Nuclear Proliferation:

DOE Has Insufficient Control Over Nuclear Technology Exports

RCED-86-144: Published: May 1, 1986. Publicly Released: May 1, 1986.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) control over assistance to foreign atomic energy programs, specifically those involving sensitive nuclear technology (SNT).

GAO noted that: (1) the Secretary of Energy may only authorize the export of SNT if he determines that the authorization does not adversely affect U.S. interests, and the Department of State concurs; (2) SNT requires specific authorization for export to recipient countries, which must agree to certain conditions regarding its use; and (3) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) shares responsibility with DOE for controlling nuclear exports. GAO found that DOE: (1) failed to establish objective standards for authorizing exports as recommended, and its controls were, therefore, inconsistent with NRC controls; (2) authorized exports for SNT without review and based on factors not contained in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978; and (3) authorized, without reviewing, reports that contained information on sensitive nuclear facilities and operations.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action has been initiated in Congress to implement this recommendation. Because of the time that has elapsed, GAO does not anticipate that Congress will act on this recommendation.

    Matter: If DOE does not act to establish standards for authorizing U.S. assistance to foreign nuclear programs, Congress may wish to consider whether DOE-regulated exports should be subjected to export control standards similar to those currently required of NRC-licensed exports.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE revised its regulations on December 10, 1986, to include procedures for disseminating data on authorized activities. The procedures provide for such dissemination 30 days after the Secretary's grant of a specific authorization.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should establish procedures requiring DOE to provide routine and timely dissemination of data on activities authorized by the Department.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE revised its regulations on December 10, 1986, to include reporting requirements that will provide DOE updates on the status of authorized activities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should revise the reporting requirements of the regulations to require persons granted specific authorizations to provide DOE updates of the status of their activities when they are completed or if they are not conducted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE revised its regulations on December 10, 1986, to clarify the activities that require DOE authorization. Further, DOE is undertaking actions to increase proliferation awareness at DOE facilities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should clarify regulations to clearly detail what activities qualify as indirect assistance requiring authorization and undertake efforts to increase the awareness of the regulations in both the private and public sectors, to preclude inadvertent violations of the regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has begun sending its proposed activities involving sensitive foreign nuclear facilities to SNEC for review; however, the recommended revisions to the interagency review procedures have not been effected. This recommendation should be implemented to ensure that independent scouting of potentially sensitive DOE nuclear assistance to foreign countries is performed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should provide opportunities for Subgroup on Nuclear Export Coordination (SNEC) agencies to review and comment on all proposed activities reviewed by DOE, including technical exchange activities, that involve providing assistance to sensitive foreign nuclear facilities. The interagency review procedures should be amended to reflect these opportunities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE issued new regulations on December 10, 1986, that did not adequately address this recommendation. DOE stated, in the supplementary information published with these regulations, that it intends to determine SNT on a case-by-case basis, and consequently did not revise its SNT regulation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should develop a clear interpretation of SNT and establish criteria to be used in evaluating proposed activities for SNT. The criteria should be developed using rulemaking procedures and included in the agency's SNT regulation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE disagreed that objective standards are needed in its regulations. DOE believes that its current procedures are adequate for ensuring that the proliferation significance of export activities is considered along with political and economic factors. While DOE has not finalized its revised regulations, it has informed GAO that it does not intend to adopt this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should establish objective standards and incorporate such standards in DOE regulations. As a part of this effort, the Secretary should describe how political and economic factors will be weighed in conjunction with objective nonproliferation standards, such as facility safeguards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE issued final regulations on December 10, 1986, that addressed this recommendation. In its new regulations, DOE included a revised definition of publicly available information that is consistent with the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure federal control over U.S. assistance provided to foreign atomic energy programs, the Secretary of Energy should revise the general authorization provision of DOE regulations to: (1) allow only previously published documents readily available to the public for the cost of reproduction to be provided under the general authorization; and (2) require that any new documents, even if based on publicly available information, be submitted to DOE for specific authorization if they are being sent to restricted countries or involve sensitive facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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