Nuke industry presses for change to proliferation rules

The rule change would allow U.S. commercial nuclear firms to discuss operations with foreign partners more freely, according to NEI.

The group said the rule change would remove a competitive disadvantage for U.S. firms in the global market.

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Currently, the rule requires U.S. companies to obtain advance authorization to speak about nuclear plans with a list of restricted countries, out of concern for nuclear proliferation. On average in 2011, that clearance took a little less than one year, according to a NEI-commissioned report discussed Monday.

DOE issued a proposed update to the rule in September 2011, but that significantly increased the amount of technology subjected to agency authorization. The nuclear industry criticized the rule, and DOE decided to revise it once again — a process that is still ongoing.

At issue is whether DOE has the authority to make the changes the nuclear industry seeks.

The Atomic Energy Act created the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and gave it the power to approve nuclear export licenses for things such as nuclear fuel. It is unclear whether that authority extends to consulting services and software, though the nuclear industry believes it does not.

“The administrative agencies, particularly DOE, have the latitude to be able to administer these regulations in a much more efficient way,” Richard Myers, NEI vice president for policy development, said at a Monday press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

NEI said the nation’s regulatory regime handcuffs it from securing a share of a global commercial nuclear market that Commerce estimates could range from $500 billion to $750 billion over the next decade. NEI said capturing a quarter of that market would yield 185,000 U.S. jobs.

The report, which was conducted by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, said U.S. commercial nuclear export regulations are more complex than those from Korea, France, Japan and Russia. Much of that is attributed to at least four federal agencies — the departments of Commerce, Energy and State, as well as the NRC — having a hand in that oversight.

Waiting for authorization to discuss operational details with foreign partners has proven burdensome for Exelon Generation, J. Bradley Fewell, the utility’s vice president and deputy general counsel, said Monday.

“These regulations are hampering our ability to expand the sale of and implementation of our nuclear management model,” he said.

DOE said it is reviewing public comments on Part 810.

"We are committed to an approach that balances the needs of industry and our goals for nuclear energy with our responsibility to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and keep dangerous nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists. The Administration continues to review 810 rules and will proceed in a way that incorporates the feedback that we've received to date," Joshua McConaha, a spokesman with DOE's National Nuclear Safety Administration, said in a statement.

Updated at 10:44 p.m.