As we reported in 2019, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, which occurred on January 31, 2020, included the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). Exports of nuclear materials, goods, and services from the United States to each of the 27 member countries of Euratom are governed under the United States–Euratom Agreement and the Euratom Cooperation Act of 1958.
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.
As we reported in 2017, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, set for March 29, 2019, will also include withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). Exports of nuclear materials, goods, and services from the United States to the United Kingdom currently are authorized through the US–Euratom agreement and the Euratom Cooperation Act of 1958. Essentially, these arrangements are the substitute for a bilateral agreement for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy pursuant to Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended (a 123 Agreement), with each of the 28 member countries of Euratom.
Russia recently suspended or terminated its nuclear agreements with the United States, further deteriorating diplomatic relations between the two countries. Russia’s actions place on hold or end certain collaboration efforts between the two nations on peaceful uses of nuclear technologies. However, these actions do not suspend or terminate the umbrella US-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement (123 Agreement) that both countries entered into under Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act. Accordingly, the US government has a legal basis to authorize nuclear exports to Russia, and vice versa. Political forces, however, make those exports uncertain.
First, on October 3, 2016, Russia rejected the Obama administration’s alternative proposal for the disposition in both the United States and Russia of 34 metric tons each of surplus weapons-grade plutonium. This agreement, which originated in 2000 and was revised in 2010, is known as the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. The United States intended to fabricate the mixed-oxide fuel in a facility under construction at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. However, because of increasing cost estimates for that facility and other strategic reasons, US President Barack Obama proposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin an alternative “dilution and disposal” path for US plutonium. On October 3, President Putin rejected the alternative and suspended the agreement, stating that he would consider reinstating it if the United States agreed to several conditions, such as reducing military presence in countries that border Russia and canceling financial sanctions against Russia.