In this week’s issue, we examine developments in the civil nuclear relationship between the United States and South Korea and how that may complicate future cooperation. We spotlight the development of advanced floating nuclear power plants in the face of the ongoing energy crisis. Finally, we highlight key nuclear technology, security, and geopolitical developments, reports, and analyses.
Potential Progress and Complications in U.S.-Korea Civil Nuclear Cooperation
The nasty corporate clash between the U.S. and South Korea on civil nuclear relations finally seems to be resolving. But this multi-year disagreement between Westinghouse and KEPCO over the Korean reactor’s intellectual property content and U.S. export controls has altered the nuclear partnership between the two countries and it needs to be rethought.
The October 2022 decision by Westinghouse to file a lawsuit against KEPCO and its parent company KHNP, brought to a head a simmering, intense disagreement between the companies.
The Koreans asserted that their APR-1400 nuclear reactor was free from Westinghouse IP and therefore not subject to U.S. export control requirements. Westinghouse disagreed because the reactor is based on a design from a company it absorbed in a merger.
There now seems to be a concerted effort to settle the issue.
One sign of pending peace is that the U.S. and Korean companies are negotiating toward a mid-March legal resolution of the dispute. If finalized, it likely will favor the American views on the IP and related export control issues while offering substantial financial benefits to the Korean nuclear industry in future deals.
Another important action was the decision of South Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol, to stay KEPCO’s involvement in bidding for Saudi Arabia’s nuclear reactors. This bid was at the heart of the U.S.-ROK fight.
Because the U.S. does not have a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, if the Korean reactor export was tied to U.S. approvals it would be held hostage to the U.S.-Saudi nuclear negotiations, which are currently moribund. Without ties to American technology, the reactors could have been exported without U.S. approval.
But even if this fight can finally be finished, it is not likely to end the competition between the two nations for new nuclear markets, and may further complicate their relationship.
One new flashpoint has already emerged in Central and Eastern Europe. The U.S. has worked for decades to cultivate the nuclear market in key countries like Poland and the Czech Republic. But the Korean companies are eager for this business as well.
Late last year, the Polish government selected the Westinghouse AP-1000 for its first three nuclear power plants. And it is investigating the potential role for U.S. small modular reactors.
But on the heels of the AP-1000 announcement, private Polish energy firms confirmed cooperation with KHNP to build the Korean reactor at a separate location. This ignited indignation in Washington and it has intensified the competition between the U.S. and Korean companies for the reactor tender in the Czech Republic.
A driving force behind Korea’s competitive aggressiveness is the commitment of Yoon to expand the role of nuclear power domestically as part of an energy security and zero-carbon strategy, and to export ten Korean nuclear power plants by 2030.
The resolution of the U.S.-Korean nuclear dispute may open the door to KEPCO-Westinghouse cooperation in third countries again and there are clear market opportunities. But the battle has scarred South Korea and the Korean government is hedging its bets against another commercial freeze-out by the Americans.
Central to this strategy seems to be the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is the one nation where the U.S. and Korean companies have cooperated on nuclear reactors in a third country. KEPCO won the reactor bid, but Westinghouse provided billions in content to the four reactors at the Barakah site. The Korean performance in building those reactors has impressed other countries considering nuclear energy.
In January, Yoon travelled to Abu Dhabi and the two nations agreed to “strengthen strategic cooperation in…peaceful nuclear energy” including the development of “export markets for nuclear power plants in third countries [and] evaluating the potential of small modular reactors.” At the end of this trip, the UAE committed to invest $30 billion in Korean industries, including nuclear energy.
The infusion of UAE sovereign wealth money, combined with the Korean government’s generous financial support of its nuclear industry changes the complexion of the U.S.-Korean nuclear competition and the potential for cooperation.
ROK-UAE collaboration on nuclear energy projects in third countries may offer critical advantages in financing guarantees and supply stability that the U.S. government cannot or will not provide. It also provides the Korean companies with a partner with deep ties in the nascent Middle East nuclear market and greater commercial leverage in supplying the next generation of nuclear energy. The Korean SMART small modular reactor already is being commercialized with Saudi Arabia as a partner.
SMRs and advanced reactors are well suited to developing economy nations that have growing populations and economies and that desire firm, clean power sources. It is potentially a significant market that spans from Africa, through the Middle East, to Asia and other regions. A number of these nations are skeptical of American power, so a partnership with the UAE may be commercially advantageous to Korea.
SMRs and advanced reactors do not depend on the same bilateral ties as the large-scale reactors of the past. As a result, the U.S. may not have as much influence over where smaller Korean reactors are sold. That can impact America’s nuclear export ambitions.
It’s clear at this point is that U.S.-Korea civil nuclear relations have been damaged by a prolonged dispute and that it created radiating impacts. What’s needed now is a deep rethinking of the long-term U.S.-Korea nuclear relationship and how it can serve the needs of both nations, including their global clean energy and security goals.
Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

As countries around the world are looking to add nuclear capacity to address the power challenges, there is a growing interest in building floating nuclear power plants. Currently, the only floating power plant in operation is Rosatom’s Akademik Lomonosov plant, but there are numerous proposals to deploy floating power plants globally. In North America, NuScale Power and Prodigy Clean Energy are working on a new conceptual design for their marine-based small modular reactor. In Asia, development is advancing on Bureau Veritas’ and ThorCon’s molten salt nuclear power barge for operations in Indonesia. Another floating nuclear liquid fuel concept is being spearheaded by Samsung Heavy Industries and Seaborg Technologies.
The Impact of the Ukraine Invasion on Nuclear Affairs and Exports
IAEA head Rafael Grossi is visiting Russia this week to discuss the prospect of a security zone surrounding the Zaporizhzhia plant. Grossi will meet with officials from Rosatom as well as the foreign ministry but is not scheduled to meet with President Putin. The outlook for successful negotiations remains uncertain.
The IAEA expressed concern that water levels in the Kakhovka reservoir have fallen, which provides cooling water for the Zaporizhzhia plant. While this decrease is not an “immediate concern,” it could become dangerous if the trend continues. The news shows the continued risks for the plant’s safety and security.
Russia is reportedly preparing to direct the supply of electricity from the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant to Russia. Russia has a commission at the plant to check two power lines in order to plan restoration works and supply power for the transfer of electricity from Zaporizhzhia.
On Sunday, February 5th, Ukraine’s sanctions against the Russian nuclear industry came into force following a decision by its National Security and Defense Council. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky underlined Russia’s use of its nuclear industry to pressure and threaten the sovereignty of other states. Zelensky also continued his calls for European Union to sanction Rosatom as well, while Hungary has announced it would veto any sanctions on Russia’s nuclear industry.
Nuclear Collaborations
Estonia’s Fermi Energia has selected GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) for potential deployment by the early 2030s. Fermi Energia began accepting tenders from three SMR developers in September 2022: GE Hitachi, NuScale, and Rolls-Royce. GE Hitachi and Fermi Energia have worked together since signing an agreement to collaborate on potential deployment applications for the BWRX-300 back in 2019. The two sides signed another agreement in 2021.
Myanmar and Russia signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The agreement will see the two countries cooperate on the use of nuclear technology in a number of areas, including training of a workforce for building and running a small modular reactor.
France, India, and the United Arab Emirates announced a roadmap for a trilateral partnership to include “the design and execution” of cooperation projects on nuclear and solar energy, in addition to other areas such as fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity.
China and Pakistan marked the inauguration of unit 3 at the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant. China National Nuclear Corporation said the two Hualong One reactors at the site have now both been delivered to Pakistan and put into operation. Karachi units 2 and 3 are the first exports of CNNC’s Hualong One pressurized water reactors, with unit 2 having been connected to Pakistan’s electric grid last year.
South Africa is in talks with the United States to renew a nuclear cooperation agreement that lapsed in December 2022. An updated version of the agreement had passed through the U.S. Congress but was not approved by the South African government. Following the deal’s expiration, Westinghouse lost its license with the NRC to provide nuclear fuel to South Africa’s Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant. While the fuel for Koeberg isn’t planned for delivery until 2024, both sides acknowledged that an urgent resolution is needed to allow Westinghouse to resume supplying the plant.
Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) submitted a preliminary proposal to Turkey for the construction of four APR-1400 reactors at an undisclosed site. The next step is a joint feasibility study. KEPCO claimed unique status as the only operator to gain customer trust by meeting given budgets and timing among the newest nuclear plants under construction in the West.
Saudi Arabia and France signed a new MoU on various energy fields, including the peaceful use of nuclear energy, renewable energy, and clean hydrogen. These new prospects for collaboration should help pull Saudi Arabia back towards Western partnerships for nuclear energy, in contrast with Russian or Chinese sources.
The Kazakh Energy Ministry confirmed continued discussions with EDF on proposals for an EPR-1200 reactor. EDF is one of four potential suppliers under consideration, also including Rosatom, China’s CNNC, and South Korea’s KHNP. The timeline for choosing a partner and proceeding with the project is unknown.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
According to a leaked IAEA report, the interconnection between two cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges at the Fordow nuclear site is substantially different from what Iran had declared. The agency also pointed out that this is inconsistent with Iran’s obligations under its safeguards agreement. The IAEA board of governors has previously chided Iran for insufficient cooperation with the agency under the framework of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Following the recent earthquake that struck central Turkey, Russian nuclear utility Rosatom reported that the Akkuyu nuclear power plant under construction was not damaged. According to a Rosatom official, the earthquake has not damaged the building structures, cranes, or other equipment at the site. Rosatom added that they are now carrying out diagnostic measures to make sure that construction and installation operations can continue safely.
Rosatom outlined its future plans at a meeting with the Russian Prime Minister, following its record revenue last year. The company will continue work on fourth generation fast reactors, lead-cooled reactors, and closing the fuel cycle. Rosatom’s Director General, Alexei Likhachev, lauded the company’s “undisputed” leadership in constructing nuclear power plants.
The Belgian government is considering keeping its three oldest nuclear power stations running two more years than currently planned. The government will ask the nuclear operator Engie whether it would be possible to keep the Tihange 1 and Doel 1 and 2 power plants running until 2027, with a decision expected next month. Belgium has also recently extended the life of two other reactors by 10 years in response to the ongoing energy crisis in Europe.
The Pacific island nation of Micronesia dropped its protest over Japan’s plan to release treated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean. Micronesian President David Panuelo stated that Micronesia now trusts Japan's technological capabilities in not harming their shared oceanic interests. More than 1 million tons of treated wastewater from the shuttered Fukushima plant is set to be released, which has been met with resistance from neighboring countries and Japanese fishermen.
Russian loans for the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Bangladesh have been held up as Moscow has been barred from much of the international banking system. The power plant’s chief administrative officer told Nikkei Asia that Russia is finding it difficult the disburse the multi-billion lending as a result of ongoing sanctions. Russian loans are funding 90% of the $12.65 billion nuclear project, which will be capable of generating 2,400 megawatts of electricity once fully online.
Australian emergency services located a lost cesium-137 sealed capsule in Western Australia after a survey vehicle detected radiation. The capsule went missing from a density gauge used at Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine. According to a report by The New York Times, police believed the loss of the source was an accident, and there was no evidence that the box was tampered with after arriving in Perth.
Slovakian nuclear utility Slovenske elektrarne announced that the third unit at the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant was connected to the grid for the first time. The next stage of the launch process will be to test the block at levels from 35% to 100%, with the final step to be the successful completion of a 144-hour trial run at full 471 megawatt-electrical output. Work on Mochovce units 3 and 4 began in 1986 but has stalled repeatedly since.
Poland is urging the EU to use upcoming reforms in Europe’s electricity market to be more active in supporting investments in nuclear energy. Poland also wants to ensure a “positive regulatory environment,” especially considering the high upfront costs typically needed for nuclear plants. The EU plans to ease use of electricity capacity mechanisms and expand the use of long-term, fixed price contracts that will stabilize energy bills and avoid the sharp price increases of last year.
The head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, criticized clean energy advocates who oppose nuclear power, arguing that the technology is critical to limit climate change. He added that critics of nuclear power underestimate the “order of magnitude” of the climate challenge. His comments were a part of a larger argument for Europe to adopt a new strategy for clean energy development and manufacturing to compete with the United States and China.
South Korea will resume the construction of the Shin Hanul 3 and 4 reactors this year after wrapping up disaster assessments and other due administrative work. It is awaiting the result of the interior ministry’s review of disaster impact evaluation plans that are expected to be available next month. The government has been working to resume building the two reactors which had been suspended under the previous administration’s nuclear phase-out policy.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG), GE Hitachi, SNC-Lavalin, and Aecon have signed a contract for the first grid-scale small modular reactor (SMR) in North America. These companies will develop, engineer, and construct a BWRX-300 SMR at OPG’s Darlington New Nuclear Project site. The six-year alliance will see each company play a specific role in the project, which aims to complete construction of the unit by late 2028.
X-Energy Canada and Invest Alberta Corporation (IAC) signed a MoU supporting potential deployment of Xe-100 SMRs in the province. The IAC will help X-Energy set up a divisional office to head local efforts to engage with local governments and indigenous communities. Alberta’s interest in SMRs stems from their potential as a source for steam and process heat for natural gas production from the province’s extensive tar sands deposits.
The Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) said that two reactors at Fortum’s Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant can continue operating until 2050. The two units were originally set to expire in 2027 and 2030 respectively. Shortly after STUK’s announcement, Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs approved Fortum’s application to renew its operating license.
An IAEA team of experts concluded a five-day Site and External Events Design (SEED) mission to Uzbekistan, which plans to build its first nuclear power plant. The SEED mission included the review of the site data collection methods and of identification of external hazards that need to be considered with reference to the construction of VVER-1200 nuclear reactors, providing recommendations to support the organization of the site evaluation process. Uzbekistan signed an agreement with Russia in 2017 to construct two VVER-1200 pressurized water reactors.
British Trade Minister Greg Hands joined Rolls-Royce SMR executives on a visit to the Czech Republic. The visit looked at routes to deploying Rolls-Royce SMRs in the Czech Republic and at the opportunities to build on expertise in the supply chains of both countries. This collaboration follows an agreement signed between Rolls-Royce and Czech nuclear utility CEZ in 2020.
The French Financial Markets Authority (AMF) has suspended the state’s full takeover of Electricite de France (EDF) until the Paris Court of Appeal rules on a lawsuit brought by EDF’s minority shareholders challenging the deal. EDF’s board of directors approved an offer by the French government to renationalize the company back in October 2022. However, a group of minority shareholders took the case to the Paris Court of Appeal arguing that the price offered to EDF shareholders was too low.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is requiring Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to resubmit its license renewal application for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. According to the NRC and PG&E, the “timely” NRC license renewal application process will take a minimum of 18 months after PG&E’s application is submitted to the agency, which is expected by the end of 2023.
The Department of Energy is moving forward with its push to develop high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) for advanced nuclear reactors. The DoE selected American Centrifuge Operating, a subsidiary of Centrus Energy, to demonstrate HALEU production at the Department’s enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio. Centrus plans to produce 20 kilograms of HALEU by the end of 2023, with operations expanding to a production rate of 900 kilograms per year beginning in 2024.
U.S. House Representatives Patrick McHenry and French Hill reintroduced the International Nuclear Energy Financing Act. First introduced in 2021, this legislation would bring back financing for nuclear power at the World Bank and other international financial institutions, requiring the U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank to advocate and vote for financing nuclear energy. Taken together, the multilateral development banks could commit over $100 billion in annual financing.
U.S. lawmakers are calling for the Department of Energy to release documents detailing the targeting of American nuclear laboratories by Russian hackers last year. This follows a report from Reuters that alleged the Russian hacking group Cold River targeted three American nuclear laboratories over the summer. So far, the Department of Energy has claimed that it has not found evidence of any information being compromised.
Salado Isolation Mining Contractors (SIMCO) has taken over leadership of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. The Department of Energy awarded the $3 billion contract to SIMCO in November 2022 to operate the plant, which involves the disposal of transuranic nuclear waste from DOE sites around the country. SIMCO will take over for Nuclear Waste Partnership, which ran WIPP for the last decade.
A new bill in the Washington State House plans for advanced nuclear technology to be adopted. If enacted, the bill would require Washington’s future energy plans to include the consideration of measures that would promote the development of advanced nuclear reactor technology. The House of Environment and Energy Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill this week.
Xcel Energy subsidiary Northern States Power Company has submitted a license renewal application for the Monticello nuclear reactor in Minnesota to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Another extension would permit the facility to generate electricity until 2040. The Monticello reactor is a 671-megawatt boiling water reactor that has been operational since 1971.
A federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit brought by environmental groups challenging the NRC’s licensing of a consolidated interim storage facility for spent fuel in Andrews County, Texas. The U.S. Court Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the NRC reasonably applied its hearing regulations when approving Interim Storage Partners’ license for the facility. The proposed facility will eventually store a total of 40,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel.
TRISO-X has applied for a 40-year license to possess and use special nuclear material in Oak Ridge’s Horizon Center Industrial Park in Tennessee. TRISO-X’s plant would turn uranium oxide into fuel pebbles for new advanced reactors if approved. As part of the licensing process, the NRC is holding a public comment period until February 14.
Noteworthy Research
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies published a memo arguing why and how the United States and its allies should wean themselves from dependence on Russian nuclear fuel. Currently, Rosatom has a 10-year portfolio of overseas orders worth $200 billion, allowing President Vladimir Putin to leverage Rosatom’s influence over the global nuclear supply chain. Consequently, it argues, the Biden administration should announce sanctions against Rosatom and its subsidiaries and strengthen efforts to identify alternative nuclear suppliers for itself and its allies.
Third Way released a memo documenting how the United States can take the lead in the global deployment of advanced nuclear technology. The U.S. industry holds an advantage among international competitors in the raw materials and original equipment manufacturing segment of the small modular reactor supply chain, which can be further bolstered by continued public and private investment in advanced construction and project implementation. Additionally, the United States should enact policies to support the development of front-end fuel cycle capabilities and the advancement of new reactor licensing.
The Nuclear Conversation
News items and summaries compiled by:

Patrick Kendall, Program Manager, Partnership for Global Security

Alex de Ramon, Della Ratta Fellow, Partnership for Global Security
For twenty-five years 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.