US, Mexico see nuclear power agreement by year's end

By Jodi Delapaz

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2016 - The U.S. and Mexico say they intend to conclude a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement by the end of 2016. The plan was announced following a White House meeting between President Obama and President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico on July 22.

The agreement will “provide an enhanced basis for the transfer of technology, fuel and other major nuclear components between the two countries,” according to a release from the White House.

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The agreement would also enhance national capacities in the supply chain and nuclear fuel services, facilitate sharing of experiences and best practices in this sector, and boost potential emissions reduction in the power sector, the Obama administration says.

The agreement replaces a longstanding project supply accord the two countries have with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Through that trilateral agreement, the U.S. supplied and continues to service Mexico's only nuclear reactors, two General Electric boiling water reactors at Laguna Verde on the Gulf of Mexico, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said.

Recent changes to U.S. export control regulations make a bilateral agreement more favorable for U.S.-Mexico nuclear commerce than the existing trilateral agreement, the NEI said.

Under the previous regulation, U.S. nuclear technology exports to Mexico were broadly eligible for general authorization. However, under the new regulations, only exports to the Laguna Verde plant are generally authorized while other exports are subject to authorization by the Energy Secretary, says NEI Director of Supplier Programs Ted Jones.

In June, the presidents of the U.S. and Mexico and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to producing half of the continent's electricity using clean power sources, including nuclear energy, by 2025. As the Mexican government seeks to cut carbon dioxide emissions and to reduce its electricity sector's reliance on natural gas, NEI says that plans for new nuclear generating capacity have gathered momentum. 

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Nuclear energy provides 2 percent of Mexico's generating capacity, 4 percent of its generated electricity and 10 percent of its zero-emission electricity, says NEI. Mexican government energy plans show that three nuclear power plants are expected to begin commercial operation between 2026 and 2028, NEI reports. Mexico is also considering small modular reactors for power and seawater desalination, notes NEI. 

The Atomic Energy Act requires that a negotiated agreement be submitted to Congress for review for 90 days of continuous session, but because fewer than 90 days remain in the current session, NEI says the agreement will be readied for submission to the next Congress.

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