Managing U.S. Exports of Nuclear Energy

Julia Lebovitz
May 29, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Current US Nuclear Technology

Fig. 1: US influence on global nuclear technology is declining as other countries increase their technologies. (Source: J. Lebovitz, after CSIS. [4]

Since the 1900s, nuclear technology has been a controversial, yet central topic of conversation. While the Cold War and international nuclear weaponry technology may evoke a feeling of caution and fear, nuclear technology has many benefits as well. Nuclear power plants help provide more sustainable and clean energy. However, according to a May 2017 report found that since the Cold War, the US "nuclear force will have changed substantially over this period, becoming significantly smaller and less diverse". [1] This has resulted in the US to fall behind other countries in nuclear technology (see Fig. 1). The US has focused primarily on using nuclear technology as a defense and less on finding innovative implications of nuclear technology.

A Possible Explanation

10 CFR Part 810 regulations help balance nuclear energy business and national security in the US. The US Department of Energy regulates the exports of unclassified nuclear technology and assistance to better ensure stable nuclear trade. [2] It enables peaceful nuclear trade by helping to assure that nuclear technologies exported from the United States will not be used for non-peaceful purposes. Part 810 can help to guarantee that when US nuclear supplies are exported, they are not rerouted to have different, and possibly detrimental purposes, such as used to improve foreign military technology. Before 2015, Part 810 had not been updated since 1986. However, a recent report (December 2016) released by the Nuclear Innovation Alliance suggests that there are still many aspects of Part 810 that need to change to make the US nuclear involvement more efficient.

What Needs to Change

In the past few years, the domestic market for reactors has decreased significantly. Therefore, the US must rely more on business in other countries and for the DOE to approve their applications through 10 CFR Part 810. Matt Bowen at the Nuclear Innovation Alliance states in his report Enabling Nuclear Innovation: Part 810 Reform," that "if the Part 810 process is too slow, it can limit the US influence by preventing the US companies from spreading US safety, security, and nonproliferation culture to other countries nuclear energy culture". [3] Further, a slow process can hinder innovation as companies must wait for application approval before implementing and improving their technologies. Currently, it could take 200 or even 600 weeks for the DOE to approve an application through 10 CFR part 810. However, in other countries, the government approves the report between 15 days and nine months. Bowen recommends that to diminish this lag between innovation and approval, the DOE should establish a fast track that can expedite the approval process and would eliminate the current requirement for the energy secretary to sign off on every application authorization. This could allow certain technologies to be approved more easily and for the US to focus more on finding more environmentally-friendly technologies.

© Julia Lebovitz. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. Tapia-Jimenez, "Modernization of US Nuclear Forces: Costs in Perspective," Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, LLNL-TR-732241, May 2017.

[2] "Assistance to Foreign Atomoic Energy Activities," U.S. Federal Code of Regulations, 10 CFR Part 810, 2015.

[3] M. Bowen, "Enabling Nuclear Innovation: Part 810 Reform," Nuclear Innovation Alliance, December 2017.

[4] "Restoring U.S. Leadership in Nuclear Energy," Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 2013.