Export of nuclear equipment, material and technology: 'Trigger List' requirements

Guidance if exporting certain types of controlled sensitive nuclear items on what is known as the 'Trigger List'.


The Export Control Organisation (ECO) is responsible for legislating, assessing and issuing export licences for a wide variety of controlled goods. One particular category of controlled goods which requires an export licence is nuclear equipment, material and technology.

This guidance is for exporters who want to export certain types of sensitive nuclear items which are detailed in what is known as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ‘Trigger List’, so called because exports of such material triggers the requirement for safeguards.

This guide explains how the ECO, together with the Nuclear Unit - Non Proliferation (NU-NP) team in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), assess these applications and sets out the important factors that exporters should bear in mind when applying for a licence.

This information is for guidance only. It is not a statement of law. Before exporting you should refer to the legal provisions in force at the time. Where legal advice is required exporters should make their own arrangements.

Assurances needed for sensitive nuclear items and what exporters should do

Nuclear export controls outline the kind of sensitive items that can be exported or transferred internationally. International nuclear exports depend upon recipient countries meeting certain security standards and safeguards, and pre-notification or assurance of a proposed export. This is the case in particular for nuclear items - equipment, material or technology - which are listed on what is known as the NSG Trigger List.

What is the NSG?

The NSG is one of the international regimes or groups which impact upon national export controls of most industrialised countries, including those of the UK. The NSG consists of over 40 nuclear supplier countries, including the UK, and seeks to control nuclear exports in order to aid non-proliferation, without hindering international nuclear trade and cooperation. It achieves this via the implementation of guidelines.

For further details about the NSG, read about international non-proliferation and arms control regimes.

What is the Trigger List?

The so-called NSG Trigger List is a list of certain types of sensitive nuclear items. This list is one of two lists published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Download the NSG Part 1 Trigger List guidelines from the IAEA website.

Background on the role of the ECO and DECC and the export of sensitive nuclear items

NU-NP, which is based within DECC, deals with non-proliferation work including nuclear safeguards matters, and implementation and verification in the UK of relevant international regimes and conventions, including the IAEA.

The ECO is responsible for issuing export licences for controlled goods. They and the NU-NP frequently work behind the scenes to obtain specific Government-to-Government Assurances on many NSG Trigger List items before an export licence can be issued.

What is the Government-to-Government Assurance?

An Assurance is a formal undertaking issued by one government to another. There are three forms of Assurance for exporters:

  • a full Government-to-Government Assurance
  • a European Union Intra-Community Assurance known as a POCO
  • a Confirmatory Note

All three require a formal diplomatic exchange.

In principle an Assurance is similar to an End-User Undertaking (EUU). For more information, see the guide on end-user and stockist undertakings for SIELs and consignee undertakings for OIELs.

The key difference with an EUU, however, is that an Assurance binds the issuing government to agreed non-proliferation measures, for instance, those stated in the NSG Part 1 Trigger List guidelines or the terms and conditions stated in existing bilateral or multilateral treaties.

What should exporters do to meet the Trigger List requirements?

Given the pre-requirements necessary internationally for the sensitive nuclear items concerned, it is vital for any exporters exporting any listed items to provide all the facts, clearly, when the application is first made. This includes providing the following exact details:

  • the name of the end-user(s)
  • the use to which the equipment, material or technology will be put
  • exactly what is being exported, including specific quantity and weight
  • full details of any consignees or agents involved
  • proposed shipment dates

Almost all queries raised by the ECO concern the quantities of material or shipping dates on the licence application, which turn out not to match the details the importer enters on his or her EUU.

You should also allow plenty of time to sort out an Assurance. For more information, see the sections in this guide on factors to consider in obtaining an Assurance and applying for a licence for sensitive nuclear items.

Why and when Assurances are needed for exporting sensitive nuclear items

A fundamental part of the international nuclear non-proliferation infrastructure is the requirement for Assurances to be given before the export of certain types of sensitive nuclear material, equipment and technology is authorised. The principle behind this requirement is that notifications of particularly sensitive exports for nuclear End-Use are conveyed directly between governments so that the legitimacy of the proposed export and End-Use can be verified.

Essentially, any item included on the NSG Trigger List may be subject to an Assurance, which must be in place before the ECO can approve and issue an export licence.

The underlying requirements for each type of Assurance are derived from the following international agreements and commitments:

  • Government-to-Government Assurances (GTGAs) come from the NSG Part 1 Trigger List Guidelines
  • EU Intra-Community Assurance or POCO is stipulated in the EU Declaration of Common Policy for nuclear transfers
  • the need for Confirmatory Notes is stated in many of the bilateral/multilateral Nuclear Co-operation ‘Peaceful Use’ agreements which we have with other countries, such as the Australia/EURATOM Agreement

Download the NSG Part 1 Trigger List guidelines from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) website.

You can read the EU Declaration of Common Policy for nuclear transfers on the IAEA website.

When Assurances are needed

Not all transfers of Trigger List items will require an Assurance. However there are several policy and treaty requirements that must be taken into consideration for each export and, only after examining the details of the items to be exported, the weight/quantity concerned, the intended End-Use, the country and End-User location, will the ECO, together with the DECC, be able to determine whether an Assurance is required.

The underlying requirement for a GTGA comes from the NSG Part 1 Trigger List Guidelines, where the Guidelines for nuclear transfers, stipulates:

“Suppliers [States] should authorize [issue licences for the] transfer of items or related technology identified in the trigger list only upon formal governmental assurances from recipients explicitly excluding the uses which would result in any nuclear explosive device.”

However, some items covered by the Trigger List are accompanied by conditions which must be met for an item to be classified as a Trigger List export. For example, nuclear grade graphite is included on the list but it is only classified as a Trigger List export (and therefore requiring Assurances), when it is being used within a nuclear reactor.

Mitigating some of the GTGA requirements stated in the NSG Part 1 Trigger List Guidelines are a number of bilateral and multilateral international nuclear co-operation Peaceful Use agreements or treaties. The UK is a party to a large number of these treaties, the intent of which is to facilitate nuclear trade by having pre-agreed measures and requirements that will apply to transfers between countries. However, the terms and coverage vary and many treaties stipulate the requirement for a Confirmatory Note, in other words, an exchange between countries to confirm that the transfer of items will fall under the terms of the treaty in question.

For EU intra-community transfers, the EU Declaration of Common Policy - which underlines the EU free trade principle - further mitigates the need for a POCO Assurance except for certain quantities of both high enriched uranium (material with an isotopic rating of U235 of 20 per cent or higher) and plutonium.

When an EUU is required for sensitive nuclear items

Where a GTGA, POCO or Confirmatory Note is needed, you will not also need to obtain an EUU from your customer.

However, you should remember that for EU intra-community transfers, a POCO is only needed for certain quantities of high enriched uranium and plutonium. So although for all other intra-community transfers of Trigger List items, a POCO is not required, an EUU will be.

Where to get an EUU

In the great majority of cases the End-User will be self-evident. However, this is not always the case, and there have been instances in which the UK and other governments have adopted different interpretations.

The problem area is where a UK exporter is transferring nuclear fuel to a fuel fabricator, or similar, who then repackages the fuel into rods, or similar, and sells it to the final user, often a power plant. The UK has taken the view that the fuel fabricator receives the material in the state that it left the UK and is, therefore, responsible for providing an EUU where one is needed. However, some other countries have taken the view that the input of the fuel fabricator is insignificant and that, in reality, the power plant is the End-User.

These are legitimate differences of interpretation and so the ECO is prepared to allow a degree of flexibility. From their perspective it is more important that they are made aware of exactly what is happening (in other words, who is initially receiving the fuel, what they are doing to it and where it is then going to be sent) than the format of the document.

Therefore, you should ask for the EUU to be provided by whoever initially uses the product in the state in which it left the UK. However, if you encounter problems or reluctance to provide this Undertaking, please contact the named Case Officer in the ECO’s Licensing Unit, who, in liaison with the NU-NP within DECC, will see if an alternative solution can be found.

For more information on the requirements of EUUs, including a template EUU to be completed by your End-User, see our guide on end-user and stockist undertakings for SIELs and consignee undertakings for OIELs.

The export licence application process for sensitive nuclear items

A licence application will first be assessed against the UK Strategic Export Control Lists and NSG regulations to determine under what part of the controls the goods, material or technology are licensable and whether they fall under the NSG Trigger List. If this is the case, the NU-NP within DECC will then draft the request for the Assurance.

This will include information on:

  • the exporter
  • any consignee(s) or agent(s) involved
  • the End-User(s)
  • the stated End-Use(s)
  • a full item description - including quantity/weight
  • proposed shipment dates

This will then be passed to the British Embassy in the recipient country who pass the request to the respective country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who, in turn, will pass the request to whichever organisation has responsibility for providing the Assurance.

At the same time, the ECO will seek advice from its advisors in other UK government departments, in accordance with normal procedures.

The responsible organisation in the recipient country may need to make enquiries with its nuclear regulatory body, the import licensing body and the commercial companies involved (consignees, agents and end-users) and, only when the responsible organisation is satisfied that the items will be used as stated, and that these items are adequately protected and safeguarded, will an Assurance be issued. Unresolved queries will usually be passed back for the ECO or the NU-NP to take up with the UK exporter.

For more information, see the guides on the export control licensing process and how to appeal and the UK Strategic Export Control Lists - the consolidated list of strategic military and dual-use items.

Factors to consider in obtaining an Assurance and applying for a licence for sensitive nuclear items

The Assurance sought will cover the specific export detailed on the licence application - in other words, it will cover the transfer of the exact quantity of items within the anticipated validity period of the export licence.

If a licence needs to be amended - for instance, in terms of quantities increased or the lifetime extended - then a new Assurance will need to be sought.

Timescales for obtaining an Assurance

There are no target times set within the existing guidelines and treaties. In practice, countries will process Assurance requests as quickly as possible, but remember that a reasonable amount of time is needed to allow the necessary enquiries.

Even with email and fax, the chain of parties involved in passing the request to the organisation responsible for issuing the Assurance will inevitably slow things down, particularly given different time zones, working hours and national holidays.

The complexity of the proposed transfer will be a significant factor. For instance, a Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL) covering a single shipment to a single End-User will usually be quicker to process than an Open Individual Export Licence (OIEL) covering multiple shipments to multiple End-Users.

Another significant factor will be the available resources of the recipient government. Countries with a well-developed nuclear industry often have a dedicated office for processing requests of this nature and the turnaround time of Assurances is usually two to three weeks. However, other countries without such resources may take considerably longer to process the request.

The following table shows the average turnaround time for the countries to which the UK frequently exports.

Country Approximate length of turnaround time (months)
Brazil 6 plus
Canada 6 plus
Japan 3
People’s Republic of China 6
Russian Federation 3 plus
South Africa 6 plus
United States of America 3

The figures are based on recent exchanges, and show the time elapsed between the request being sent to the UK embassy abroad and a reply being received.

Timescales for applying for an export licence

The timescales set out above are averages - they are not a guarantee that any export licence will be granted within a specified timescale. However, if you are applying for a SIEL for the relevant material to the above countries, you should always factor in the time taken.

If you are applying for an OIEL, you should always apply six months in advance of the date of shipment, or, where applicable, the date of expiry of your current OIEL. This latter consideration is particularly important because where Government-to-Government Assurances are involved, an existing OIEL cannot be extended until a new OIEL can be put in place. This is because Assurances are only valid for the anticipated life of the original OIEL, and so the ECO will need to seek new Assurances for any exports after that date.

For more information on the types of licences you might be able to apply for, see the guide on licences: export, trade control and transhipment. In particular you can view specific guides on Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELs) and Open Individual Export Licences (OIELs).

Details of Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines and the treaties

This section provides further details and background on the origin of controls on sensitive nuclear items on other related websites for reference.

Download the NSG Part 1 Trigger List guidelines from the IAEA website (PDF, 195K).

You can read the EU Declaration of Common Policy for nuclear transfers on the IAEA website.

For more details about the NSG, read about international non-proliferation and arms control regimes.

Further information

BIS ECO Helpline

020 7215 4594 or email:

Download the NSG Part 1 Trigger List guidelines from the IAEA website

Subscribe to the Export Control Organisation’s Notices to Exporters

NSG’s role explained on the NSG website

EU Declaration of Common Policy for nuclear transfers on the IAEA website

Published 14 August 2012
Last updated 12 December 2012 + show all updates
  1. Amended broken links and added related guides
  2. First published.