Despite having blacklisted decades ago, China’s top nuclear weapons laboratory has been using Intel and Nvidia semiconductor computer chips, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
The Journal, reviewing procurement documents, found China’s state-run Academy of Engineering Physics has been able to acquire the U.S. chips since 2020, despite being blacklisted for U.S. export since 1997.
The widely used chips were reportedly procured through resellers in China, and the blacklisted nuclear weapons lab had them used to model and simulate nuclear detonations. Nvidia says the chips used are for graphics and are general-use chips used in personal computers.
Journal-reviewed documents found at least 34 references of using American semiconductors in the nuclear lab’s research, according to the report.
The Biden administration expanding the restrictions on the export of U.S. chips last fall, but this report shows the difficulty in following through on the policy.
“It’s insanely difficult to enforce,” former Commerce Department official and now trade lawyer Kevin Wolf told the Journal.
The Intel and Nvidia chips are readily available in China’s marketplace, despite the nuclear lab being restricted from using U.S. exports.
“As mass-market products move through multiple parties in global supply chains, full visibility on ultimate end users is a large undertaking,” the Commerce Department told the Journal.
James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies Executive Director Ian Stewart said the U.S. need to be concerned about restricted U.S. exports being used in a Chinese nuclear lab, particular amid the current geo-political climate with a Russian war in Ukraine and Taiwan fearing a Chinese invasion.
The U.S. must “control this tech by not allowing it to be sold by distributors when the end user is unknown,” Stewart told the Journal.
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