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NEI Opposes ‘Misguided’ Nuclear Trade Bill

Dec. 19, 2013—Citing concerns with the Obama administration’s position on multilateral negotiations to limit Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) last week reintroduced a nuclear trade bill (H.R. 3766) that would impair the ability of the United States to conclude bilateral agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation.

Section 123 agreements, so-called after the relevant provision in the Atomic Energy Act of 1953, are a pre-requisite for exports or commercial nuclear reactors, components and fuel. H.R. 3766 would require nations signing bilateral 123 agreements to pledge not to develop domestic enrichment and reprocessing (E&R) technologies.

The bill closely mirrors H.R. 1280 from the 112th Congress, which encountered strong opposition from industry, the federal government and numerous noted nonproliferation experts. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) last week also announced his intention to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

In response to H.R. 3766, the Nuclear Energy Institute issued a statement opposing the legislation.

“H.R. 3766 is misguided legislation that should be shelved. It would reduce U.S. influence on global nuclear security while almost certainly costing Americans thousands of jobs from legitimate commerce with nations peacefully pursuing nuclear energy programs to raise their standard of living,” said Richard Myers, NEI’s vice president of policy development, planning and supplier programs.

“If this legislation were enacted, it would further isolate the United States from the growing international marketplace. … In just the past few years, contract awards by Vietnam and Jordan for nuclear energy facilities supplied by Russia and Japan show the folly of H.R. 3766’s paternalistic, one-size-fits-all mandate that sovereign nations forswear uranium enrichment and reprocessing,” Myers said. 

Some members of Congress and nonproliferation activists have called for the administration to require partners in nuclear cooperation agreements to renounce E&R as a matter of policy. Rejecting this position, the administration recently reaffirmed its policy to limit the spread of E&R technologies by utilizing a number of tools and policy instruments. This approach was exemplified by the recently concluded U.S.-Vietnam 123 agreement (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Oct. 10). 

Mark Hibbs, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a respected expert on nonproliferation issues, said last week that some countries want to retain the flexibility to develop their own fuel cycle strategies, and have begun to resist such strictures on their energy policy.

“Countries negotiating 123 agreements, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam, refused to have Washington dictate and limit their future nuclear technology choices,” he said.  

Hibbs added that U.S. interests might best be served by adopting a flexible approach when negotiating 123 agreements.

“The U.S. should use its leverage to limit the spread of these technologies. But it should keep in mind that its 123 partners have already made, and are honoring, firm nonproliferation and monitoring commitments,” Hibbs said. “Ongoing and difficult diplomacy with Iran provides no grounds for lawmakers to require that potential 123 partners may not enrich and reprocess as a matter of principle. That would seriously endanger 123 agreements in some cases.”