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US Lawmakers Aim to Limit Citizens of China and Russia from Accessing DOE Labs

JUN 17, 2024
Legislation advancing in the Senate and House would restrict Chinese and Russian citizens from using national labs of the Department of Energy.
Mitch Ambrose headshot
Director of Science Policy News American Institute of Physics
The headquarters of the Department of Energy.

The headquarters of the Department of Energy.

(Quentin Kruger / DOE)

The Senate Intelligence Committee is proposing to prohibit citizens of China and Russia without permanent residence status in the U.S. from accessing Department of Energy national labs without a waiver. The proposal is contained in the Intelligence Authorization Act that the committee released this month after voting unanimously to advance the legislation to the full Senate for consideration. The prohibition would also apply to citizens of Iran, North Korea, and Cuba.

The legislation states that while “international cooperation in the field of science is critical to the United States maintaining its leading technological edge,” the DOE lab system “is increasingly targeted by adversarial nations to exploit military and dual-use technologies for military or economic gain.”

It also states that more than 8,000 citizens from China and Russia were granted access to DOE national labs in fiscal year 2023, out of a total of around 40,000 foreign users of the labs. Many of these visits presumably were to the labs’ scientific user facilities, which DOE historically has made broadly available to external researchers.

DOE is pushing back against the proposed restriction. “This proposal would have a significant impact on our national laboratories. DOE is working with the Senate Intelligence Committee and other congressional offices to provide information about the role of foreign nationals in the department’s overall scientific enterprise and more broadly, the nation’s global economic competitiveness,” a DOE spokesperson told FYI.

Although the House Intelligence Committee’s version of the legislation does not contain the proposal, the House included a narrower prohibition in the version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act it sent to the Senate last week. That provision would prohibit citizens of China and Russia from visiting non-public areas of DOE security labs.

The Biden administration has objected to that proposal on the grounds it would “severely limit our ability to engage with Chinese and Russian experts on nonproliferation of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.”

“The existing visitor-screening process at the national laboratories and nuclear weapons production facilities are specifically designed to screen for visitor threats and prevent access to protected information,” the White House added.

This position suggests the administration will also push back on the proposal from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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