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Enhancing U.S. Nuclear Trade

The Third Way’s report on the future of nuclear energy, which we excerpted yesterday, focuses a good deal on trade issues and how to  ensure that the United States retains its primacy as a exporter of nuclear technology, goods and services.

Bolstering that subject, NEI’s Everett Redmond has offered a blog post to Public Interest Report that tackles some of the thorny issues involved in trading American nuclear energy technology and goods with other countries.

Bilateral agreements on nuclear energy cooperation are vital to advancing global nonproliferation and safety goals as well as America’s interests in global nuclear energy trade. A 123 agreement, named after section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, establishes an accord for cooperation as a prerequisite for nuclear energy trade between the United States and other nations. The agreement contains valuable nonproliferation controls and commitments.

123 agreements are not in themselves particularly controversial; still, they are not the right mechanism for every policy goal.

Some U.S. leaders are proposing a prohibition on uranium enrichment and reprocessing as part of all bilateral nuclear energy agreements for cooperation. Ensuring enrichment technology and reprocessing technology are used only for peaceful purposes is a paramount goal for government and industry.

Paramount, yes, but implementing nonproliferation goals through 123 agreements can run at cross purposes to the agreement’s purpose. Why? It asks countries to give up some sovereign rights, which they will not do. Instead, they will simply go elsewhere to fulfill their needs – Russia, France, etc. There are better means to achieve the same end.

Promising mechanisms include the decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency to establish a uranium fuel bank, potential nuclear fuel lease/takeback contracts, and other multilateral, institutional nonproliferation arrangements. In addition, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (an international body of 46 nuclear technology supplier nations that sets standards for commercial nuclear trade) recently adopted new clear and strict criteria for the transfer of nuclear energy technology.

Multilateral, consensus-building policy making ensures that all countries agree to and follow the same rules. The outcome may seem much the same, but it makes trade less complicated.

U.S. suppliers are vying for business around the world – including China, Poland and India. Continued U.S. leadership in global nuclear safety and nonproliferation matters go hand-in-hand with a strong presence in the global marketplace. Both are critical to our national and global security. We must continue to participate in worldwide trade and nonproliferation policy discussions, or cede leadership in these areas to other governments and industrial competitors.

To put it mildly, the whole thing is worth a read. It’s an important topic.

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