International Affairs:

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 Should Be Selectively Modified

OCG-81-2: Published: May 21, 1981. Publicly Released: May 21, 1981.

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The Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 (NNPA) represents an important step by the United States to establish a framework of controls and incentives that, if adopted internationally, could reduce the threat of weapons proliferation and promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Title I states that, as a matter of national policy, the United States should take such actions and measures as are necessary to assure the availability of an adequate supply of nuclear fuel to those nations which adhere to effective nonproliferation policies. Title II calls for U.S. contributions of financial, technical, informational, and other resources to assist the International Atomic Energy Agency in effectively implementing safeguards. It also calls on the United States to seek to negotiate international principles and procedures to be followed in the event of the diversion, theft, loss, or sabotage of nuclear materials, equipment, or technology. Title III establishes new regulatory controls over U.S. nuclear exports and mandates new complex procedures in the way commercial nuclear export decisions are reviewed and approved by federal agencies, with provisions for oversight by the President and Congress. Title IV expands U.S. criteria for future agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation and directs the President to attempt to change existing agreements to comply with the new criteria. Title V calls on the United States to assist developing nations, especially Nonproliferation Treaty parties, in identifying and developing nonnuclear energy alternatives with emphasis on solar and other renewable energy sources. Since the act's enactment in 1978: (1) no additional nations have acknowledged exploding a nuclear device; (2) 12 nations have ratified the Nonproliferation Treaty; (3) Spain has moved toward placing all of its nuclear activities under international safeguards; and (4) the predicted foreign drive to acquire enrichment and reprocessing capabilities has somewhat abated.

International cooperation is the key to the nonproliferation effort but, with few exceptions, major nations have criticized the U.S. nonproliferation strategy. The factors influencing foreign reactions to the strategy vary widely and include energy, security, political, technical, and economic issues. Despite the act's limited impact to date, GAO does not believe that major revisions are warranted because: (1) the Act has only been in existence for 3 years and, since many international cooperative initiatives are required, it may be too soon to make a meaningful and objective assessment of its potential long-term impact; and (2) although it is questionable whether one nation can single-handedly solve nonproliferation issues, through the act the United States has heightened worldwide awareness to the dangers of proliferation. However, GAO believes that the act should be selectively modified to: (1) conform with political, technical, and economic realities; (2) obtain wider international acceptance; (3) preserve the framework for curbing the inherent risks of weapons proliferation associated with peaceful nuclear cooperation; and (4) improve executive branch implementation.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should clarify to what extent effectiveness of international safeguards should be considered by NRC in export licensing.

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the NNPA to require DOE to provide a better public accounting of authorizations granted.

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the NNPA to require DOE to allow the Secretary of Energy to delegate approval authority for granting U.S. firms and individuals authorization for certain commercial nuclear activities abroad.

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the NNPA to require DOE to limit general authorizations of significant transfers of nuclear technology to non-nuclear weapon nations that adhere to full-scope safeguards.

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the NNPA to require NRC to refer to the President for decision those export license applications which NRC has had a favorable executive branch recommendation under review for 120 days, if the applicant requests such a referral.

  6. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the NNPA to require DOE to provide for the withdrawal of DOE general authorizations in the event the President terminates other nuclear exports.

  7. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the NNPA to transfer DOE authority to approve all nonmilitary government exports of nuclear materials to NRC.

  8. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should exempt exports from complying with licensing criteria that do not conform with requirements of a new or renegotiated agreement for cooperation.

  9. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the NNPA to revise the licensing delay notification requirements to require the executive branch and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to better account for licensing delays and inaction.

  10. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should eliminate the need for an annual extension of the exemption to certain export licensing criteria provided to the European Atomic Energy Community by amending section 304(a) of the NNPA.

  11. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should also amend section 404(b), (c), and (d) of the NNPA to eliminate the annual presidential review of Title IV's agreement criteria and proposed common export policies to determine whether any should be applied as export licensing criteria.

  12. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should delete Title V from the NNPA.

  13. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should determine whether DOE has adequately demonstrated that it fully and objectively considered: (1) the option of postponing the current centrifuge construction program; and (2) the feasibility of introducing the potentially more efficient and cost-effective advanced enrichment technologies.

  14. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should state that it is U.S. policy to provide expedited review procedures for exports under new or renegotiated agreements for cooperation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of State and Energy should vigorously pursue solutions to nuclear fuel supply assurances, international spent fuel management, and international plutonium management and storage.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of State and Energy should vigorously pursue solutions to nuclear fuel supply assurances, international spent fuel management, and international plutonium management and storage.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: NRC should resume decisionmaking proceedings on whether commercial reprocessing and the use of plutonium-bearing fuels should be permitted on a widescale basis in the United States from an environmental, health, safety, and safeguards standpoint.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy, in conjunction with the Secretary of State, the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the Chairman, NRC, should revise the policy to allow the executive branch to consider and act on foreign reprocessing requests without requiring the demonstration of physical need.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should improve the predictability and timeliness of the export licensing process for highly enriched uranium by (1) telling foreign governments, after appropriate consultations, which reactors merit continued U.S. supplies pending commercial availability of more proliferation-resistant fuels and (2) expediting the executive branch processing of export requests for presidential review.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  6. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should in consultation with the Secretary of Energy, the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, reconsider the direction and scope of the Program of Technical Assistance to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards, in light of (1) the original intent of the program, (2) the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, (3) the increasing dependence of IAEA on this U.S. program, and (4) the need to retain the international character of the IAEA safeguards system.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  7. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy, in conjunction with the Secretary of State, the Director of Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the Chairman, NRC, should revise executive branch export licensing procedures (43 Fed. Reg. 25326) to allow generic recipient government assurances for repetitive exports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  8. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should meet with other world leaders and International Atomic Energy Agency officials to address the problems impeding the effective application of international safeguards and to develop a multinational plan to overcome these problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  9. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy, in conjunction with the Secretary of State, the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the Chairman, NRC, should assess the merits of continuing the Carter Administration's offer to accept limited quantities of foreign spent fuel into the United States.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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