Domestic demand for U.S. nuclear reactors is on the decline, and as a result, the industry is pushing for relaxed export restrictions so that it can more readily sell technology and equipment to China, Russia, and other nations where nuclear power is still in heavy demand.
Most of the regulations in question were put in place in the aftermath of the Cold War, and they naturally put domestic suppliers at a distinct disadvantage on the world market, which could be worth as much as a quarter of a trillion dollars within just ten years.
The U.S. regulations are more cumbersome than comparable rules in France, Japan, Russia, and even South Korea, according to a report authored by the Nuclear Energy Institute. Competing suppliers to Nuclear Energy Institute members like Exelon Corp. (NYSE: EXC) and Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) are based in those countries.
This year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its first nuclear reactor construction licenses in over 30 years, even as domestic demand is crashing thanks to booming natural gas production.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is charging ahead with plans to develop reactors, despite the attention-grabbing disaster at Fukushima just recently. China is currently building 26 reactors, Russia’s constructing 10, and India is developing 7 reactors.
Over the next decade, demand for commercial nuclear technology could be worth between $500 and $740 billion, and the sector could support tens of thousands of jobs. Most other nations have a single agency that regulates exports; in the U.S., the process is managed by the Commerce, Energy, and State Departments, as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And the latter bars exports to six countries including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.
All in all, the U.S. system is very leaden, and that’s exactly what industry groups and leaders are pushing against. As a starting move toward a possible overhaul, the Energy Department has suggested some revisions that could significantly rework the regulatory framework, but it’s a slow process and plenty remains to be done.