In this week’s issue, we assess three key Nuclear Nexus Agenda areas that require intensive focus in 2023. We spotlight the first China-GCC Summit and the two sides’ plans to cooperate on nuclear energy. Finally, we highlight key nuclear technology, security, and geopolitical developments, reports, and analyses.
Nuclear Nexus Challenges for the Coming Year
The nexus between nuclear energy, climate change, and global security had a breakthrough year in 2022. But to be durable, the Nexus Agenda will require less celebration and more hard work in 2023.
There are three broad areas that will require intensive attention in the coming year – international exports, next-generation market preparation, and technology readiness.
Nuclear reactor exports have been dominated by Russia in recent years, but the nation’s reputation has been battered by the Ukraine invasion. This has caused nations like Finland to cancel contracts with Russia and other nations, like Poland, to acquire nuclear technology from democratic nations.
Still, Russia’s international business is steady for the time being, with its major state-owned nuclear company, Rosatom, having sold over $10 billion overseas in 2022. Its reactors are under construction in Egypt, Turkey, China, India, Belarus, and Hungary. And it remains a major nuclear fuel provider to U.S. and European reactors.
But the opportunity to replace Russia as the world’s top nuclear provider is now open. The question is whether China or democratic nations will seize it.
China is ambitious, building the largest number of nuclear plants at this time and planning to build 150 more by mid-century. However, China’s international heavy handedness has caused it to be removed as a bidder for large reactors in the U.K., the Czech Republic, and Romania.
French, U.S., and South Korean firms have moved to fill this void. But the intensity of the Western company competition for new nuclear business is limiting needed cooperation and could hand key growth markets to China.
A good example is Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. During a visit to Riyadh in December 2022, China’s President, Xi Jinping, stated that China and the GCC countries should “strengthen new sources of growth such as…[the] peaceful use of nuclear energy.” China’s foreign ministry reported that a “China-GCC forum on the peaceful use of nuclear technology and a China-GCC nuclear security demonstration center will be established” as a result of the visit.
These are soft power steps that should have been taken by Washington and other democratic nuclear nations to prepare the region for Western technology. Korean reactors are already operating in the UAE and are well regarded. But conflict between U.S. and South Korean nuclear companies, as well as Saudi unwillingness to accept more intrusive IAEA monitoring of its nuclear operations, is hobbling their ability to make a reactor bid in the country. 
There also is a U.S.-Saudi stand-off over the kingdom’s desire to construct its own uranium enrichment capability. Existing suspicions about its uranium enrichment objectives have been exacerbated by the Saudi foreign minister’s statement that, “if Iran gets an operational nuclear weapon, all bets are off.” That hints that enrichment could be diverted to weapons potential to match Iran.
That is a serious concern. No one wants a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. But that danger is significantly intensified if China controls the Middle East nuclear market by gaining a reactor foothold in Saudi. That development could increase the chance that Saudi Arabia ultimately will possess a uranium enrichment capability that can be used to match Iran’s.
The solution to this situation is not clear and it will require tradeoffs and risk taking. But this is one illustration of the critical, complicated, and challenging export issues that will complicate the Nexus Agenda this year.
Emerging Markets
Beyond the large reactor competition among major vendors, there is the battle for market share in emerging nuclear markets. These are primarily developing economy nations and the focus is on lower-power small modular or advanced technology reactors.
China has a clear advantage under the Belt and Road initiative in the development of energy and infrastructure relationships with many of these markets. And Russia has set its sights on Africa as a prime target. It already has multiple MOU’s in place on the continent.
The U.S. responded at the December 2022 U.S.-Africa Leader’s Summit, and announced the commencement of nuclear cooperation agreement negotiations with Ghana, the signing of a Nuclear Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding with Kenya (a precursor to a formal agreement), and support programs for both countries.
This indicates an intensified tempo of U.S. preparation of new nations for nuclear power. However, the general perception is that this ramp-up is slow, the budget too small, and the effectiveness and scope of the strategy insufficient for the opportunity and timing in the developing world.
The U.S. government and the private sector are pouring billions of dollars into advanced reactor technology development and demonstration. But there is a blind spot on the other issues that will be required to make that investment pay off. This includes intensively cultivating the market for its technologies and developing the new nuclear security guidelines for the next generation of reactors that will allow for secure operation. These are two essential Nexus Agenda issues that need intensified attention this year.
Technology Readiness
The notional timeframe for the deployment of next-generation nuclear energy is roughly 10-15 years, of which about two years have passed already. The Achilles Heel of all nuclear projects traditionally has been cost and schedule. These double dangers have now arisen in relation to smaller reactor deployment. 
The leading U.S. SMR technology is NuScale’s VOYGR reactor, which is initially slated to be built in Idaho, is facing cost increases that could impact the continued commitment of its power purchasers in the UAMPS utility consortium. Its deployment schedule has already been delayed once.
For exotic-fueled next-generation advanced reactors, the Congress has mandated that there be a demonstration by 2027. The U.S. government has narrowed the field of reactors that would have to meet this date, but the schedule is very aggressive.
That timetable will be impacted by the availability of the high-assay uranium fuel that these reactors require. At the moment this fuel is not manufactured in the U.S. and the only commercial source for it is Russia.
Complications in the supply of this fuel created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused Bill Gates’ TerraPower to delay by two years its deployment of the Natrium reactor to replace a coal plant in Wyoming. The U.S. is taking steps to manufacture the fuel domestically, but the lack of available HALEU is going to affect virtually all next-gen reactors that require demonstration by 2027.
These advanced reactors also will be impacted by the development of an appropriate regulatory regime. The Congress mandated that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission adapt its licensing process to the needs of these new reactors. However, it responded with a draft document that landed with a thud and created howls of complaint and the demand for major revisions.
The Nexus Agenda has been elevated by geopolitical, energy, and climate objectives. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February rapidly elevated energy security to an international security priority. As a result, nuclear power was revitalized as a key technology to replace reliance on Russian, and other, fossil fuel exports. The role of nuclear energy was prominently featured at the COP 27 climate change conference in Egypt as a zero-carbon energy source.

Now that the nuclear nexus has been embraced with renewed and mainstream enthusiasm, the focus must shift to effectively addressing the issues impacting implementation.
Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

The first China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit was held in Riyadh. Among numerous political and economic sectors on which cooperation would occur, Chinese President Xi Jinping identified nuclear energy as a key area. The meeting resulted in agreement on the creation of a China-GCC forum on the peaceful use of nuclear technologies and a China-GCC nuclear security demonstration center. China further agreed to provide training opportunities to GCC countries on nuclear energy and technology.
The Impact of the Ukraine Invasion on Nuclear Affairs and Exports
Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Denys Shmyhal, said that Kyiv expects the European Union to include Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom in the 10th package of sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. This announcement follows Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko’s demand for the EU to introduce sanctions and give up Russian nuclear fuel. Despite the numerous punitive measures against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, Rosatom has yet to be sanctioned.
Energoatom’s President, Petro Kotin, requested that the United Nations send peacekeepers to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant even without a deal with Russia to establish a safety zone. According to Kotin, the absence of a deal means that the UN Security Council should deploy peacekeepers to protect the plant. However, the absence of a safety zone could complicate the drawing of boundaries for the peacekeeping mission’s area of control.
Ukraine has denied recent rumors that Ukraine’s nuclear reactors were non-operational. On December 22, Energoatom reported that a ninth reactor had been reconnected to the grid. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was not included in the list of functional nuclear reactors, as it remains under Russian occupation.
One of Putin’s most powerful Kremlin aides, Sergei Kiriyenko, visited the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Kiriyenko discussed the safety of the plant and checked on the working conditions of Rosatom employees. Currently, special Russian military units are guarding the nuclear power plant and Russian nuclear specialists are working on site.
According to Rosatom CEO Alexei Likhachev, Rosatom exports grew 15% in 2022, with its foreign order portfolio stable at $200 billion. The growth comes from contracts already being implemented, supplies of fuel, enriched uranium projects, as well as conversion services.
Nuclear Collaborations
Japan and the United States have agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation on developing next-generation nuclear reactors during recent ministerial talks on energy. According to a joint statement, Japan and the United States will step up cooperation in developing and constructing advanced reactors within each country and third countries. The two governments previously revealed plans in October 2022 to work together on helping Ghana introduce small nuclear reactor technology.
Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) and its parent company, Korea Electric Power Corp., reportedly are in discussions with Westinghouse Electric Corp. to share profits from South Korea’s nuclear reactor exports. In addition to splitting the profits, the two sides are seeking to make clear how KHNP pays royalties to Westinghouse in relation to Korea’s overseas nuclear plant orders received. The two sides hope this will end the dispute that stems from Westinghouse’s lawsuit against the two Korean companies to block their exports of nuclear power reactors.
During the U.S.-African Leaders Summit held in December, the United States affirmed and expanded its partnerships with African nations to combat climate change. The United States announced the commencement of negotiations with Ghana for a 123 Agreement to set up a legal framework for civil nuclear cooperation, along with launching new civil nuclear studies and technical training programs. The United States also signed a memorandum of understanding with Kenya to further civil nuclear cooperation and announced new joint work on civil nuclear studies.
NuScale signed a contract with Romanian company RoPower Nuclear for front-end engineering and design (FEED) work toward the deployment of a VOYGR-6 small modular reactor (SMR) power plant at Doicesti. The first phase of FEED work will define the major site and specific inputs for the VOYGR-6 SMR plant. This contract follows a 2022 memorandum of understanding between NuScale and Romanian utility Nuclearelectrica to begin conducting engineering studies, technical reviews, and licensing and permitting activities for the project.
Rosatom’s TVEL fuel company has dispatched all uranium shipments to China’s CFR-600 sodium-cooled fast reactor at Xiapu. The CFR-600 fuel contract was signed in compliance with the large-scale program of bilateral nuclear industry cooperation between Russia and China. The aim for China has been for the first CFR-600 unit to be online by 2023.
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Bulgaria’s state-owned Kozloduy nuclear power plant has recently signed two nuclear fuel supply deals with Western nuclear companies. Kozloduy signed a deal with Westinghouse Electric Sweden to supply nuclear fuel to Unit 5 and another nuclear fuel agreement with Framatome to fuel Unit 6. Currently, Bulgaria relies on Russia to supply nuclear fuel for the plant.
The Turkish government and commercial industry partners have begun discussions with the United States to buy small nuclear reactors in order to fulfill Turkey’s future sustainable goals. U.S. State Department official Justin Friedman claimed that Turkey’s future plans may include the purchase of up to 35 small modular reactors (SMR) and that Turkey is aspiring to generate nearly 20 gigawatts of electricity from its nuclear power by 2050. These steps will contribute to Turkey’s goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2053.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
In a recent speech to the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listed blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions as one of his four main priorities. Netanyahu noted that he would take necessary measures against Iran “with our without an agreement” with the United States if Iran were to weaponize its nuclear energy program. Some of Israel’s concerns with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) include that some of the JCPOA’s most important restrictions would be lifted soon, including the ban on developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, stated that Saudi Arabia plans to use domestically-sourced uranium to build up its nuclear power industry. He added that the country is looking to utilize its resources through joint ventures with willing partners in accordance with international commitments and transparency standards. Saudi Arabia has a nascent nuclear program that it wants to expand to eventually include uranium enrichment.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, said that Arabian nations would act to shore up their security if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons. Riyadh remains skeptical of the currently shelved JCPOA nuclear deal, but Prince Faisal stated that Saudi Arabia would support efforts to revive the pact “on the condition that it be a starting point, not an end point,” for a stronger deal with Tehran.
Sweden is preparing legislation to allow the construction of more nuclear power stations to boost electricity production and bolster energy security. The new legislation would scrap existing rules that cap the total number of reactors at ten and prohibits reactor construction in new locations. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has made expanding nuclear power generation a key goal for his government, seeking to reverse a process of gradual closures of reactors in the past few decades.
China General Nuclear (CGN) announced that Unit 3 of the Fangchenggang nuclear power plant has been connected to the national grid, the first of two demonstration Hualong One reactors under construction at the site. Unit 3 has been under construction since 2015. The unit is scheduled to enter commercial operation in the second half of 2023.
Belgium reached an agreement with French utility Engie to extend the life of two Belgian nuclear reactors by 10 years. The Doel 4 and Tihange 3 reactors were due to close in 2025 as part of Belgium’s exit plan from nuclear power, but both will now restart in 2026 and continue operating for 10 more years. Belgium has six operating nuclear reactors that currently generate about half of the country’s electricity.
Officials from Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) will visit Uganda this week upon a request from the Ugandan government to discuss building nuclear reactors. Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development will meet with KHNP to discuss laying the groundwork for further feasibility studies and construction planning for two 1,000 megawatt reactors. KHNP is increasing its exports of nuclear technology, with countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Ghana expressing interest.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) may face years in delay, according to the project’s director general. Pietro Barabaschi identified several issues impacting the reactor’s development, including wrong sizes for the joints of blocks to be welded for the installation’s chamber and traces of corrosion in the thermal shield. A new timetable is to be worked out by the end of the year, including some modifications to contain the expected cost overrun and to meet the French nuclear safety agency’s security requirements.
Last month, six small modular reactor (SMR) developers submitted applications to the United Kingdom’s Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to enter the generic design assessment (GDA) process. The six companies are GE Hitachi, Holtec, X-energy, Newcleo, Copenhagen Atomics, and GMET. Following the initial applications, the GDA will assess these nuclear reactor designs for safety, security, and environmental impacts before determining their licensing.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the progress of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant following the installation of the inner containment dome for Akkuyu Unit 1. Erdogan told Putin that Akkuyu’s first power unit will be launched later this year. Rosatom is currently building four VVER-1200 reactors at Akkuyu under a build-own-operation (BOO) model.
Following months of extended outages, France is ramping up the availability of its state-owned fleet of nuclear reactors. According to grid data compiled by Bloomberg, French reactors in January hit 73% availability, the highest since February of last year. The trend for greater availability of reactors is expected to continue as the French government focuses on fixing its reactors.
South Korean shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Industries has developed a conceptual design for a floating nuclear power plant based on compact molten salt reactor (CMSR) technology. The CMSR power barge concept supplies electricity and thermal energy produced by using technology developed by Danish company Seaborg. Samsung Heavy said the facility takes about two years to build, with the aim to commercialize the unit by 2028.
South Korea’s nuclear safety commission approved the restart of the Kori 3 nuclear power plant that was shut down two weeks ago. The Kori 3 went offline automatically in December as a line-to-ground fault was detected on an excitation transformer. Currently, 20 of South Korea’s 25 nuclear reactors are operational, with five others under maintenance.
The United Kingdom’s government has begun accepting bids under the $60 million Nuclear Fuel Fund. The Fund is intended to provide greater projects for nuclear operators to use British-produced fuel as the country seeks to diversify its uranium and nuclear fuel production capacity away from Russia. The fund is also intended to support projects establishing new domestic fuel capabilities.
Finnish mining and metal processing company Terrafame announced that it has started preparing operations for uranium recovery. A specially designed recovery plant has been built at Terrafame’s industrial site in Sotkamo and is expected to operate at full capacity in 2026. The uranium recovered will be transported abroad for further processing, after which it will be used in nuclear energy production.
Following the cancellation of Finland’s contract with Rosatom, the Russian company is demanding financial compensation from the unbuilt Hanhikivi-1 nuclear power plant. The facility was intended to be built by the joint venture company Fennovaima, but Fennovaima terminated its contract with Rosatom in May 2022.
The completion of Japan’s nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori will be delayed by another two years. An earlier completion timeframe was listed for the end of 2022, but Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. postponed the deadline in September before giving a new date. Senior officials with Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. said the new completion date will be in the first half of 2024.
Japan adopted a plan to extend the lifespan of nuclear reactors, replace old reactors, and build new ones. Under the new policy, Japan will maximize the use of existing reactors by restarting as many of them as possible and prolonging the operating life of aging ones beyond the current 60-year limit. The government also pledges to develop next-generation nuclear reactors.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
NuScale’s ongoing reactor project in Utah faces sharply higher construction estimates due to inflation and higher interest rates, potentially jeopardizing the project. If projected costs rise above $58 per megawatt-hour, it will trigger an up-or-down vote as early as next month for the project’s anchor customers. NuScale and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems are currently building the first of six small modular reactors (SMR) and plan to begin the SMR’s operation in 2029.
During his visit to a closed down coal-fired American Electric Power (AEP) plant in West Virginia, Bill Gates revealed that he is considering West Virginia as a potential site for an AEP nuclear plant. Gates elaborated that he needs to see how his Natrium nuclear reactor demonstration in Wyoming performs before making any announcements, but also lauded West Virginia’s recent decision to repeal the state’s ban on nuclear power facilities.
According to Reuters, a Russian hacking group targeted 3 U.S. nuclear research laboratories. The hacking team, known as Cold River, reportedly targeted three U.S. nuclear laboratories: Brookhaven, Argonne, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. Internet records reveal the hackers’ attempts to create fake login pages for the three laboratories and email nuclear scientists in an effort to trick them into revealing their passwords.
The Michigan Public Service Commission asked for proposals for an independent feasibility study on nuclear energy generation in Michigan. Michigan lawmakers asked the commission for a critical analysis of both advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy generation, expected economic impacts, and environmental risks that come with nuclear energy. Michigan currently operates two nuclear power plants following the shut down of the Palisades facility in 2022.
Holtec International has applied for a $7.4 billion federal loan to fund the deployment of its SMR-160 advanced light water reactor (LWR). Holtec would use the loan to boost capacity to make parts for its existing facilities, and to build and commission at least four SMR-160 units in the United States. Holtec’s goal is to have its first SMR-160 licensed and operational by 2030.
Honeywell International’s conversion services arm, ConverDyn, has received a $14 million award for uranium conversion services from the Department of Energy. The contract will see ConverDyn convert up to 1 million pounds of domestically sourced uranium and deliver it to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Metropolis Works power plant account. The anticipated period of performance is 5 years.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) adopted its initial carbon plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The plan directs Duke Energy to extend the licenses for its existing nuclear fleet and authorizes the company to incur project development costs associated with new nuclear generation. North Carolina is currently home to five nuclear reactors, all of which are operated by Duke Energy.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is considering a 20-year extension for the operating licenses of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant units. The energy company that owns the plant, Vistra Corp., applied for 20-year extensions for the reactors’ two units, which will currently expire in 2030 and 2033 respectively. An NRC official told The Texan the entire process will likely take around 22 months, and that the application is set for a final decision in September 2024.
Noteworthy Research
The Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) published a case study and fact sheet on expanding access to peaceful uses of nuclear power. The report examines the activities implemented by Ghana to complete Phase 1 and successfully transition into Phase 2 of the IAEA Milestones Approach, with a description of the key aspects of Ghana’s implementation of its programs and lessons learned. The report believes that sharing key aspects and lessons learned could benefit other countries interested in or already embarking on new nuclear power programs.

The Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report setting out to assess the system costs of alternative low-carbon electricity systems capable of achieving carbon emissions reduction consistent with the aims of the Paris Agreement. The study compares the total costs of six different scenarios of the electric power sector of an OECD country, containing different shares of nuclear energy and renewable energy. The report shows that defining the right overall mix of the shares of nuclear energy and renewables as well as setting the right policy framework to allow the achievement of climate targets.
The Nuclear Conversation
News items and summaries compiled by:

Patrick Kendall, Program Manager, 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.