In this week’s issue, we discuss the current window of opportunity for the U.S. to build out the next-gen nuclear innovation support system that priorities key issues related to safeguards and security, financing capabilities, licensing and regulatory infrastructure, and export market competitiveness. We also spotlight a recent joint Op-Ed authored by former U.S. Energy Secretaries Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz that calls for the continued operation of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California.
Building the Support System for Next-Gen Nuclear
Last month’s COP 26 international climate change meeting provided an unexpected boost to the value of nuclear power as a clean energy source. But, if the next generation of the technology is to actually contribute to the global quest for zero-carbon energy, there is a lot more that needs to be done, and quickly.

There currently exists primarily a technology development and demonstration program for these new, smaller reactors. But the necessary support system for the technology is lagging.

The top priorities are: security policy development; a fully financed nuclear innovation ecosystem; streamlined licensing; and export market development.

The inability to strengthen these four pillars in synch with the technology development process could sink American and allied nations hopes for their deep involvement in the next-generation of nuclear energy. That would complicate international efforts to reduce carbon emissions. And it could open the door to unwelcome authoritarian nation control of the global deployment of these technologies.

Security policy is important because these new technologies have novel features that raise new concerns and challenges. There are four key issues – the potential expansion of uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, updating safeguards to prevent weapons proliferation, adapting security approaches to prevent nuclear terrorism, and ensuring that newly-developed international standards are high.

A core concern is that nations deploying the reactors will use that decision to justify building uranium enrichment facilities to produce fresh fuel and reprocessing plants to manage the spent fuel. Both processes increase nuclear weapons proliferation potential.

While these are legitimate concerns there are financial and technical limitations to what new nuclear nations can afford and operate. And the nations that could sell them these enrichment and reprocessing technologies have an informal agreement to significantly limit transfers. Also, some new, advanced reactor designs reduce the amount of fuel needed and waste produced.

The safeguards and security issues need attention. There are significant challenges posed by some of the new nuclear technologies that will require innovative policy. Efforts are underway to assess and address these concerns and there is no reason to think that they can’t be effectively addressed. But this process needs to move much faster.

The financing issue is complicated because it requires meshing both government and private sector investment to bring these technologies to fruition.

While the U.S. and other governments are putting significant funding into the technology development and demonstration process, there is not complete agreement on how to finance the entirety of the next-gen nuclear innovation ecosystem.

One example is the fight in the U.S. over the Versatile Test Reactor. In the western world there is a need for expanded testing capability for the next-gen nuclear components. The VTR is proposed by the administration as a means of expanding and modernizing this capability. However, the funding was zeroed-out by the House of Representatives without explanation.

VTR is a symbol of resolve to aggressively compete in the new nuclear market as much as it a technical facility. Abandoning its function will send the wrong signal to allies and adversaries. If the Congress can’t see the big picture the administration should get creative in finding creative work arounds.

The other financial challenges include enticing the private sector to invest more in these new technologies and providing funding to prepare new nuclear nations for effective, safe, and secure reactor deployment and operation.

It is now very clear that the next generation of nuclear power is not going to be a purely commercial or private sector process. It will require government funds and financial guarantees. These are common in support of new clean energy technologies and should be extended to next-gen nuclear.

One way to expand support for new nuclear nations and promote its technology, is to direct a portion of the U.S.-pledged $11 billion for the Green Climate Fund to better prepare developing economy nations desiring small reactors. That fund supports developing nations impacted by climate change. Since nuclear energy has risen on the list of zero-carbon technologies, it is completely consistent with the fund’s goal. This approach also would counterbalance the financial enticements provided by Russia and China to developing nations.

The licensing issues are complex and impact the reality and perception of safety. So, cutting corners is a non-starter. But the current process is clearly cumbersome and there are a number of new ideas that have been put forward by experts. There also is a groundswell of support for licensing across national borders that could streamline global regulatory requirements. There is some collaboration among OECD nation regulators in this direction, but that engagement needs to be extended to developing nations that lack adequate regulatory infrastructure for new reactors.

The licensing and financing issues are central to cultivating the global market. Russia and China have a significant head start in this race and that has important geopolitical implications.

Through Belt and Road, China has created a durable conveyor for its industrial goods and services in many developing nations. To date its energy exports and financing have focused on coal and hydro power. But that could easily be expanded to include its indigenously developed nuclear technologies.

Russia already dominates the global large nuclear reactor market and fuel services. It is the only country that has deployed a small modular reactor. And it has nuclear agreements and ties with dozens of nations around the world. It is well positioned to extend this grip into the small reactor market.

These developments have placed the U.S. and its allies at a disadvantage in the competition for nuclear energy markets abroad. While some small programs are designed to engage developing nations with a nuclear interest, they are not adequate to the challenges posed by Russia and China or big enough to cover the full scope of nations that need to be engaged. Failure to rise to this challenge will severely limit the potential deployment of democratic nation next-gen reactors.

The Glasgow COP fueled a surge of support for the climate-nuclear nexus. The challenge now is to effectively build out the entire interrelated nuclear innovation system. At present we have a technology development and demonstration project. It won’t succeed without a fully developed support system. 
Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security 

Former U.S. Energy Secretaries Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz have penned a recent joint Op-Ed that calls for the continued operation of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California, asserting the plant's importance for mitigating the effects of climate change. Chu and Moniz cited a recent MIT-Stanford study that found that the continued operation Diablo Canyo could reduce carbon emissions from California's electricity sector by 11% annually through 2035, and power water desalination and hydrogen production.

This comes as U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, in a recent interview, stated that “California has been very bullish on zero-carbon emission energy,” and keeping the plant open “may be something that they decide to take a look at, given that I think there is a change underfoot about the opinion that people may have about nuclear.”
Nuclear Collaborations
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) have entered into an agreement to help countries strengthen technical capacities in decommissioning, radioactive waste management, and nuclear security. The agreement classifies JAEA as an IAEA Collaborating Center, which overall formalizes and expands cooperation between both organizations.
Westinghouse and Energoatom have signed a contract to begin the engineering and procurement of components needed for the first of several AP1000 reactors planned for Ukraine. The contract specifically mentions the construction of the first AP1000 reactor at the Khmelnitsky 4 site.
Canada’s Candu Energy and Romania’s Cernavoda nuclear power plant (NPP) have signed a year-long contract to prepare and update the licensing basis for two new Candu pressurized water reactors (PWRs) at Cernavoda. Under the contract, Candu Energy will also define the work needed in phases 2 and 3, and create an outline of ‘architecture options’ for completing the reactor units’ steam supply system.
Italy’s Ansaldo Nucleare and Romania’s Reinvent Energy have entered into a €20 million contract for the design, procurement, installation, and commissioning service of the Advanced Thermo-Hydraulics Experiment for Nuclear Application (ATHENA) plant. The ATHENA plant will host scale components for the testing and demonstration of lead-cooled fast reactor technology.
South Korea’s Hyundai E&C and the U.S.’ Holtec International have entered into a teaming agreement for the joint development of a commercialization model, promotion of joint projects, and participation in marketing and bidding together. The agreement also paves the way for Hyundai E&C to become a key player in small modular reactors (SMRs), which Holtec currently develops.
Oklo and Centrus have signed a Letter of Intent for the deployment of a production facility for high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU). This nonbinding deal will support the commercialization of advanced reactors, including Oklo’s Aurora fast neutron reactor design, by “creating an assured, affordable, domestic fuel supply.”
NuScale Power, Prodigy Clean Energy, and Kinetrics have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the development of a regulatory framework for the licensing and deployment of a Prodigy Marine Power Station (MPS). The proposed MPS would be fabricated at a shipyard and be transportable by sea, consisting of up to 12 Nuscale Power Modules (a 77 MWe pressurized water reactor). 
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
UK’s Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson has confirmed that China has been cut from all future involvement in the development of new NPPs in the country. PM Johnson cited the UK’s National Security and Investment Bill, which will allow the government to screen and potentially “block” sensitive foreign investments if passed by Parliament.
Rolls-Royce has submitted its 470 MWe SMR design to the UK’s Generic Design Assessment (GDA) regulatory process. The government must first assess the company’s capability and capacity to start the GDA process, and once that is completed, the official review of the design will begin. GDA will assess the safety, security, and environmental protection aspects of the SMR design.
In a meeting near the Paks NPP, Ministers from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic (otherwise known as the Visegrad 4 or V4) have restated their support for nuclear power. The Visegrad 4 called on the European Commission to approve the inclusion of nuclear in the EU’s taxonomy of sustainable investments. Additionally, the Visegrad 4 signed a joint statement about the importance of nuclear energy’s role in achieving climate neutrality and the EU Taxonomy.
The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) has stated that the country requires more nuclear power to provide base-load capacity, especially as the country starts to decommission its coal-fueled plants. To achieve this, NERSA has also approved plans to add 2500 MW of new nuclear power to the civil energy sector around 2035. 
The President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has declared that the country must turn to nuclear power, as the country is experiencing the first signs of power shortage. President Tokayev told bankers in the business capital that Kazakhstan must look towards nuclear in the near future.
China’s nuclear energy heating project in the city of Haiyang has begun its second phase of operation. The project, utilizing steam from Haiyang's two AP1000 reactors, has become the world’s largest cogeneration unit. It has replaced 12 local coal-fired water boilers, making Haiyang the first zero carbon residential heating city in China.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
NASA and the U.S. government have officially submitted a request for proposals for a fission surface power system to begin plans of putting a nuclear fission power plant on the moon. NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory are looking to establish a source of power that does not rely on solar for missions to the moon. According to NASA, fission surface power can sustain enough power regardless of harsh weather conditions, meaning the technology could one day be used on Mars. 
The DOE has granted funding to the Nuclear Alternative Project (NAP) to continue assessing potential sites for the deployment of small reactors in Puerto Rico. Under this award, NAP will move to a "phase 2 site suitability study." 
The DOE has awarded $3 million in funding for Terrestrial Energy USA to support licensing and commercialization of its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (ISMR). The funding also supports modeling and simulation for the off-gas systems of the ISMR power plant as well as Terrestrial Energy’s regulatory program for U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing.
The NRC has released a 65-page report detailing problems at a Davis-Besse NPP in Ohio. The NRC has cited the plant with five safety violations, and while Davis-Besse addressed each issue, the NRC is still looking into the severity of two violations. According to NRC spokesperson Prema Chandrathil, the government is confident that the plant will continue to be operational while the NRC makes its final determination.
The NRC has committed to increasing oversight at a Southern Company operated Vogtle NPP that is under construction in Georgia. This commitment comes after an NRC special investigation in June 2021 that found two violations of federal regulations at the site. 
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
An IAEA team has completed an International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) nuclear security mission in the Czech Republic. The two-week mission consisted of reviewing the legislative and regulatory framework, information and computer security arrangements, and more.
An IAEA team has completed the Pre-Safety Aspects of Long Term Operation (Pre-SALTO) review at the Atucha NPP in Argentina. The review focused on determining the long-term operation (LTO) of Unit 1, which is a PWR with a net electrical output of 362 MWe. The IAEA team reviewed the improvements in preparedness, organization, and programs related to LTO using the IAEA’s safety standards.
The IAEA has launched its biggest Arabic radiation protection training course, with the country of Jordan as the host. The six-month course is bringing together 19 professionals from an array of Middle Eastern countries to train them in radiation protection and the safety of radiation sources.
A design flaw in the reactor pressure vessel has been cited as the potential problem at EDF and CGN’s Taishan facility. One of the reactors was halted in August for maintenance while an investigation into fuel damage was conducted. The true cause will not be known until that investigation is completed.
A carbon dioxide leak at Asco NPP in the Spanish region of Catalonia has resulted in the death of one person and the hospitalization of three others. The leak was caused by a defect in the NPP’s fire prevention system, which is not linked to radioactive material. 
Noteworthy Research
A recent U.S. survey conducted by ecoAmerica, American Climate Perspective Survey 2021, has revealed that there is increased support for nuclear energy. The online survey ran from August 27 to September 10 and received 1,100 responses. 59% of respondents either strongly or somewhat support nuclear energy, the highest levels coming from males and adults over the age of 60. 
The Nuclear Conversation
Department of Energy, November 30
Financial Times, November 30
New York Times, November 29
Houston Chronicle, November 29
Casper Star-Tribune, November 28
APTN National News, November 26
Atlantic Council, November 24
Time, November 24
Youtube - Hudson Institute, November 23
Forbes, November 23
Neutron Bytes, November 22
Global Times, November 22
LA Times, November 21
Al Jazeera, November 21
The Bismark Tribune, November 20
Money Week, November 20
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