U.S. firms are missing out on an international nuclear power boom because it takes too long to get necessary government approvals for export of either nuclear products or expertise, according to a report released Oct. 1 for the Nuclear Energy institute (NEI).
“Nuclear Export Controls: A Comparative Analysis of National Regimes for the Control of Nuclear Materials, Components and Technology,” was released to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The report was drafted for NEI by the Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP law firm and endorsed at the press conference by officials for NEI, Exelon (NYSE: EXC) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
Compared to the nuclear export regulatory regimes of Russia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and France, the U.S. regime is, in many respects, more complex, restrictive and time-consuming to navigate, the officials said during the news conference.
The U.S. often takes a year or more to process applications done far faster in rival countries, the report said.
The report is chiefly aimed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s “vaguely worded rules concerning ‘assistance to foreign atomic energy activities’” (codified at 10 CFR Part 810). However, the U.S. State Department, Defense Department, Department of Commerce and Nuclear Regulatory Commission can also play a significant role in reviewing exports, the officials said.
Most of the government reviews have virtually nothing to do with “sensitive nuclear technology,” said James Glasgow of Pillsbury Winthrop, who was a chief author of the report.
“Long-term U.S. influence on global non-proliferation policy and nuclear safety practices and continued U.S. leadership in nuclear energy technology, require a strong U.S. presence in global commercial nuclear markets,” said NEI Vice President/Policy Development Richard Myers.
The stakes are big, officials said. “The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates the global commercial nuclear market at $500 billion to $740 billion over the next decade,” said NEI’s Myers. U.S. exporters could create or sustain up to 185,000 American jobs if they were able to capture just 25% of the global market.”
Worldwide, 434 commercial reactors produce 14% of all electricity. Sixty-eight reactors are being built and another 160 are ordered or planned, NEI said. The U.S. has 104 reactors in 31 stations and five reactors are under construction – two in Georgia, two in South Carolina and one (started but never completed) unit in Tennessee.
Rules hamper Exelon’s international hopes
Exelon recently signed a long-term contract for management consulting with Omaha Public Power District to help OPPD with the currently idle Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska.
Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear operator, would like to go international with its management consulting, but has a hard time even negotiating with clients until time-consuming approvals are secured, said Exelon Generation Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Bradley Fewell.
“International customers avoid export regimes that are difficult or unreliable,” Fewell said. “For most countries, energy security is a primary driver for developing new nuclear energy. Reliable supply and predictable tech transfer – including the transfer of skilled professionals – are therefore critical factors in procurement decisions.”
Industry officials said the domestic review process is especially slow when it comes to hiring a foreign national, even one that’s going to be working in the accounting department.
The situation is far different today than it was in the 1970s and 1980s when the United States was effectively unrivaled on nuclear power expertise and technology, officials said.
The NEI officials said they believe many improvements can be made in the process administratively, without congressional action.