Proposed DOE Rule Aims to ‘Clarify’ Nuclear Trade
Aug. 8, 2013—The Energy Department this week said its proposed revisions to the regulation governing the export of nuclear technology were aimed at clarifying the rule to meet the challenges of a global economy.
“There’s been no comprehensive update since 1986,” Richard Goorevich, senior policy adviser at DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, said at an Aug. 5 meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. “The global nuclear market has expanded and evolved. How transactions are done between companies has become much more globalized and complex, and new markets have started to open up … The rule needs to evolve to match where the market’s going.”
He added that security priorities have also changed since the last major revision of the regulation, known as “Part 810” (10 CFR Part 810).
“[Nuclear weapon] proliferation has … evolved,” Goorevich said. “We have to be able to balance effective threat reduction with effective nuclear trade support.”
DOE issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register last week to allow the nuclear energy industry and other parties a second opportunity to comment on the proposed rule (see Milestones, Nuclear Energy Overview, Aug. 1). The notice responds to comments received since the agency first proposed comprehensive changes to Part 810 in 2011 (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Dec. 14, 2011).
One of the key provisions of the 810 rule is whether trade with a partner from a foreign country requires a general or specific authorization. General authorizations are “available for most nuclear transactions” and require reporting only “after the fact,” Goorevich said. Specific authorizations require an application, which must go through an interagency review (by DOE, the NRC, and the State and Commerce departments), assurances from the host country, concurrent approval by the State Department and signoff by the energy secretary.
“The idea here is general authorizations make the regulation efficient,” said Goorevich. “And what we’re trying to do [with specific authorizations] is to put higher walls around the riskier transactions.”
Goorevich said that the proposed rule would change destination classifications for 80 countries. He added the rule does not change the existing general authorizations for 44 trading partners and specific authorizations for 73 countries.
China, Russia and India would continue to require specific authorization, he said, but Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates would become generally authorized. In addition, certain projects in Chile and Mexico would continue to be generally authorized. The Federal Register notice includes a complete list of the proposed generally authorized destinations.
Goorevich acknowledged the inefficiency of the approval process for specific authorizations.
“We understand that the [specific authorization] process needs to be more transparent, predictable and efficient,” he said and added that DOE intends to pursue these process improvements outside of the rulemaking.
Goorevich listed some of the other significant changes in the proposed rule, including:
Allowing technology transfer to citizens or nationals from countries on the specific authorization list if they are lawfully employed or contracted to work at a nuclear facility in the United States, have received access authorization from the NRC and have signed a confidentiality agreement.
Retaining “fast-track” authorizations for operational safety-related assistance with foreign, safeguarded reactors. DOE would process a fast-track authorization within 45 days.
Exempting publicly available information and technology, including the results of fundamental research, from Part 810 regulations.
Exempting assistance for medical isotope production from the scope of the regulation, except for molybdenum-99, which would be generally authorized.
Goorevich also said that DOE is developing an electronic licensing system. The first phase of the system would be operational “about the same time” as the 810 rule is issued.
“It would get us out of the paper chase we go through,” said Goorevich. “It would reduce the time for interagency reviews … and hopefully expedite the whole process.”
NEI is evaluating the proposed rule and will submit comments on behalf of the industry during a 90-day comment period ending Oct. 31. DOE is planning a second public meeting in September.
A full set of slides from the Aug. 5 meeting is available on DOE’s website. It includes Goorevich’s presentation and those from the NRC and the State and Commerce departments.