The Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended, prohibits the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from issuing a license to construct and operate a nuclear power reactor to any entity that the Commission knows, or has reason to believe, is owned, controlled, or dominated by foreign interests. The NRC's position is that there is no specific percentage of ownership above which the agency must conclude without further inquiry that an applicant for a combined license is controlled by foreign interests. Applicants are permitted to use negation action plans to demonstrate that any foreign ownership, control, or domination will be negated. But recently, an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) presiding over the Calvert Cliffs combined license application hearing ruled that no negation action plan would be sufficient to negate 100 percent ownership of the applicants' parent company – UniStar Nuclear Energy, LLC – by French-owned Électricité de France, S.A. Thus, the ASLB ruled 100 percent foreign ownership of a combined license applicant necessarily renders the applicant ineligible for a combined license in the U.S.
In contrast, the Chairman of Parliament's Energy and Climate Change Select Committee in the United Kingdom recently stated that permitting Chinese investment in infrastructure projects such as new nuclear plants in the U.K. would be "perfectly acceptable." Chinese entities are reportedly in talks with companies contemplating bids on several multi-unit new reactor facilities in the U.K. The laws on foreign ownership certainly vary from country to country, but as the nuclear industry becomes increasingly globalized, to what extent can the U.S. keep pace with new nuclear projects around the world under the constraints of an absolute prohibition on foreign ownership, control, and domination? The time may be ripe for the U.S. to reconsider the legal framework for addressing security concerns stemming from foreign ownership.