Export control of deuterium shifts from NRC to Commerce Department

October 7, 2021, 9:36AMNuclear News

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is relinquishing its licensing authority for exports of deuterium for nonnuclear use to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security. The NRC said that the change reflects the growing peaceful use of deuterium, including heavy water, as well as deuterium gas and deuterium or deuterated compounds, for nonnuclear industrial and research activities.

For the export of deuterium for nuclear end uses, the NRC will continue to regulate the hydrogen isotope as a material “especially relevant for export control because of [its] significance for nuclear explosive purposes.”

The new rule, which goes into effect on December 6, was published by the NRC in the October 6 Federal Register.

Part 110: The NRC is revising its regulations that govern the export and import of nuclear equipment and material in 10 CFR Part 110. According to the NRC, the revisions are necessary to reflect technological advances involving the use of deuterium for nonnuclear end uses. The changes will also harmonize U.S. export control of deuterium with international standards, the NRC said.

In the early years of the nuclear energy industry, deuterium oxide (heavy water) was largely produced for use in nuclear reactors. In the past decade, however, the market for deuterium has significantly expanded and evolved beyond nuclear reactor use, including the manufacture of advanced electronics, deuterated solvents, deuterated pharmaceuticals, hydrogen arc-lamps, neutron generators, and tracers in hydrological, biological, and medical studies.

The growing nonnuclear use of deuterium, along with a recognition by the NRC that deuterium exports historically have not been diverted for illicit purposes, has prompted the agency to reevaluate its licensing requirements.

According to the Department of Commerce, to the extent that any risk of diversion may exist, the export of deuterium for nonnuclear uses will continued to be controlled by U.S. export regulations. Control mechanisms also exist within national regulatory authorities and the international community to detect efforts to divert deuterium for known illicit purposes.

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