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Nuclear Cooperation Memoranda of Understanding are diplomatic instruments that establish the basis for broader, strategic relationships between the U.S. government and its foreign counterparts, develop stronger ties between the U.S. and partner country nuclear experts, industry, and researchers, and provide high-level support for the U.S. civil nuclear industry and nuclear nonproliferation goals.

How Are They Used?

Under this new diplomatic initiative, the State Department will use Nuclear Cooperation Memoranda of Understanding (NCMOUs) to help the United States develop strategic civil nuclear cooperation relationships, support the U.S. civil nuclear industry, and advance our national security and nuclear nonproliferation goals.  Through the bilateral ties that are built with NCMOUs, the United States will be able to better help its partners build their own infrastructure for the responsible use of nuclear energy and technology, and adopt high standards of nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation, including independent regulatory oversight.  By elevating attention to bilateral civil nuclear cooperation to the most senior governmental levels, NCMOUs can facilitate early necessary steps in civil nuclear cooperation that will often precede, and help lay the groundwork for, a 123 agreement or a Part 810 authorization.  NCMOUs can also help to facilitate and provide high-level political backing to existing bilateral civil nuclear cooperation.

NCMOUs can provide the foundation for helping partner countries prepare to take advantage of the advanced nuclear technologies and coming innovations in reactor design and other areas that are being pioneered in the United States, and to do so under the highest standards of safety, security, and nonproliferation.  They help to further develop the bilateral relationships between foreign countries and U.S. experts, industry, and cutting-edge researchers and to lay a foundation for future opportunities for civil nuclear cooperation.

NCMOUs can support U.S. industry’s entry into new markets or cement its position in existing markets through increased visibility and U.S. government engagement.  Active engagement by U.S. industry and government officials in a partner country increases the probability that those partners will choose to cooperate in the long term with the United States, and increases partner countries’ ability to benefit from such relationships.  Through the engagement enabled by NCMOUs, the United States will be able to work to strengthen nonproliferation protections in partner countries and to make the connections U.S. firms need to take advantage of market opportunities abroad.

Where Will They Be Used?

NCMOUs will likely be of particular interest to states that do not yet have a nuclear power program but are actively considering the option.  NCMOUs may also be of interest to states that already have a nuclear power program or a 123 agreement but would like to strengthen and highlight the special and strategic nature of civil nuclear cooperation with the United States.

How Are They Different From 123 Agreements?

NCMOUs are a new tool that countries can use to make strategic partnerships with the United States.  Importantly, NCMOUs will not permit exports of nuclear materials or equipment for nuclear reactor projects.  U.S. law requires a 123 agreement, which sets forth the rules by which the United States and a partner may transfer nuclear material and equipment, in order for such transfers to occur.  These 123 agreements are a critical part of civil nuclear relations, but they should not be viewed as the only tool.  Not all countries need to start a civil nuclear cooperation relationship with the United States with a 123 agreement.  123 agreements can take years to negotiate and bring into force, and NCMOUs can help bridge the gap and quickly help establish the basis for a broader, strategic relationship with the United States.  Additionally, while 123 agreements are legally binding and are shaped by legal requirements, NCMOUs are not legally binding and can be more flexible and strategic in their content.

How Are They Different From Other Agencies’ Authorities and MOUs?

An NCMOU will be separate from, yet supportive of, existing programs and activities led by other U.S. departments and agencies.  NCMOUs will not impede, limit, or duplicate MOUs, international agreements, or programming between other U.S. departments and agencies and their foreign counterparts.  NCMOUs do not take the place of other regulatory requirements, such as export controls administered by the Departments of Energy and Commerce and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as applicable.  As part of a whole-of-government effort to build strategic relations and achieve U.S. government goals, NCMOUs are designed to help facilitate and complement other United States departments’ and agencies’ myriad engagements with foreign counterparts.

In sum, the development of NCMOUs provides an additional way to establish and expand strategic ties with the United States by providing a framework for developing cooperative relationships on civil nuclear issues, including among government officials, experts, industry, and researchers, and for tailoring future opportunities for civil nuclear cooperation.

U.S. Department of State

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