Continued US government and commercial engagement in other countries’ new and expanding nuclear power programmes are vital tools to advance global nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation, US Nuclear Energy Institute president and chief executive officer Marvin Fertel has said.
Mr Fertel is scheduled to testify today before the Senate foreign relations committee on Section 123 agreements, named after a provision in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 that allows countries to obtain US support to develop civil nuclear energy in exchange for their commitment not to pursue nuclear weapons.
These international agreements cover “significant nuclear exports”, which include power and research reactors, as well as major components of reactors such as reactor pressure vessels, coolant pumps and fuel handling machines.
Mr Fertel said in remarks released in advance of today’s hearing that while the US may have entered the post-war era as “the largest supplier of nuclear technology and expertise abroad”, other nations such as France and Russia have steadily increased their share of the global commercial nuclear market.
In addition, South Korea and China are beginning to enter the technology export business, Mr Fertel said. Over the past 20 years, economically attractive supplies of nuclear fuel have become available from an increasing number of supplier nations such as Kazakhstan and Australia.
Mr Fertel said there are 71 nuclear energy facilities under construction worldwide, with an additional 172 in the licensing and advanced planning stages. Virtually all of these plants will be built outside the US.
Continuing US commercial engagement in this expanding global nuclear market – which the US Department of Commerce estimates at up to 750 billion US dollars (USD) (about 552 billion euros) over the next 10 years – ensures that the highest possible levels of nuclear power plant safety and reliability are maintained worldwide, Mr Fertel said.
Full engagement in the global nuclear marketplace supports US leadership in nuclear energy technology and maintains US influence over global nuclear nonproliferation policy and practices, Mr Fertel said. It also provides a unique opportunity to create and maintain tens of thousands of domestic jobs and preserve a healthy manufacturing base for nuclear energy technology and services.
The NEI said that according to industry estimates, every USD 1 billion in nuclear technology exports has the potential to create or sustain between 5,000 and 10,000 US jobs.
“The US nuclear industry is competitive, but we must be allowed to compete,” Mr Fertel said. “This requires that appropriate Section 123 Agreements be concluded in a timely manner.”
According to a report published in October 2013 by the Washington DC-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 123 Agreements are an impediment to the export of US nuclear technology.
The report recommended that the US acknowledge that most nations are not willing to give up their rights to enrichment and reprocessing technology, which is the so-called “gold standard” required by Congress in all 123 Agreements. Vietnam and Jordan have already said they will not sign such an agreement with the US because of the existence of this clause.
The US has 123 Agreements with 21 countries, Taiwan, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 27 Euratom countries. Seven of these agreements are due to expire in 2015 (including those with major actors like China and Taiwan).
The CSIS report said 123 Agreements typically take several years to be negotiated and receive approval from Congress. They are sometimes suspended or derailed by other current issues that influence the relationship between the US and third countries.
Earlier this week Congress approved a two-year extension of the existing 123 Agreement between the US and South Korea.