Policy Issues

Exporting Nuclear Technology

Although most nuclear technology is used for peaceful purposes, such as medicine and generating electricity, it can also be misused for weapons purposes and thus the spread of nuclear technology must be controlled. The U.S. Atomic Energy Act includes provisions for exporting nuclear technology to other countries.

Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act requires bilateral trade agreements for significant transfers of nuclear material, equipment, or components from the United States to other countries. These so-called “123 Agreements” are important tools in advancing U.S. nonproliferation principles and establishing the legal framework for significant nuclear cooperation with other countries. In order for a country to enter into a 123 Agreement with the United States, the country must commit itself to adhering to nuclear nonproliferation norms.

Assistance to Foreign Atomic Energy Activities (10 CFR Part 810 or “Part 810″) is a set of regulations that implements Section 57 b.(2) of the Atomic Energy Act. In order for a U.S. entity to export nuclear or related technology to another nation, they must apply for a license through the U.S. Department of Energy. This license can be granted even if the importing country does not have a 123 Agreement with the United States.

Benefits of exporting nuclear technologies

There are nonproliferation advantages derived from exporting nuclear energy technologies including consent rights on U.S.-manufactured nuclear fuel, the ability to control the transfer of nuclear technology, and greater influence in the nuclear policies of U.S. partner nations. Exporting also allows the United States to influence global standards of nuclear safety and security. There is also the simple benefit of increased market opportunity for the U.S. companies that produce these nuclear products.

Concerns about exporting nuclear technologies

There is general concern that exporting nuclear technologies could foster the deployment of enrichment and reprocessing programs that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons by other nations. While the path from commercial nuclear technology to nuclear weapons is difficult and resource-intensive, it is possible. Some countries negotiating bilateral nuclear trade agreements with the United States have pledged to forgo enrichment and reprocessing technology in order to show commitment to nonproliferation.

In addition, reasonable assurance of access to fuel through a competitive global market for fuel and other services needed to operate their nuclear plants could dissuade nations from domestic development of enrichment and reprocessing technology.

Additional Resources:

ANS Position Statement on U.S. Global Nuclear Leadership Through Export-Driven Engagement

National Nuclear Security Administration: 123 Agreements for Peaceful Cooperation

National Nuclear Security Administration: 10 CFR Part 810

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