China and the United States signed an agreement over the weekend that paves the way for Westinghouse Electric Co. to build four civilian nuclear reactors in China, a multibillion-dollar deal.
The memorandum of understanding was signed Saturday by China's Minister for the National Development and Reform Commission Ma Kai and U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.
Stephen Tritch, Westinghouse's president and chief executive, said that details of the contract had yet to be finalized but that it was a multibillion-dollar deal. He said the company wanted the plants up and running by 2013.
Westinghouse, the U.S. unit of British Nuclear Fuels, had been vying with the French nuclear group AREVA and Russia's AtomStroyExport to win the lucrative contract for building facilities at Sanmen, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and Yangjiang in the southern province of Guangdong.
"This is an exciting day for the U.S. nuclear industry," Bodman said at the ceremony. "It is an example that if we work together we can advance not only our trade relations but also our common goal of energy security."
Asia offers the promise of a bonanza for American companies such as Westinghouse and General Electric Co., which already have a strong presence in the region.
Westinghouse has helped build 14 nuclear plants in South Korea and provided technology for almost half of Japan's 55 nuclear units. GE, meanwhile, has helped build 36 reactors in Japan, India and Taiwan.
Eighteen reactors -- about 70% of the world's total under construction -- are going up in Asia, and 77 more are planned or proposed, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry advocacy group based in Washington.
The deal was signed on the sidelines of a meeting of five major oil importing nations hosted by China.