In this issue, we highlight the United Arab Emirate as it takes its final step towards switching on the Arab world's first commercial nuclear power plant. We also note the latest civil nuclear developments and collaboration in the small modular reactor space. Finally, we bring attention to new data that illustrates rapidly accelerating global-sea level rise, posing a novel security threat for coastal nuclear power operations.
Putting Air Under the Wings of Nuclear Security
A perpetual problem for the community that cares about nuclear security and the prevention of terrorism is the struggle to make the issue pertinent for the public by connecting its importance with other significant global challenges. A refreshing new analysis has broken out of that box. It makes a strong case that the international nuclear security regime can, and needs to, learn lessons from the aviation sector, an industry that people in every country encounter every day.

At first glance, it may seem that aviation challenges are irrelevant to the protection of nuclear infrastructure and materials. Access to nuclear plants and materials is highly controlled and the security system is based on keeping the public out. Whereas commercial aviation welcomes billions of people per year onto its aircraft.

However, the World Institute for Nuclear Security ( WINS ) has produced a densely researched 9-volume series of documents which highlights that many aviation security best practices are transferable to the nuclear sector. It offers a 10-point plan that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can adopt to create the necessary, real improvements to a global nuclear security system that is plagued by a lack of uniform requirements, practices, and evaluation.

One point of commonality between both sectors is their United Nations-affiliated organizations, the IAEA and the International Civil Aviation Organization ( ICAO ). These institutions set the international frameworks for security in their respective sectors. Other similarities include the fact that the state is accountable for security in both sectors through national regulators, both are considered part of the critical infrastructure in most countries, and that they face similar threats – physical attacks, cyber dangers, and insider sabotage.

But there also are critical differences between the IAEA and ICAO. The aviation organization has a stronger role in mandating and assessing the effectiveness of global aviation security than does the IAEA. Its role was considerably strengthened by its member states in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Nuclear security also was strengthened after 9/11 but no significant new nuclear security authority was provided to the IAEA by its member states. This is primarily the result of national sensitivities related to the state responsibility for nuclear security and a weak international consensus that nuclear terrorism is a threat to the entire global community, not just nuclear-operating states.

Unlike ICAO, IAEA only offers guidance on nuclear security best practices. There is no international convention mandating standards of nuclear security, though there are binding agreements covering limited elements of the issue. Under the IAEA guidance, each nation can implement their recommendations, or not, and Agency evaluations of its effectiveness are voluntary.

By contrast, there is a Convention on International Civil Aviation that requires any deviation from its international standards be immediately reported to the authority which will then alert all other nations. ICAO also has the authority to conduct mandatory aviation security audits. Since 2002, ICAO has conducted over 430 security audits while the IAEA has completed 103. ICAO also certifies 35 regional training centers that employ demonstrably competent instructors and auditors. The IAEA networks a very important set of nuclear security support centers but does not certify their courses or instructors.

The conclusions of the WINS analysis are serious and sobering. It assesses that the IAEA is 20 years behind ICAO in adapting to the new realities of the international threat environment. It makes clear that a continued lag in strengthening the teeth of the nuclear security regime will impede the ability of nuclear power to contribute to addressing other global challenges including deep reductions in global carbon emissions.

The new Director General of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, has the potential to be a transformative figure if he chooses to join nuclear security to other global challenges, including climate change. He has stated his intention to “transform our nuclear security guidance into mainstreamed norms.” And, he has recognized that nuclear power must have a place at the table where the world’s energy future is decided. That’s a good foundation for expanding the connection between these vital, and mutually dependent, issues.

Ken Luongo, Partnership for Global Security

The World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) has conducted a major benchmarking research project over the past two years comparing the evolution of and future security challenges faced by the civil nuclear and aviation sectors with the purpose of identifying transferable best practices between them.
Nuclear Collaboration
At an IAEA conference last Monday, more than 140 nations adopted a declaration aimed at enhancing nuclear security and countering malicious threats like nuclear terrorism. The agreement, focused on threat mitigation as well as risk reduction, is the most recent international response to concerns about growing stockpiles of nuclear materials.

The Executive Director of the IEA, Fatih Birol, has called for a “grand coalition” of actors to address the growing challenges of climate change. Following a report showing a leveling of carbon emissions in 2019, Birol highlighted the need for energy and climate change communities to work together to further limit global carbon output.

Norway’s Nuclear Decommissioning (NND) agency has enlisted Finland’s AINS group and France’s Orano to build a fuel and waste disposal center for 17 tons of fuel from two research reactors. The move follows the retiring of Norway’s only nuclear reactors, with claims that excessive costs have rendered maintenance unfeasible.  

Oregon’s NuScale signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ukraine that will allow researchers from both entities to collaborate on developing a Small Modular Reactor (SMR). The move signals a potential resurgence of U.S. nuclear exports, with NuScale hoping to finalize its SMR by the end of the decade.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) has granted the license to commission and operate the country’s first nuclear reactor, Barakah Unit 1. Operators are now preparing to load fuel into the reactor, with electricity production expected to begin later this year. 

Egyptian engineers have begun training at Russia’s Kursk II nuclear power plant (NPP) as part of a Rosatom training program focused on nuclear inspections, construction and other major job tasks. The program is the latest in the deepening nuclear partnership between Russia and Egypt, with the Russian-built and -financed Dabba NPP set to begin construction in Egypt later this year.

A group of Saudi professionals have become the first to graduate from Saudi Arabia’s chief nuclear institution, K.A.CARE, which relies heavily on Jordanian agencies to conduct programs. The institution’s president, Dr. Khaled Al-Sultan, hopes the development will precede further nuclear development: “The K.A.CARE employees… will work on the second exploration project of uranium and thorium ores in the Kingdom.”

South Korea’s nuclear phase-out policy is being blamed for the collapse of the country’s nuclear and renewable energy markets. The policy, which discontinued government repairs and maintenance on existing NPPs, has resulted in rising consumer costs and an increase in the use of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) announced that it has begun the regulatory licensing process for its BWRX-300 SMR with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The move is an important one in the commercialization of its latest SMR, which GEH claims will be cheaper and use half the resources of other designs.

Wyoming’s House Travel, Recreation and Cultural Resources Committee has unanimously passed legislation allowing SMRs to replace energy lost by gas- or coal-powered plants. The legislation, which has yet to pass the state’s House of Representatives, would limit the energy capacity of SMRs to 300 MW.

The transfer of used highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel from Canada to the U.S. has been completed a year earlier than scheduled, with 200 kilograms of used fuel returning from Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories. As the largest removal of used fuel to the U.S. under the 1996 Nuclear Material Removal Program, the transfer was dubbed a “great example” of bilateral collaboration in advancing both nation's non-proliferation and nuclear security objectives.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
According to new satellite data, global sea-level rise is now at four millimeters per year and increasing rapidly. This rise in sea-level and the likely increase of storm surges pose a novel security threat for coastal nuclear power operations.
Noteworthy Research
A recent study by consulting group Energy + Environmental Economics found that the relicensing of existing NPPs and an introduction of new SMRs would provide reliable and carbon-free energy to Washington state for decades. The group is confident that reopening the Columbia Boiling Water Reactor will catalyze an expansion of nuclear energy, while additional SMRs would provide Washington with a cheap, clean and dependable electricity source.

In the new brief, “ South Korean Perception on Climate Change ” of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies publication, subject experts examine evolving South Korean public opinion on environmental and climate change issues. The brief notes significant differences according to ideology and political disposition, stressing the political challenge in implementing an effective climate change policy solution.
The recent essay, " Facing the Nuclear Storm, " by energy experts Ali Ahmad and Benedetta Bonometti highlights the need for cross-border collaboration between Middle Eastern nations in nuclear energy development. The piece outlines the economic, energy and public health threats associated with poor nuclear resilience, before providing a broad framework for addressing these challenges multilaterally. 

The new brief, “ International co-financing of nuclear reactors between the United States and its allies ” by Dr. Jennifer Gordon of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, outlines the importance of the U.S. and its allies to cooperate on financing NPP builds to maintain global safety and security standards, and manage geopolitical ambitions. Dr. Gordon also highlights several recommendations for ways the U.S. can streamline its export financing mechanism.
The Nuclear Conversation
For more than two decades, 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.
1400 I (Eye) St. NW, Suite 440
Washington, DC 20005