In this week’s issue, we discuss the technology standards competition between the U.S. and China and the implications for global nuclear security of losing the fight for strong international rules and norms. We also highlight the upcoming webinar hosted by the Nuclear Innovation Alliance and the Partnership for Global Security on the release of a new joint report ‘U.S. Advanced Nuclear Energy Strategy: for Domestic Prosperity, Climate Protection, National Security, and Global Leadership.’ Finally, we draw attention to a new report from the Stimson Center on ‘U.S. Priorities for Reducing the Risk of Nuclear Terrorism,’ illustrating the need for a comprehensive nuclear security plan.
Outflanking China on Future Nuclear Standards
After a two-hour call with China’s President Xi Jinping, President Biden warned the nation that, “We don’t get moving, they’re going to eat our lunch” in reference to the technology competition between the two countries. Earlier in the day he launched a China Task Force at the defense department that will deliver rapid recommendations on how to counter the challenges posed by China.
The recently declassified U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, originally published in February 2018, provides a synopsis of the challenges the U.S. and its allies face from China.
Among the “assumptions” underlying the strategy are several that are very relevant to how nuclear energy develops in this decade and whether it will be effectively governed for the remainder of the century. These include the assertions that “China will circumvent international rules and norms to gain an advantage” and that “China seeks to dominate cutting-edge technologies.” 
These statements are not new, but when coupled with a recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal about how China is seeking to control international technology standards across multiple “fields of the future” the resulting picture is very troubling when viewed through the lens of global nuclear security.
As the Journal report notes, “To the consternation of many Western countries, Beijing is employing state funding and political influence to define the norms for all manner of cutting-edge technologies.” 
The strategy is two-fold – obtaining positions of influence in international standards organizations and using the Belt and Road Initiative to promote China’s preferred standards.
The transformation of international organizations from within was a major theme in the State Department Policy Planning staff’s recently published, The Elements of the China Challenge.
For the Belt and Road strategy, the Journal report notes that, “China offers countries subsidies to win the work and then uses its standards to lock in partner nations that would face major costs in switching to international standards.”
The nuclear challenge lies in the development of next-generation nuclear energy technologies and the need to create the standards and governance regime for them so that they can be safely and securely deployed anywhere around the globe.
In a recent analysis for a major U.S. philanthropic foundation, the authors noted that, “the risks and policy implications of these new reactor technologies and their use on a global scale are not currently well understood…[and]…a framework for managing and minimizing the risks associated with new reactors” needs to be developed where it does not exist.
The development of the next-generation nuclear governance regime is a significant issue because these technologies constitute a significant evolution from existing nuclear power reactors. Their smaller size and non-traditional coolants and fuel cycles make them deployable for many different circumstances. Zero-carbon energy production is the primary rationale, but they also can be used for industrial power, hydrogen production, water desalination, and to power military bases and weapons.
The target international market for these reactors is increasingly looking like developing nations with small electric grids, serious climate change impacts, and growing populations. Many of these nations are not experienced with nuclear energy operation and additional measures will be required to prepare them for this task.
This process could create a potential battleground between the U.S. and China with effective nuclear nonproliferation and security standards hanging in the balance.
One arena where this conflict could play out is at the International Atomic Energy Agency. It will need to evolve its current approach to preparing new nuclear nations to account for the unique features of the novel nuclear technologies. That will require the approval of many different nations. Historically, the nations that are most aggressively selling into the global nuclear market have greater influence over international guidelines. That precedent argues for being the first to cultivate next-generation nuclear clients if a country wants to set the new governance baseline.
Additional support to these new nuclear nations likely will need to be provided by the reactor suppliers and their national governments. This process is not well established among democratic nation nuclear exporters, placing them at a disadvantage. But it is a core element of the export strategy of state-owned nuclear enterprises, like those in China.
The technology race between the U.S. and China on next-generation nuclear power has been developing under the radar. But losing that race could become a high-profile failure for global security if it results in weakened security and nonproliferation standards.
If China is able to establish a next-generation nuclear power beachhead in one or several developing countries before new international nuclear governance rules are established for these technologies, it can tailor the guidelines to its advantage and lock them in. That could intensify nuclear dangers in an already precarious international security environment.
That argues for American aggressiveness, perseverance, and effectiveness in developing and positioning its next-generation technologies. As the President said, “they’re going to eat our lunch” if the country does not get moving.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

In a collaborative engagement between the Partnership for Global Security (PGS) and the Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA), we would like to invite you to a virtual panel discussion next week on the release of a joint strategic framework for the United States to guide domestic and international activities related to advanced nuclear energy. It provides a roadmap to achieving U.S. global leadership on advanced nuclear technologies by leveraging the unique capabilities and roles of government, the private sector, academia, civil society, and U.S. allies.
Nuclear Collaborations
The Welsh Government and a UK nuclear supply chain consortium have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to help bolster the nuclear skills base and increase job market growth in the nation. The consortium—composed of almost 200 UK businesses and trade unions—has backed the proposed Sizewell C nuclear power plant (NPP), seeing an opportunity for the Welsh nuclear supply chain to benefit from the project. 
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
China has begun commercial operations of the first of its Hualong One pressurized water reactors, following over five years of construction work. China National Nuclear Corp. has stated that this achievement marks its mastery of “independent third-generation nuclear power technology following the United States, France, Russia and others.” China has noted that it is willing to export the technology to and provide associated services for interested nations.
Energy and nuclear trade unions implored the European Commission to include nuclear energy in its new united classification system for sustainable economic activities. In the joint letter, the workers asserted that such taxonomy is necessary for Europe to meet low-carbon targets.
Continued setbacks at England’s planned Hinkley C and Wylfa NPP are impacting the future of the Sizewell NPP project. The British government has suggested that it still intends to undertake large nuclear projects, and the Interim CEO of the UK Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Consortium believes that revised funding schemes can make Wylfa a center of nuclear development.
Poland’s Cabinet passed a resolution advocating the opening of the country’s first NPP in 2033 and calling for a 10 percent approximate increase in the renewable portion of its domestic energy production by 2030.
The Estonian firm Fermi Energia hopes to deploy a next-generation SMR in 2035, aligning with the nation’s plan to end electricity production from shale oil by the same year. The firm aims to start the official planning process at the end of 2021 for what would be Estonia’s first nuclear plant.
The European Parliament will deliberate over a resolution regarding the safety of Belarus’ Ostrovets NPP. Members of Parliament are concerned about technical failures in the commissioning process and insufficient regulatory independence. They urged national officials to adopt European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) standards.
Japan’s energy minister, Hiroshi Kajiyama, emphasized the importance of nuclear power for the fossil fuel–dependent nation in reaching net-zero carbon emission objectives by 2050. Kajiyama observed that renewables generated insufficient electricity during recent snowstorms and are not ideal for Japanese terrain. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) predicts that 30-40 percent of its energy portfolio must be derived from nuclear sources or carbon capture and sequestration to achieve emission goals.
The mayor of Takahama, Japan has endorsed the restart of reactors one and two at the Takahama plant originally deployed in the 1970s. The measure, which is now pending approval of the Fukui governor, would allow twenty-year resumption of reactor operations to accommodate possible power shortages.
A South Korean network reported that government documents concerning possible construction of an NPP in North Korea were discovered as part of an ongoing investigation of destroyed files related to the closure of the country’s second-oldest nuclear reactor. South Korea’s energy ministry denied these claims.
The construction of Egypt’s Dabaa NPP, which was originally slated for a mid-2021 start, has been rescheduled to a later undisclosed date due to the coronavirus pandemic. Russia’s Rosatom will fund and build four 1200 MW third-generation reactors to help expand Egypt’s energy resources.
Construction of two new VVER-1000 units at Iran’s Bushehr NPP is moving along. Russian and Iranian foreign ministers recently engaged in dialogue about the Rosatom project, which Moscow is eager to continue. Bushehr 2 and 3 are scheduled to be commissioned in 2024 and 2026, respectively.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is seeking public feedback about its proposed advanced nuclear reactor technology park at the Clinch River Nuclear Site in Roane County. The TVA is open to alternatives (if appropriate) in its consideration of the project, which could site one or more advanced reactors under 800 total MW.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
Ukraine plans to build cryptocurrency mining data centers between 250 and 500 MW near NPPs “to provide additional sales markets for electricity produced by the nuclear power plant." One such facility is expected to be constructed close to the Rivne NPP by August 31, 2022.
Electronuclear, a subsidiary of Brazil’s Electrobras, experienced a ransomware attack. Operational systems of the countries NPPs were unaffected, but the subsidiary has taken actions to protect its data. National authorities are allegedly investigating the cyber-attack.
The Russian parliament has unanimously ratified the New START nuclear treaty extension. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, stated that the agreement was made “on our terms” with unchanged conditions. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indicated that the U.S. intends to pursue further bilateral non-proliferation measures with Moscow and engage in a similar dialogue with China. 
Noteworthy Research
A new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), ‘Accelerating Decarbonization of the U.S. Energy System,’ suggests that American decarbonization may be viable given the cheaper clean energy market. To achieve emission objectives by 2050, the U.S. must take measures like increased investment in research, development and demonstration (RD&D) in developing technologies, including advanced nuclear reactors.
The Stimson Center has published a memo that delineates recommended ‘U.S. Priorities for Reducing the Risk of Nuclear Terrorism.’ It suggests that the Biden administration develop a comprehensive nuclear security plan, cooperate with countries that have abundant weapons-grade material like Russia and China, ensure sufficient federal nuclear security funding, and provide more support for agreements and institutions responsible for nuclear security governance.
Top Tier Impact Policy has published a new conference report, ‘What is Nuclear Energy’s Role in Reaching Net-Zero?,’ in which stakeholders conclude that nuclear energy must be employed to meet global climate and electricity needs. Conference participants call for the establishment of regulated legislative targets, diverse multilateral engagements, increased nuclear materials research, and partnerships with developers of innovative technologies that can facilitate energy transition in carbon-reliant sectors.
An independent study commissioned by ECR Group and Renew Europe has advised creating a “nuclear renaissance” program to meet the European Union’s electricity demands and achieve EU climate neutrality by 2050. While the bloc’s policies have been renewable-centric, the recommended program would help create a level playing field for all carbon-neutral technologies.
A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Réseau de Transport d'Electricité (RTE) warns of “substantial” costs involved in France’s plan to replace many of the nation’s aging reactors with renewable energy sources by 2050. The authors also note that France needs to develop more backup production and energy storage if it wants to achieve its desired energy mix of 35 percent wind and solar by 2035.
The Nuclear Conversation
Portolan Global Inc., February 11

Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 10

The Hill, February 9, February 9
Power Technology, February 8
Deutsche Welle, February 4
Lawfare, February 3
World Nuclear News, February 3
The Fourth Generation, February 2
FOX News, January 31
Hogan Lovells New Nuclear Blog, January 29
POWER Magazine, January 28
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