In this week’s issue, we discuss the promise of next-generation nuclear reactors as viable clean energy sources in the world’s move towards zero-carbon energy. We also note a recent report published by the American Meteorological Society, ‘State of the Climate’, which reveals that carbon levels in the atmosphere are higher than at any point during the past 800,000 years. Finally, we draw attention to the Department of Energy’s latest move to negotiate with nuclear newcomer countries as the U.S. seeks to expand its nuclear export market. 
Navigating the Zero-Carbon Crosswinds
In another impressive and depressing feat for this plagued year, the most recent assessment of the state of the global climate notes that in 2019 the average carbon dioxide concentration at the earth’s surface was the highest recorded by modern instruments. It exceeded levels found in ice cores dating back 800,000 years. This further intensifies the case for zero-carbon energy of all kinds, not only renewables.
The impacts of this carbon concentration are on display in California where just days ago the highest temperature ever recorded on earth was reached in Death Valley. At the same time, wildfires are once again raging across the state, and the world’s 8th largest economy is experiencing rolling electricity blackouts as a result of a heat wave and inadequate power supplies.
Wind and solar farms now provide more than one-third of California’s energy supply while battery storage for that power has lagged and the state has decreased its reliance on natural gas, large-scale nuclear power, and coal.
The reliance on renewable energy makes California a poster child for the energy transition that is necessary to achieve net zero-carbon emissions by 2050. But it also makes it the “the canary in the coalmine” according to the head of the Electric Power Supply Association.
The canary has stayed alive until now because California can still ramp-up its natural gas output and it imports power from other Western states. But in recent days the gas surge has fallen flat, and the heatwave drove up neighboring state electricity demand, leaving less for the Golden State.
However, a small part of the California electric grid is a participant in the Utah Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) project to receive the electricity scheduled to be produced by the country’s first small modular nuclear reactors. These units are being produced by NuScale Power and sited at Idaho National Laboratory.
If successful, this new power generation could open the pathway to the deployment of small reactors that can displace fossil fuels, particularly in smaller and distributed electric grids. But, the usual nuclear cost and schedule problems are already surfacing for the UAMPS project.
The question is whether the U.S. government will allow these difficulties to fester and fatally weigh down this initiative, and those lined up behind it, or whether it will prove it can meet the high-hurdle technical challenges of this century the way it did in the last one.
The stakes of failure are high, particularly for global security. Russia has already cornered the international large-reactor market. China is making inroads in that area. And both are eyeing the export market for their next generation of small nuclear power technologies.
Developing economy nations that face major population and electricity demand growth are a prime target for small nuclear reactor deployment. But most of them are newcomers to nuclear power and will require significant support to effectively integrate this technology into their energy systems. The U.S. and its allies are best positioned to provide this assistance because they prize strong safety, security, and nonproliferation standards.
But to uphold those norms, it is necessary to have a proven technology that can compete with Russian and Chinese reactors. Holding back American nuclear commerce can exacerbate proliferation and nuclear security concerns if the market is then dominated by its undemocratic geopolitical rivals.
The recent exposure of China’s collaboration with Saudi Arabia on uranium mining is clear evidence of the current and likely future impacts of the continued weakness of America’s nuclear export capacity. Saudi Arabia is actively pursuing both large scale and small modular reactors raising concerns from American lawmakers about the potential for weapons proliferation. But those same concerns are slowing U.S. nuclear cooperation with the kingdom. The congress will need to decide whether China or the U.S. is better positioned to restrain nascent Saudi nuclear weapon ambitions and over which nation’s policy it can exert the most influence.
As the climate continues to warm and global electricity demand increases, it will become increasingly necessary to navigate the strong crosswinds emerging in the zero-carbon energy space. The global population will grow, energy demand in developing economies will increase, and the need for net zero-carbon by mid-century is well established. Cherry-picking preferred technologies is unsustainable. No zero-carbon contribution can be left off the table. This will inevitably become ground truth because this reality is already on graphic display in California.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

State of the Climate’, an annual publication by the American Meteorological Society that summarizes key climate statistics, has painted a concerning picture of the global security threats caused by climate change. The report notes that 2019 marked the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere in over 800,000 years, and labels the potential security consequences of current climate trends as ‘High-to-Catastrophic’.
Nuclear Collaborations
U.S.-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) and South Korea’s Hyundai and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) have signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding to develop Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) technologies. The 5 MWe reactor would provide hydrogen and heat as well as electricity, and is being investigated as a feasible power source for South Korea’s energy grid. 

Uzbekistan and Hungary are reportedly engaging in talks of nuclear energy cooperation, following a meeting between two energy leaders last month. The negotiations are understood to be centered on nuclear research and the construction of a new nuclear power plant (NPP), as well as exchanging knowledge and personnel for training programs. 

Moltex Energy has selected Jacobs to assist in the development of a new Stable Salt Reactor based upon Moltex designs. The next-generation salt-cooled reactor design would be powered by spent nuclear fuel, and will be funded largely by a $6 million grant from the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
South Korea has openly stated its desire for increased nuclear cooperation with the Czech Republic, after securing a role in the construction of the $6.74 billion Dukovany nuclear power plant. The move comes as Korea seeks to re-energize its civil nuclear exports program, and follows the start-up of the South Korean-built Barakah NPP in the United Arab Emirates.  

Rwandan officials are aiming to construct a nuclear science center by 2024 with the help of Russia, as it begins a technical and economic feasibility study of the Center. Last month, the parliament of Rwanda ratified an agreement between the two countries that mandates cooperation in the building of the Center in light of Rwanda’s expression of desire to establish a nuclear energy program. 

The Canadian province of Alberta is set to join other provinces in exploring the development of small modular and advanced nuclear reactors (SM&ARs), according to the regional government. Officials hope that SM&ARs can help to diversify Alberta’s energy sector, as well as drive down carbon emissions and cater for energy needs in remote areas. 

U.S.-based X-Energy has submitted a Vendor Design Review to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for its Xe-100 small modular reactor (SMR) design. The 75 MWe reactors would be scalable up to a 300 MWe plant with a total of four units, and would be powered by TRISO fuel. 

Poland’s Deputy Climate Minister has advocated for the use of nuclear and renewable energy to help the country switch to a low-emission, climate neutral economy. Poland has already extended the deadline for its 2050-set climate goals, but the Minister has assured that the country will continue to strive for a cleaner energy system and economy. 

Unit 5 at China’s Tianwan NPP has been connected to the grid for the first time, and will undergo key tests to determine when it can enter into full operation. The 1,000 MW Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) is a Generation II Chinese-developed CNP-1000 design.

Japanese-based Hitachi is actively seeking to revive planning processes for the proposed Wylfa NPP in Wales, after suspending the project in 2019 due to financing issues. 

The local council of Essex in London’s East have dealt a blow to the proposed Bradwell B NPP, voting unanimously to reject the proposal on an environmental basis. Mark Cory, the Council leader, stated his desire to instead “focus on renewable energy alternatives.”
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
A bipartisan group of Senators has warned the Trump administration that Saudi-Chinese cooperation on uranium extraction could entail serious nuclear proliferation risks. In a letter to President Trump, three Democratic and three Republican senators wrote that “Saudi Arabia is positioning itself to develop the front-end of the [nuclear] fuel cycle.”

Department of Energy official Rita Baranwal has announced that the U.S. Government is in talks with a number of nuclear newcomer nations, including Kenya and Ghana, to assist in the development of nuclear energy programs. The statement follows a recent motion allowing the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to fund nuclear projects abroad, which Baranwal claims is vital to the expansion of America’s civil nuclear export program. 

The Good Energy Collective, a newly-created progressive nuclear-energy company, has called for the next White House administration to establish a climate office with nuclear-specific staff positions. The group sees the move as necessary to fully incentivize the nuclear energy sector, which it says deserves the same attention as renewable energy sources.
Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) has announced that it is expecting up to $1.4 billion from the Department of Energy (DOE) for the construction of a SMR NPP in Idaho. Despite the announcement, members of the association remain skeptical about the 720 MW plant, which has already been delayed from 2027 to 2029. Logan City, a member of UAMPS, voted to withdraw from the Carbon Free Power Project agreement as another setback.

The DOE has awarded the Electric Power Research Institute $5.1 million to develop new technologies for its advanced reactor demonstration project. The funding stems from the U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development fund, and is expected to cover 80 per cent of the project’s entire cost.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
A collection of industry officials have urged U.S. policymakers to consider producing hydrogen with America’s existing nuclear power fleet. Doing so would allow NPPs to operate more flexibly with an additional source of income, officials say, and will help “to support grid stability and match the variable amount of wind and solar energy.”

The U.S. DOE and NASA have expanded their cooperation as part of a project to develop nuclear power systems for application in outer space. The initiative is the latest in a White House push to expand space exploration and the use of nuclear-powered technologies, and follows the launch of the nuclear-powered Mars Perseverance rover. 

Korea’s Ministry of Defense has laid out plans to develop enhanced ballistic missile submarines within the next five years as part of a long-term strategy to strengthen the country’s military capabilities. The vessels will be capable of carrying more ballistic missiles, and are expected to weigh up to 3,600-4,000 tons. 
Noteworthy Research
A recent report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative makes the case for stronger security measures to prevent the theft of plutonium and highly enriched uranium supplies worldwide. The ‘NTI Nuclear Security Index: Losing Focus in a Disordered World’ report rails against complacency around the protection of nuclear stockpiles while also providing a ranking of the world’s most nuclear-secure nations. 

A recent IAEA webinar has doubled-down on the importance of capitalizing upon the full scope of nuclear power’s capabilities, urging the industry to use nuclear energy to produce hydrogen, desalinate seawater and heat buildings. Ibrahim Khamis of the IAEA outlined the argument: “Mitigating climate change requires a comprehensive approach to decarbonization beyond just implementing low carbon electricity systems… heat produced at nuclear power plants can be redirected from electricity production to provide heat for buildings, drive industrial production, and more.”
The Nuclear Conversation
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