NRC's Support to U.S. Nonproliferation Objectives
Nuclear nonproliferation refers to deterring both (a) the spread of nuclear weapons to entities (countries or terrorist groups) not currently possessing nuclear weapons (i.e., horizontal proliferation) and (b) increased numbers of nuclear weapons in countries already possessing nuclear weapons (i.e., vertical proliferation). While some countries possessing nuclear weapons – such as the United States (U.S.) and the Russian Federation – have reduced the number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals through treaties and agreements related to arms control and disarmament, the number of nuclear weapons in some other countries (e.g., Pakistan) is increasing. Nonproliferation activities continue to be actively implemented to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the declared nuclear weapon states and to deter additional countries from acquiring the capability to produce nuclear weapons. U.S. nonproliferation activities in this area are composed of activities and controls that can be summarized into four areas:
- Export and import controls – to increase the difficulty for a country to acquire the nuclear materials and technology to produce a nuclear explosive device;
- nuclear security and information security – to prevent countries or terrorist groups from diverting or stealing the nuclear materials or technology necessary for producing a nuclear explosive device;
- international safeguards (e.g., as implemented by the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA) – to verify that nuclear material in States remains in peaceful uses; and
- counter-proliferation – to disrupt proliferation activities that are suspected or have been initiated.
Within the United States, the Executive and Legislative Branches of the Federal government are responsible for developing the national nuclear nonproliferation policies and goals. The implementation of U.S. Government policies on nonproliferation is a coordinated effort of the Federal agencies, with each contributing according to its area of expertise and assigned responsibilities.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) contributes to strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime through implementing U.S. obligations under relevant treaties with respect to NRC-licensed installations and export and import licensing, and through participation in U.S. Government, and international, committees and working groups. The NRC routinely contributes to these discussions knowledge of commercial nuclear transactions and facility operations, experience with facilitating international safeguards at commercial facilities, and technical safeguards expertise.
The NRC has lead responsibility for implementing U.S. nonproliferation objectives related to:
- ensuring that effective nuclear security and information security are implemented at NRC offices and NRC-licensed facilities;
- reviewing applications and issuing licenses for the export and import of nuclear equipment and material from, or into, the United States; and
- facilitating the implementation of international safeguards <A.220.127.116.11> at NRC-licensed facilities.
The NRC issues a license, for a nuclear facility to possess nuclear material or for the export or import of nuclear material or nuclear-related equipment or technology, only if it determines that the health and safety of the public and the common defense and security of the nation will be protected. The NRC's licensing framework addresses proliferation concerns through direct involvement in Federal agency activities that develop nonproliferation policy and through implementing the nonproliferation-related policies by regulatory requirements. The NRC is an important contributing member of the U.S. Government team for implementing effective nuclear nonproliferation policies.