Let's keep 'generic' for drug prescriptions

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On September 18, I posted that that four former executives of Japanese company, Mitutoyo Corp, were found guilty of illegally exporting devices that could be used in producing nuclear weapons. That is true, but from the perspective of actually trying to prevent such things from happening there is more to the story. And, as is usually the case, the redoubtable reporter Mark Hibbs had the story first; back in January, to be precise. Here is some of what he wrote in the January 15 issue of Nuclear Fuel:

Japanese authorities may have failed to detect a pattern of abuse of generic export licenses that, prosecutors allege, allowed personnel at a precision engineering company in 2001 to contribute to Libya's former uranium enrichment program, Japanese and Western export control officials said last week. But they said Japan is not unique in having awarded to exporters blanket authorizations that free them from inconvenient red tape for individual nuclear dual-use shipments.

Preventing the abuse of such licenses requires the cooperation and integrity of licensees, officials said, and nothing can be done to prevent a transgressor from deliberately violating the terms of a generic license by exporting dual-use goods to an unauthorized recipient.

Interestingly, it turns out that Japanese procedures may, in fact, have been stronger, even if they were violated, than those of many Western states.

Western export control officials said that most countries in the European Union, the US, Japan, and South Korea award such generic export licenses to exporters. Officials from METI and Japan's Foreign Affairs Ministry have routinely compared best practices with other countries' export control agencies, officials said. But during these discussions, they said, the administration of generic licenses has not been a major critical issue.

Note to export control officials: can we talk about harmonizing export control regulations? Generic is fine for drug prescriptions, but probably not a good thing when talking about centrifuge parts.

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