The US Department of Energy (DOE) is requesting comments on whether there is a sufficient supply of molybdenum-99 (Mo‑99) to meet medical needs without the export of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the United States. Comments are due by December 27, 2019. The comments will support a certification that the secretary of Energy must submit in early 2020 pursuant to the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2012, Pub. L. 112-239, 126 Stat. 2211 (the Act). The content of this certification will determine whether the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will have authority to issue HEU export licenses for Mo-99 production in foreign research and test reactors.

According to the notice in the November 27 Federal Register, “Historically, the United States has not had the capability to produce Mo-99 domestically and, until 2018, imported 100 percent of its supply from international producers, some of which was produced using targets fabricated with proliferation sensitive HEU.” Congress passed the Act as part of a decades-long effort to ensure domestic availability of Mo‑99, which is used in medical diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. According to the notice, approximately 80% of all of these procedures depend on the use of technetium-99, a decay product of Mo-99. Importantly, Section 3174 of the Act amended the Atomic Energy Act to prohibit the NRC from issuing licenses to export HEU from the United States for purposes of medical isotope production, effective seven years from the date of enactment of the Act. The Act became law on January 2, 2013, and thus the ban on NRC export licenses is scheduled to go into effect in early 2020, unless it is extended through a certification from the Energy secretary.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) in the October 3 Federal Register to establish procedures for imposing civil monetary penalties for violations of 10 CFR Part 810 (Part 810). Notably, DOE also proposes a maximum penalty, per violation, of $102,522. If DOE views a violation as a continuing one, then each day from when the violating activity began to when it stopped would constitute a separate violation for purposes of computing the penalty. Comments on the NOPR are due by November 4, 2019.

A bipartisan group of four senators has introduced a bill that would amend the Atomic Energy Act to require the US Department of Energy (DOE) to submit to Congress quarterly reports providing information about industry’s and DOE’s activities under 10 CFR Part 810. The first part of the bill suggests that DOE would only report to Congress on “each authorization issued” under Part 810, which suggests that DOE could limit its reporting to specific authorizations that DOE actually granted in the prior 90 days.

However, the remainder of the bill states that DOE would provide Congress with a summary of each application for a Part 810 specific authorization and an annex that contains: 1) a copy of the specific authorization application; and 2) a copy of each report received in the previous 90 days for any general or specific authorization. The bill also would require that the initial quarterly report include all specific authorizations granted and all generally—and specifically—authorized activities reported from March 25, 2015, through the date of enactment. (March 25, 2015, is the date that the most recent wholesale revisions to Part 810 went into effect.) Subsequent reports to Congress would be due every 90 days thereafter and cover the activities during those 90 days.

The NRC recently took the somewhat unusual step of issuing a Regulatory Issue Summary (RIS) to clarify reporting requirements for certain exports. Issued on March 15, the RIS explains that its issuance was prompted by recent confusion among nuclear exporters regarding potentially overlapping reporting obligations. The RIS requires no action or written response from the nuclear industry.

The US government is continuing to find ways to help our nuclear industry compete in the global market. In a speech on February 26, the assistant secretary of the US State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, Dr. Christopher Ford, announced a new policy: the US government would seek to negotiate and enter into “nuclear cooperation memoranda of understanding,” or NCMOUs, with foreign countries who do not yet have 123 Agreements with the United States, as a tool to develop new opportunities to “advance U.S. strategic competitiveness.” While Dr. Ford’s speech lacks details of what the terms of an NCMOU will be or which countries the United States will seek to partner with, the creative focus on supporting US nuclear trade is a welcome development.

On October 11, the US government issued its long-awaited US Policy Framework on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with China. Those hoping that the policy announcement would revive stalled applications for exports of technology or equipment to China or open a pathway for future exports were mostly disappointed. While the announcement effectively revived stalled applications, the new policy framework “presumptively denies” all applications to transfer new technology to China, including any exports of technology or equipment for small modular reactors (SMRs) and non–light-water advanced reactors.

The US House of Representatives and Senate recently passed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA) as part of the reconciled conference report for the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The president signed the bill on August 13 and new legislation will take effect on a rolling basis. Although several broad based changes will affect all industries, the nuclear industry will be relieved that the final bill addresses the concerns the industry raised at the outset when the original bill created challenges for US companies’ ability to compete in international trade. However, the industry still needs to monitor the anticipated regulatory implementation as the US Department of Treasury drafts new regulations. Other agencies, including the US departments of Commerce (DOC) and Energy (DOE) will implement their policy and regulatory changes to address FIRRMA. Morgan Lewis discussed the potential steps nuclear companies could take to be ready for any changes resulting from FIRRMA in a previous Up & Atom post.

Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation at the US State Department, spoke on July 11 at the Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) 2018 Summer Conference on nuclear technology transfer to China. PONI is a program hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies to further discussions on nuclear technology’s role throughout the world. Dr. Ford discussed how China’s explicit national policy of removing barriers between its civilian and military industries affects US export control policy for certain commercial nuclear technologies. This speech is important because, in our view, it publicly articulates the policy toward China that the US government has been implementing behind the scenes for some time.

The US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently posted new guidance “to highlight and explain continuing obligations relating to [10 CFR] Part 810, especially as they relate to post-employment activities such as independent consulting or employment by a nuclear related company.” Based on prior NNSA statements, this guidance is a direct response to recent criminal cases, which highlighted for NNSA that retirees from US nuclear companies might not be aware of their continuing obligations to protect Part 810-controlled information. The training does a good job of summarizing Part 810’s requirements, and is a good step towards protecting US national security and non-proliferations interests, but the slide deck contains a few statements that require clarification.

NNSA’s guidance takes the form of a slide presentation and a template certification for employees to sign after they take the training.

The US Department of Commerce (DOC) issued a Final Rule on April 5 to add a new Export Control Classification Number (ECCN) to the Commerce Control List (CCL) for targets used for tritium production. The new ECCN, “1A231” requires a license for shipments of the targets, components used for production of the targets, and the associated technology for all destinations except those that are members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) (except China). However, the Final Rule actually reduces the restrictions on these components and related technology from the level of previous control.

ECCN 1A231 defines the affected targets as those “made of or containing lithium enriched in the lithium-6 isotope ‘specially designed’ for the production of tritium through irradiation, including insertion in a nuclear reactor” or components “specially designed” for such targets. A Technical Note in the ECCN states that components “specially designed” for “target assemblies for the production of tritium may include lithium pellets, tritium getters, and specially-coated cladding.” The new rule also adds the related “production” and “use” technology for ECCN 1A231 to existing ECCNs 1E001 and 1E201.