123 AGREEMENTS ESTABLISH A LEGALLY BINDING FRAMEWORK FOR PEACEFUL NUCLEAR COOPERATION (E.G., THE TRANSFER OF U.S. ORIGIN SPECIAL NUCLEAR MATERIAL, THE EXPORT OF NUCLEAR FUEL, REACTORS AND EQUIPMENT) BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND PARTNERS.
How are they created?
In 1954, the United States enacted the Atomic Energy Act (the Act). Before the United States can conduct a significant nuclear export, Section 123 of the Act requires the United States have an agreement with the relevant country which meets specified criteria – hence the moniker “123 Agreement.”
Section 123 establishes nine nonproliferation criteria that 123 Agreements must include. The criteria require 123 agreements to legally obligate our partners to observe specific standards in a multitude of areas including peaceful uses; International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards (technical measures through which the IAEA seeks to verify that nuclear material is not diverted from peaceful uses); physical security of nuclear materials; and prohibitions on enriching, reprocessing, and transfer of specific material and equipment without our consent.
The Department of State leads the negotiations of all 123 Agreements, with technical assistance from and concurrence of the Department of Energy, and in consultation with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The President approves the 123 Agreement, which he or she then submits to Congress for review. Following the review period, a 123 Agreement can be brought into force so long as a joint resolution of disapproval has not been enacted.
Why Do We Use Them?
123 Agreements are important tools for United States foreign policy as they legally bind partners to United States standards on nonproliferation, which are the most stringent and rigorous in the world. Actively engaging in 123 Agreements deepens political relationships between the United States and its partners. A full-fledged nuclear cooperation partnership can lead to political and economic ties lasting as long as 100 years and can be the catalyst for cooperation on other foreign policy issues.
Further, 123 Agreements aid the United States economy by promoting United States competitiveness in the global civil nuclear market and interconnected high-tech arenas. Without such an agreement, U.S. companies that manufacture and export nuclear material, equipment, or reactor components cannot compete in foreign markets, and Americans lose high-quality job opportunities.
In February 2019, the United States announced it would pursue less formal arrangements with additional partners: Nuclear Cooperation Memoranda of Understanding (NCMOUs). NCMOUs are diplomatic instruments to strengthen ties between the United States and partner nuclear experts. NCMOUs do not allow for the transfer of nuclear items but instead help partners build their own nuclear energy and technology infrastructure.
What Are The Benefits to The United States’ Partners?
123 Agreements on civil nuclear cooperation with the United States allow our partners access to the benefits of peaceful uses of United States nuclear energy, science, and technology. Civil nuclear cooperation with the United States gives our partners access to sustainable and responsible nuclear programs, underpinned by confidence that such cooperation will not be misused – whether deliberately or inadvertently – or lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Further, 123 Agreements set the foundation for educational and technological transfers and collaborations to occur between the United States and partners.
How Many 123 Agreements Do We Have?
As of November 2, 2022, the United States has 24 123 Agreements covering 48 countries, the IAEA, and Taiwan. The agreement with Taiwan was negotiated through the American Institute in Taiwan.
- European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom)
- Republic of Korea
- Russian Federation
- South Africa
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom