In this week’s issue, we discuss the need for decisive action and clear leadership from the U.S. and its partners to respond to the global challenges posed by climate change. We also highlight recent remarks from U.S. presidential climate adviser Gina McCarthy calling for the inclusion of nuclear energy in the White House’s proposed national clean energy mandate. Finally, we bring attention to a new report from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre which concludes that nuclear energy should qualify for the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy.
A Decade of Delivery
The U.S. has become a deeply unserious nation in danger of losing its preeminent global role to China. This is the caustic evaluation of commentator and comedian, Bill Maher.
When parody presents the most prescient insights into impending policy failure, it’s probably worth at least considering a course correction.
The consequences of continuing on the current path are starkly outlined in a new report on global trends from the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC).
Published every four years, the NIC assessment analyzes the dynamics and forces that are shaping the strategic environment. What it foresees is a world facing “more intense and cascading global challenges ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies to financial crises.”
How the U.S. and other nations respond to these forces will shape the future over the next 20 years. So, there is little time to lose.
The NIC offers four scenarios for how the future may play out.
The most optimistic future is the “Renaissance of Democracies” in which the U.S. and its allies lead the effort to transform the global economy, raise incomes, and improve the global quality of life. Stifling repression by Russia and China lead their top innovators to join with the democratic nations.
The most dystopian development is “A World Adrift” in which the international system is undermined by China and other actors while OECD countries struggle with “slower economic growth, widening societal divisions, and political paralysis.” These are the issues fueling Maher’s satire. In this case global leadership is lost and the major transnational challenges continue to fester.
The other two scenarios offer an environment of cooperation and competition between the U.S. and China but allow for the management of major international problems, including climate change, albeit in one situation in response to a major global catastrophe.
Not surprisingly, the global challenges posed by climate change percolate throughout the NIC analysis. It impacts every key feature of the assessment from civic cohesion to military preparedness to political stability.
The takeaway from it is that higher temperatures will “impact every country” but disproportionately “fall on the developing world.” Meeting this challenge will require “new energy technologies and carbon dioxide removal techniques.”
It notes that in addition to the expansion of renewable energy, “nuclear power production may grow, particularly if new, safer designs emerge.” A particular focus is placed on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) which “could help developing countries electrify their populations without increasing emissions.”
The preparedness of these nations for nuclear energy, however, is a concern. A new analysis examined 126 nations and determined that most future low-carbon energy need will be in developing economy nations. But many have relatively weak institutions and will require support to strengthen their nuclear governance structures. Building this support system is a market and global security opportunity for nations seeking to export next-generation nuclear reactors.
This role is a natural fit for the Biden White House, which supports nuclear energy as a contributor to clean energy and is funding next-gen nuclear technologies. As part of its $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan, the administration noted the continuing value of nuclear energy and stated that it intends to include nuclear energy under a proposed Clean Energy Standard (CES) designed to drive down carbon emissions.
A similar clean energy standard, called the Taxonomy on Sustainable Finance, is under consideration by the European Union (EU). The Taxonomy is designed to identify environmentally sustainable energy sources and assist in attracting financing.
Nuclear energy has been a political football in this debate, but the EU’s Joint Research Centre determined that nuclear energy does not do “more harm to human health or the environment than other electricity production technologies already included in the Taxonomy.” Two additional sets of experts will review these findings and inform the final European Commission decision.
The timing of the U.S. and European clean energy standards is important because the November COP26 meeting in Glasgow could be a critical juncture in whether nations meet the Paris climate agreement objective of limiting temperatures by halving global carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero by mid-century.
The COP26 President, the British Parliament’s Alok Sharma, stated that, “We need this to be a decade of delivery…We simply cannot afford another decade of deliberation.”
Sharma’s comments were made a few days before the release of the NIC report. But both underscore the same message. The international environment is now disrupted and could grow even more disorderly. International turmoil is being exacerbated by climate change and decisive leadership is necessary.
As the NIC pointed out, the best response is for the U.S. and its partners to rapidly reestablish leadership by driving real, equitable responses to the new global challenges. That could define the decade of delivery.
Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security
The White House wants to include nuclear energy in its desired ‘Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard’ (EECES), per presidential climate advisor Gina McCarthy. The clean energy mandate is part of the White House’s new infrastructure plan, which also aims to pursue advanced nuclear development through a $15 billion investment in climate demonstration projects and a $46 billion investment in federal procurement of clean energy technologies.
China and Iran have signed a comprehensive 25-year deal concerning bilateral economic, political, and trade relations. A draft copy of the accord that circulated in 2020 included investments in nuclear energy infrastructure, but the present iteration has not been publicly revealed.
France has joined the U.S., Canada, and Japan–spearheaded NICE Future (Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future) Initiative, which aims to evaluate the optimal role of nuclear energy in future clean energy mixes.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Moltex Energy will collaborate on a project aimed at “demonstrating the technical viability” of Moltex’ ‘Waste to Stable Salt (WATSS)’ spent fuel reprocessing technology on fuel from Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors. OPG will provide $1 million in funding.
Energy Northwest, Grant County Public Utility District, and X-energy have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to form the ‘TRi Energy Partnership’ and work towards locating and operating a Xe-100 small modular reactor (SMR) at an Energy Northwest site in Richland, Washington. X-energy was awarded $80 million in October 2020 under the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to produce an operational advanced reactor by 2027.
France’s EDF and the University of Bristol (England) will create digital tools to assess the condition of British nuclear power plants (NPPs) as part of a new £7.6 million partnership. The partnership, SINDRI, will receive £2.4 million in funding from the UK government as Britain pursues a net–zero carbon emissions future and continues to preserve and develop indigenous innovation.
Japan’s JGC Holdings Corporation will invest $40 million in NuScale Power and work with its parent corporation, Fluor, to help support deployment of NuScale SMR plants.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The European Commission’s scientific expert arm, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), has claimed in a new report that nuclear power should qualify as a “green investment” under the EU’s forthcoming sustainable finance taxonomy. European countries are strongly divided about nuclear power financing; while Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Finland support the JRC’s conclusion, countries like Austria and Luxembourg are against what they label as “greenwashing” of nuclear energy and fossil fuels. The Commission will finalize its taxonomy after two expert committees perform a three-month review of the JRC’s findings.
The weCare NGO alliance has written a letter to the European Commission imploring the EU to support and develop bloc-wide nuclear energy and keep associated “critical knowledge, capabilities, technologies, and infrastructure” inside the Union. weCare cited nuclear energy as a “geopolitical challenge.”
Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 NPP has been granted a charging permit and is expected to begin “regular commercial operation” in February 2022 after connecting to the grid in October 2021. Fuel loading of the unit, which will become the “largest nuclear reactor in Europe” and supply around 14% of Finland’s electricity, began on March 27.
The Czech Republic has included Russia’s Rosatom, South Korea’s KHNP, France’s EDF, and the United States’ Westinghouse in the pre-qualifying round for its NPP tender. Final bidders for the tender, which aims to build a new 1200 MW unit at the Dukovany site, will be decided after an October election. In the meantime, current contenders will face security assessments, which should finish in November for possible opening of the tender in December. The Czech opposition does not support Russian inclusion in the process.
Russia’s Rostechnadzor has approved a five–year life extension (to 2030) of the BN-600 fast reactor. The country is also working to upgrade Unit 3 of the Beloyarsk NPP in hopes of extending its life to 60 years.
Beginning later this year, the Russian port town of Pevek will use energy from Akademik Lomonosov, the country’s first floating NPP, to fully provide local heat.
New regulations will require operators applying for life extensions of South African NPPs to “demonstrate availability of [necessary] financial and human resources.” Koeberg, the two-reactor site that serves as the nation and continent’s sole NPP, is set to reach the end of its allotted 40–year life span in 2024. However, Eskom intends to invest R20 billion to help keep the NPP alive until 2044.
An Iranian official has asserted that sanctions may force the country’s Bushehr NPP to halt operations. The restrictions have allegedly “made it difficult” to “meet the reactor’s operational and maintenance costs and make payments to Russian contractors.”
China has established a national nuclear safety standardization technical committee, which will create new national safety standards to which NPPs, nuclear materials, nuclear fuel cycle facilities, and radioactive waste will be subject. The country plans to increase nuclear generation capacity to 70 GW by 2025 in its quest to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
Unit 1 of the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah NPP has begun commercial operations. Unit 2 has finished fuel loading and is scheduled for start-up later this year, while construction of the final two units is 94% and 89% complete, respectively.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The DOE’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program has announced recipients of second-round FY 2021 Nuclear Energy Vouchers. The program aims to “accelerate the innovation and application of advanced nuclear technologies” through the provision of DOE expertise to “advanced nuclear technology innovators.”
Under the DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, 102 projects have been awarded a total of $110 million to work on scientific, clean energy, and climate solutions, including advanced nuclear technologies.
The CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has announced that the company aims to connect an SMR to the electrical grid by 2032. The organization has not committed to the project yet or initiated the technological selection and licensing processes.
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) have reintroduced the ‘Financing Our Future Energy Act,’ which would allow investors in clean energy projects, including advanced nuclear ventures, to form ‘master limited partnerships’ (MLPs). Such partnerships, which would facilitate access to “larger and more liquid sources of capital,” are only available to fossil fuel investors at the moment.
Illinois state legislators have introduced the Climate Union Jobs Act, which includes provisions for the establishment of 74 million megawatt-hour (MWh) carbon mitigation credits for zero-emission facilities. The provision, which is meant to help the state’s NPPs survive, would also “protect $28,000 jobs at nuclear stations that bring in $125 million in tax revenue.”
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
A DOE Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Evaluation Report on ‘The Department of Energy’s Unclassified Cybersecurity Program – 2020’ found that “opportunities existed” for constituent entities like the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to “improve the protection of unclassified information systems and data.” The OIG notes that their test work was performed before the SolarWinds cyberattack, which affected the NNSA, was reported.
China’s Tianwan NPP experienced its second operation incident in ten months, as temperature issues caused the second unit’s steam generator to malfunction during refueling. No safety breaches occurred in either incident.
South Korea’s KHNP has built a virtual and augmented reality system to facilitate future construction resumption of Units 5 and 6 at the country’s Singori NPP. The cyber power plant mimics a real facility and is designed to improve construction quality and safety.
Iran has refused to stop enriching uranium up to 20 percent (a process that has already yielded 55 kg since January) before the U.S. lifts all sanctions against the country. The nation also recently began enriching uranium with a fourth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges and testing an IR-9 prototype, which is allegedly 50 times stronger than the JCPOA-allowed IR-1 devices. These statements and findings come as the P5+1, minus the United States (an indirect participant), commenced talks with Iran in Vienna in an attempt to revive the JCPOA.
Saudi Arabia has established new regulations for “maritime transportation and handling of nuclear and radioactive materials to, from, and through” the country. Provisions include the requirement that companies moving such materials through the Kingdom “obtain a license from competent authorities” and the prohibition of radioactive waste and non-medical plutonium shipments through national waters.
Recent analysis from the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association has revealed that domestic NPPs have saved 2.3 billion tons of carbon emissions since their opening, which is equivalent to the country’s total emissions from 2015-2020. This statistic would make NPPs “by far the biggest carbon saver of any UK power source.”
New research in Issues in Science and Technology delineates how ‘Clean Firm Power is the Key to California’s Carbon-Free Energy Future.’ According to the authors, removing sources of ‘clean firm power,’ as California plans to do, may increase transmission and distribution costs, require more land use and space for transmission lines, and demand higher new short-term battery capacity to facilitate necessary energy storage. The researchers stress that, in their models, sources of ‘clean firm power,’ including nuclear, geothermal, and natural gas subject to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), “would be utilized only occasionally when solar, wind and storage options were unavailable.”
A new paper details ‘New Methods for Evaluating Energy Infrastructure Development Risks,’ using Data Envelopment Analysis to “assess the relative readiness of 126 countries for nuclear deployment.” The authors focused on low-carbon electricity generation needs and economic and institutional risks as possible compounding factors for nuclear deployment from 2001 to 2015. Findings include that “over 85% of potential demand growth is likely to be found in nations that are below the median benchmark performance in either economics or institutions.”
A new paper published in the journal Applied Energy combines social risk tolerance and energy systems optimization models to assess how social acceptance affects nuclear power deployment. The authors found that social acceptance can limit nuclear’s share in decarbonization pathways by up to 71 percent and increase overall system costs by up to 11 percent. Similar analytical methods could help stakeholders make informed decisions in decarbonization efforts.
A new report from the Rhodium Group describes how clean energy investment and public health regulations on fossil power plants could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the United States decarbonize its electricity sector by 2035. The researchers’ investment scenario (which included an “incentive for any existing nuclear capacity to stay online at least through 2031”), coupled with the aforementioned regulations, could generate 2031 electric power sector emissions 69-76 percent below 2005 levels.
For more than two decades, the Partnership for Global Security (PGS) has developed actionable responses to global security challenges by engaging international, private sector, and multidisciplinary expert partners to assess policy needs, identify effective strategies, and drive demonstrable results.