U.S.-Mexico civil nuclear pact enters into force

November 9, 2022, 3:00PMNuclear News
Mexico's Laguna Verde nuclear power plant, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in the state of Veracruz.

An agreement between the United States and Mexico on civil nuclear cooperation has entered into force, the U.S. State Department announced last week. While first proposed in 2016 and finalized and signed in 2018, the pact only received approval from the Mexican Senate this March.

Also known as 123 Agreements—after Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act—civil nuclear cooperation agreements provide a legal framework for exports of nuclear material, equipment, and components from the United States to another country.

At this writing, the United States has enacted 24 such agreements with 48 countries, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the governing authorities on Taiwan.

“This is the first bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation between the United States and Mexico,” the State Department said in its November 3 announcement. “The agreement builds on the nearly 80 years of peaceful nuclear cooperation between our two countries.” (Previously, collaboration between the United States and Mexico in the field of nuclear energy was conducted under more limited IAEA project and supply agreements.)

The new 30-year accord also covers the production and application of radioisotopes in industry, agriculture, and medicine, as well as nuclear safety, environmental protection, and emergency response preparedness. In addition, according to then president Trump’s 2018 message to Congress transmitting the agreement for review, “Mexico would affirm its intent to rely on existing international markets for nuclear fuel services involving sensitive nuclear technologies (i.e., enrichment and reprocessing), and the United States would affirm its intent to support these international markets and would agree to endeavor to take necessary and feasible actions to ensure a reliable supply of low enriched uranium fuel to Mexico.”

In case you missed it: Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), owner and operator of Mexico’s only nuclear power facility, Laguna Verde, announced in late August that the plant’s Unit 2 reactor has been given the go-ahead to operate into the 2050s.

Mexico’s secretary of energy, Norma Rocío Nahle García, approved a 30-year extension to the unit’s operating license on August 25, following a review by the country’s National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards. The reactor, one of two at the plant, is now authorized to run until April 10, 2055.

CFE began the license renewal process for both of Laguna Verde’s units in 2015. Unit 1 was approved for 30 additional years in July 2020, allowing its operation to July 24, 2050.

Laguna Verde is located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in the state of Veracruz. Unit 1 is a General Electric–supplied 777-MWe BWR-5 boiling water reactor that began commercial operation in July 1990. Its near-twin Unit 2, rated at 775 MWe, first came on line in April 1995.

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