U.S. intelligence officials said China's next-generation nuclear power plants could potentially be used to produce large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium.
The U.S. Strategic Command said the plutonium produced by China's new reactors could be used to build more nuclear weapons.
The commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, Navy Admiral Charles Richard, said China's ability to produce large amounts of enriched plutonium could become an issue if the country chooses to weaponize the material.
"With a fast breeder reactor, you now have a very large source of weapons-grade plutonium available to you, that will change the upper bounds of what China could choose to do if they wanted to, in terms of further expansion of their nuclear capabilities," Richard said during a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.
As of the moment, U.S. intelligence officials have no evidence to support its claim that China may weaponize its future plutonium stockpile. However, officials have expressed concerns over the possibility that China may be able to double its nuclear capabilities over the next decade.
China previously revealed plans of developing and building new nuclear reactors to lessen its dependence on coal. The country is reportedly building fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities, with the first reactor expected to come online in 2023.
Last month, China published a report titled "China's Civil Nuclear Sector: Plowshares to Swords," which outlined its plans to build a second facility to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and to have it commissioned before 2030.
Richard said concerns over China's rapid development and rollout of its civilian nuclear program are valid. He said some officials only recently learned about China's pace and they are now starting the process of "understanding the implications."
Nuclear waste reprocessing in the U.S. was banned by former President Jimmy Carter due to proliferation concerns. The process involves separating plutonium and uranium from spent nuclear fuel through a chemical process. The separated plutonium can be used to fuel reactors and at the same time to make nuclear weapons.