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.
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.
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.
The New York Times recently published an important article discussing the tightening supply and uncertain future of MO-99, a short-lived medical isotope widely used for medical diagnostics in the United States and worldwide. Currently, there are only six suppliers of MO-99 in the world, all of them government-owned nuclear research reactors located outside of the United States. As noted in the article, one US company—SHINE Medical Technologies—has plans to build a domestic supply chain in Wisconsin to ensure a reliable supply, shielded from potential interruptions that could readily impact a foreign-only supply chain. They have already received Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval in the form of a Construction Permit issued in 2016 to begin work on the facility. There was no material opposition to the NRC permit for SHINE, perhaps in recognition of the importance of nuclear medicine in our day-to-day health and well-being. A few other companies are also seeking to build MO-99 domestic production facilities. While nothing is ever easy in the nuclear world and we cannot predict who will get to the finish line first, it seems that the successful addition of a domestic supply of MO-99 is an important first step towards “health independence.” And much like the current focus on US energy independence, it seems equally worthy of national attention.
Read the article here.
The British government has determined that its exit from the European Union also must include withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). According to a British government white paper, the 2008 EU Amendment Act provides that: "A reference to the EU in an Act or an instrument made under an Act includes ... a reference to [Euratom]."
Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), along with a bipartisan group of senators that includes John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), introduced S.94, the “Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017.” While widely reported on for its proposed sanctions on the Russian Federation for cyberattacks on the United States, S.94 also contains a little-discussed provision aimed at civilian nuclear trade with Russia.
Section 209 of the bill would penalize any person who makes an investment that directly and significantly contributes to enhancing the ability of the Russian Federation to construct civil nuclear power plants. While the bill certainly covers the construction of civil nuclear plants in Russia, it is broadly phrased in a manner that could cover Russia’s construction of civil nuclear plants in other countries as well. The restriction on investments is limited to nuclear power plant construction, but the bill also would penalize any person who sells, leases, or provides goods, services, technology, information, or support to the Russian Federation that “could directly and significantly facilitate the maintenance or expansion of the construction, modernization, or repair of civil nuclear plants by the Russian Federation.” The dollar threshold for investments or goods, services, etc. is $1 million per transaction and $5 million per 12-month period.