In this week’s issue, we discuss a recent joint statement between Russia and China further cementing their partnership across all aspects, and the implications for nuclear geopolitics, nonproliferation, and nuclear security. We also spotlight the European Commission’s amendments to the draft Sustainable Finance Taxonomy, concluding its decision to classify some natural gas and nuclear power as green investments. Finally, we highlight the latest deal signed between China National Nuclear Corp and Argentina, reviving an $8 billion construction project to build the Atucha III nuclear power plant.
Getting Serious About Nuclear Geopolitics
Russia and China threw a gut punch in their confrontation with the U.S.-led international order in their summit joint statement last week. They are strategizing to “meet the growing demand of the leadership” of a “new era,” presumably one where the U.S. and its allies are downgraded to junior partners.
This is a serious wake-up call. The two nations declared that “the new interstate relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era.” And that there are “no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation” between the two states.
It further noted that both nations oppose international relations based on, “confrontation between major powers.” 
But one area where confrontation is needed to preserve international security is over high standards for nuclear nonproliferation and energy.
As the market for new nuclear technologies expands in response to climate change and clean energy demand, Russia and China are poised to control it while the U.S. and its allies watch from the sidelines.
This has real world implications for the control of nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear security. The governance of these areas has traditionally been under the sway of liberal democratic nations.
But they risk losing this power if they do not get much more serious about hip checking Russia and China out of emerging nuclear markets, where the potential for significant nuclear growth resides.
The U.S has had some success with this strategy in Eastern Europe, where it has chased Russia and China away.
But it is losing the battle in the developing world. There China has established deep relationships and infrastructure dependencies under the Belt and Road Initiative. And Russia has numerous nuclear energy agreements in place.
The challenges for emerging nations interested in nuclear power are numerous and serious but fall into two basic categories – inadequate financial and human resources.
These have been the weaknesses that Russia, in particular, exploits through its state-backed approach to providing nuclear reactors. But there is a limit to the financial and operational support that Russia alone can provide as the market expands.
This is where China can be a useful partner. It has developed a significant nuclear industrial base and the education and training capacities to support its proposed massive domestic nuclear energy build-out.
And China’s export potential was just provided a major lift by the U.K. regulatory and environmental authority, which confirmed that the Chinese-developed Hualong nuclear reactor meets U.K. standards of safety, security, and environmental protection.
This assessment was undertaken when Britain and China were considering the reactor for construction in the U.K. That has now changed and Britain is seeking to remove China as a partner in the project.
But the stamp of approval from a high-standards European regulator is bound to strengthen China’s ability to market the reactor outside its borders and ride those deep Belt and Road relationships.
It also could provide China with the advantage it needs in cornering the nuclear power project in Saudi Arabia. That could be a dangerous partnership for global security.
In the meantime, the democratic nation nuclear suppliers seem unable to organize themselves to meet this geopolitical test.
One immediate opportunity is in Eastern Europe where there is growing interest in converting from coal to nuclear power. This is a region, particularly in Poland and the Czech Republic, that is ripe for cooperation among key nuclear suppliers, like the U.S. and South Korea. But commercial rivalries and government lethargy are impeding this opportunity.
This inability to organize an effective response to a Russia-China nuclear partnership also extends to small reactors. Several western nations are seriously developing the technologies to meet small and dispersed electric grid requirements. But their pathways are running in parallel not toward partnership.
Countries and companies are competing, regulations are not yet harmonized, approval processes are slow, and the cultivation of the most well-positioned purchasing nations is inconsistent.
The U.S. and its key nuclear allies need to find a common path forward where everyone gets a piece of the pie but Russia and China are not allowed to gobble up the global market.
Both of these authoritarian nations are not hiding the fact that they intend to conform the future international order to their preferred contours.
But plagued by Covid controversies, domestic political partisanship, and provocations in Ukraine and Taiwan, western governments are failing to prioritize the importance of nuclear geopolitics and the alliance needed to control it. 
Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security 

The European Commission has announced its amendments to the controversial draft European Union Sustainable Finance Taxonomy, ultimately deciding to classify some natural gas and nuclear power as green investments. The draft plan will now be discussed by the European Union’s 27 nations over the next four months. The announcement has rallied several EU nations, environmental organizations, and investor groups in criticism. In addition, the European Investment Bank has suggested that it may decide to opt-out of labeling some gas and nuclear projects as green investments.
The World Nuclear Association has issued a statement in support of the recent announcement; however, also suggested that the amendment places unreasonable limitations on nuclear energy projects that are not scientifically justified. 
Nuclear Collaborations
China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) has signed a contract with Argentina to build the Atucha III nuclear power plant (NPP). The $8 billion construction project, reviving a long-stalled deal, involves the “engineering, construction, acquisition, commissioning and delivery” of a Hualong One reactor.
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) in collaboration with Mitsubishi signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Terrapower, a Bill Gates company, to develop the Natrium sodium-cooled fast reactor. JAEA will further cooperate on modernizing numerous nuclear technologies in association with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regarding the development of sodium-cooled fast reactor technologies.
The Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries (OCNI) and Ukraine’s Energoatom have signed a MOU to cooperate on nuclear energy and related technologies. The MOU provides opportunities for supporting the deployment of both Canadian large-scale reactors and small modular reactors (SMRs) in Ukraine. The agreement scope also extends to exploring nuclear decommissioning, medical isotopes, and hydrogen production with nuclear electricity.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The United Kingdom (UK) government has committed to £100 million in funding for the Sizewell C NPP project in Suffolk. When completed, the Sizewell C NPP would bring 3.2 GW, enough to power approximately six million homes, and would create up to 10,000 jobs across the UK.
The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has granted permission to begin the next phase of work at the Hinkley Point C NPP. This major milestone for the project will take place over three years, beginning the installation work for the “bulk mechanical, electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (MEH) component[s].”
The UK’s ONR and Environmental Agency have approved of China’s UK Hualong One (HPR1000) reactor design, concluding that the design is “suitable for deployment in the UK.” The design was submitted through the UK’s Generic Design Assessment process as a joint application between China General Nuclear (CGN) and EDF.
Sweden has approved a final nuclear waste storage plan, granting the construction of a storage facility near the Forsmark NPP. After decades of planning, Sweden is now the second country, after Finland, to approve of a final storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.
Finish operator Teollisuuden Voima has announced that the Olkiluoto 3 NPP is ready to be connected to the grid in early February. Originally planned to be ready in 2009, the long-delayed reactor looks to achieve full 1.6 GW output in June 2022. 
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
In a recent letter to California Governor Gavin Newson, nearly 80 scientists and academics have called on Governor Newson to reverse the decision to close the Diablo Canyon NPP. The letter cites efforts to fight global warming, asserting that “closing the plant is not only irresponsible, the consequences could be catastrophic.’
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has signed into law a bill lifting a longstanding ban on nuclear power plans, cautioning that development or deployment in the state “must be done thoughtfully and, above all, safely.” West Virginia originally instituted the ban on NPPs in 1996, citing issues related to waste disposal and economic feasibility.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has introduced a new bill that aims to streamline the siting approval process for micro-reactors in the state. The governor’s office stated that this move presents “the opportunity to explore what many experts believe may be a generational leap forward in terms of clean, reliable, and cost-effective off-grid power.” This comes as the U.S. Airforce announced its plans last year to site a micro-reactor at the Eielson Air Force Base.
Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) has announced the completion of fieldwork at the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) site, marking a major milestone for the project to build six 77 MWe NuScale Power Modules at the Idaho National Laboratory site. The NuScale Power Module is the first SMR concept to receive U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) design approval.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
BWX Technologies has been granted a $4.6 million contract amendment to manufacture TRISO nuclear fuel to power next-generation micro-reactors. This is coupled with the major developments occurring at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as they begin 3D printing microreactors for TRISO nuclear fuel. The result will hopefully allow for safer, faster, and more economical manufacturing of nuclear energy.
The U.S. government is looking to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help protect NPPs from cyber attacks. In a sources-sought notice issued by the NRC, AI and machine learning could be used to better identify, characterize, and respond to cyber threats to the increasingly complex nuclear systems. NRC officials are looking for companies to assist in completing the necessary research. 
Noteworthy Research
The Nuclear Energy Agency has published its latest brochure on SMRs, presenting an informative overview of how novel SMRs designs are reinventing the nuclear energy sector and providing different value propositions for contributing to the global decarbonization effort.
In the Journal of Critical Infrastructure Policy, Stimson Center experts Debra Decker and Kathryn Rauhut have published an article on “Incentivizing Good Governance Beyond Regulatory Minimums: The Civil Nuclear Sector.” The article documents key findings from a multi-year project researching incentives for nuclear security and presents a “Good Governance Template” geared towards supporting owners/managers in “obtaining benefits and reducing potential liabilities.”
The Nuclear Conversation
Bloomberg, February 7
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 7
Utility Dive, February 3
Kyodo News, February 3
Yale Climate Connections, February 2
Bloomberg, February 2
Foreign Policy, February 1
World Nuclear News, February 1
Geopolitical Intelligence Services, February 1
Bloomberg, January 31
The Fourth Generation, January 31
Forbes, January 31
Foreign Affairs, January 30
BBC, January 30
Rawlins Times, January 29
ANS Nuclear Newswire, January 28
Arab News, January 27
World Nuclear News, January 27
POWER Magazine, January 25
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