on foreign designs.

China's government promotes nuclear power as a cleaner alternative to the abundant but dirty coal that fuels most of its power plants and has left cities smothered in smog.

"By developing nuclear power, there will be no emission of sulfur dioxide or carbon dioxide, and it will help to ease burdens from greenhouse gases," Kang said. "Nuclear power is a kind of clean energy."

JOE McDONALD, Associated Press Writer

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