Welcome back! In this week’s issue, we kick off 2022 by discussing the recent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's denial of the Oklo combined license application, and the serious questions that the event raises concerning the deployment of advanced nuclear in the years to come. We also spotlight an announcement from the MacArthur Foundation granting $21.3 million to 28 organizations under its Nuclear Challenges capstone project. PGS is one of the recipients for its pioneering work on the nexus of nuclear energy, climate change, and global security. Finally, we highlight the latest debate surrounding the European Union’s sustainable finance taxonomy and its likely inclusion of nuclear energy.

This year we will be introducing an update to the Nuclear News and Views newsletter. The commentary section will regularly include graphics covering a noteworthy topic or trend instead of the traditional written commentary. Please send us your feedback on this communications evolution and thank you for your readership!
Next-Gen Nuclear Stumbles Out of the Starting Gate
There is only one imperative for the next generation of nuclear energy – deliver a working, safe, and secure reactor that can support the global clean energy revolution in a ten-year window.
For heralded micro-reactor rising star, Oklo, when that rubber hit the road it went flat.
Last week the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied the company’s license application for “failure to provide information” related to “key” safety features of its Aurora reactor design. The NRC invited Oklo to reapply and provide the requested missing information, meaning the design is not rejected, just shelved for the moment.
In mid-2020, Oklo was the first to submit, and have accepted by the NRC, an historic combined construction and operating license application for an advanced reactor. It has stated that it intends to continue to move forward with the process despite this setback.
So far, no one inside the administration has made a public statement responding to Oklo’s punctured ambitions, despite its financial promotion of the technology.
Instead, this faltering of new nuclear technology has thrilled its opponents and roused their anticipation of more failure. Already, in 2017, the claims for Transatomic's molten salt reactor, also a hyped start-up, melted down under serious scrutiny.
It seems bizarre that there could be delight at the potential failure of a major zero-carbon energy source when 2021 was one of the hottest years on record, but we live in an era of incomprehensible ideological irrationality.
The Oklo-NRC situation, however, has raised a number of pressing real world questions that need to be quickly answered because there are a number of additional advanced reactor companies now lining up in the NRC licensing queue. Some of these are recipients of significant federal investment.
Chief among the issues is whether the U.S. has a well-conceived strategy for how to advance the world’s second largest zero-carbon energy source. Or whether it intends to replicate on the nuclear front its COVID playbook of fumbling around in a crisis while praying for positive developments.
The next generation of nuclear energy is more than a technology program, there are financial, export, geopolitical, and global security issues that need to be managed as an integrated package along with the reactor. But it is completely unclear who, or which executive branch entity, is responsible for shepherding these new technologies through this complex, multi-faceted, and fraught process.
A second question is about the NRC and its processes. The NRC is widely hailed as the gold standard of regulatory bodies that other nations look to for precedent. That’s an important position of global trust that should not be relinquished.
However, there are thoughtful criticisms of the agency and whether it is adequately modernizing its licensing requirements to meet new realities. There also are expert recommendations for how to streamline licensing reviews for next-gen nuclear technologies without compromising quality. Even the Congress has directed the NRC to develop a better licensing framework for advanced reactors.
American policymakers need to understand that this regulatory process is not taking place in a vacuum or at a pace that they control. There are at least five other major democratic nation high-quality regulatory bodies, in Canada, the U.K., France, South Korea, and Japan, that are going to make judgements on the new nuclear technologies that are rapidly being developed by their national innovators.
Then there is the question of Russia and China. Their regulatory bodies are nowhere near gold quality. But they too are racing forward with small modular and advanced reactors that are well suited for export, including to meet developing economy nation’s energy needs. And they have the advantage of having cultivated many of these countries to smooth the acceptance of their technologies.
This is a crucial geopolitical competition, especially for an administration that is facing heightened aggressiveness from Russia and is locked in a fight for technological supremacy with China.
It’s importance is further intensified by the coming carbon tsunami from about two dozen developing economy nations. The response to this building wave of greenhouse gasses is expansive low-carbon energy, including new nuclear.
The U.S. is investing billions of dollars in a technology and infrastructure support system for next-gen reactors with even more parked in the moribund Build Back Better bill.
But if the U.S. can’t get a horse approved to run in this race, not only can’t it win the global market competition it could actively undermine the achievement of the nuclear governance advances that are required to assure the security and nonproliferation of the new reactors.
The final question is what signal Oklo’s rejection, however temporary, sends to the financial and investment markets.
Finance is the Achilles Heel of nuclear power. The almost certain decision of the European Union to include nuclear energy in its green investment portfolio provides cover to a financial community concerned with ESG investing to reconsider nuclear power. This could be the foundation of a powerful private-public partnership.
Coming out of COP 26 in Glasgow it is very clear that renewable energy is going to have to be undergirded by low carbon firm output. That is why China and a number of European nations announced new nuclear initiatives around the summit.
The U.S. can be central to this resurgence, but its nuclear innovation community needs a comprehensive strategy, an effective support system, and an experienced government sherpa to achieve success. None of this exists at the moment or is on the horizon. The result is a potentially paralyzing stumble out of the starting gate. 

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security 

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced $21.3 million in grants to 28 organizations, including the Partnership for Global Security, as part of its Nuclear Challenges capstone project. This capstone project will support diversity in the nuclear field, challenge nuclear deterrence theory, provide leadership at the nexus of nuclear and climate issues, and preserve organizations critical to the nuclear dialogue. This comes as MacArthur announced its plans to exit the nuclear field at the conclusion of the project in 2023. 
Nuclear Collaborations
Vietnam has announced that it plans to revive a project to build a nuclear research reactor with Russian assistance. The project—which includes Russian-designed research reactors, a multipurpose cyclotron, and research laboratories—is estimated to be constructed by the end of 2024.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), BWXT Canada, and Polish firm Synthos Green Energy (SGE) have signed a Letter of Intent to cooperate in the deployment of GEH’s BWRX-300 small modular reactors (SMRs) in Poland. The companies plan to deploy at least 10 BWRX-300 SMRs by the early 2030s, targeting the first to be operational in 2029.
Hyundai Engineering Company and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) have signed an investment and strategic business cooperation agreement. The agreement includes exclusive engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) rights to USNC micro modular reactor (MMR) projects for Hyundai, and a $30 million investment in USNC.
Last year the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (INMM) and the European Safeguards Research & Development Association (ESARDA) held an Industry Perspectives Plenary at the Joint Annual Meeting. PGS President Ken Luongo, alongside colleagues from the World Nuclear Association & Nuscale Power, discussed the necessity for collaboration between government, industry, and global civil society to accelerate the deployment of new nuclear energy. 
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The European Commission (EC) has delayed its decision on the inclusion of nuclear energy and natural gas projects under the European Union’s sustainable finance taxonomy until later this month. The taxonomy debate has reignited major disagreement, with Germany—and other EU nations such as Spain and Austria—criticizing the proposal as “greenwashing.” Alternatively, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, and France advocate for the inclusion of nuclear energy.
Germany has shut down half of the nation’s six operational nuclear power plants (NPPs), as part of its nuclear energy phase-out policy. This is being done as the German climate minister states that the nation faces a “gigantic” task and is not on track with its target to reduce emissions by 65% by 2030.
Polish company Polskie Elektrownie Jadrowe (PEJ) has selected a site for Poland’s first NPP at Lubiatowo-Kopalino in the Pomorskie province. An environmental impact statement (EIS) will be submitted to the General Director of Environmental Protection in quarter one of 2022, with the goal of an operational NPP in 2033.
The new Czech government has published its policy program that aims to phase out coal production by 2033. The government plans to increase the nation’s share of nuclear and renewable energy and has cited that its support for nuclear and renewable energy is “a priority.”
China National Nuclear Corporation has announced the connection of Unit 1 of the Shidaowan nuclear power plant (NPP) to the grid in December, marking the first deployment of a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) with a pebble-bed module into operation. Both Units of the Shidaowan NPP are expected to enter commercial operation by the end of June 2022.
China’s second Hualong One demonstration unit at the Fuqing NPP has officially begun supplying electricity to the grid in the Fujian province this month. The first demonstration unit, Fuqing Unit 5 entered commercial operation in January 2021. 
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has dismissed Oklo Power’s license application for its Aurora 1.5 MW fast neutron reactor. After the 22-month process, the NRC stated that the application “contain[s] significant information gaps in its description of Aurora’s potential accidents as well as its classification of safety systems and components.” The regulatory agency’s decision is not a rejection of the Aurora design and it has invited Oklo to submit the additional information.
Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Barrasso (R-WY) have introduced a bill entitled “Fission for the Future” to support the deployment of advanced nuclear reactors in communities that have been impacted by the retirement of fossil fuel facilities.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has launched the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations to support carbon-free technology projects related to advanced nuclear, direct air carbon capture, energy storage, green hydrogen, and industrial emissions removal. Of the $31.5 billion in federal funding, $2.5 billion will be for advanced nuclear reactor demonstration projects. 
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
China has reported that its Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) fusion reactor sustained a fission reaction for over 17 minutes, a new world record. This milestone “lays a solid scientific and experimental foundation towards the running of a fusion reactor.”
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has licensed its 3D printing methodology for components in nuclear reactors to USNC. USNC plans to incorporate this additive manufacturing technique to support the deployment of its advanced reactor designs.
In a new Foreign Affairs article, authors Toby Dalton and Ariel Levite of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discuss the state of the global nonproliferation regime and the signs of a system slowly becoming undone. The authors discuss some of the upcoming challenges facing the nonproliferation regime and what needs to be done to restore its role as a "bulwark of global stability."
Noteworthy Research
The DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has published its annual report, “Prevent, Counter, and Respond—NNSA’s Plan to Reduce Global Nuclear Threats,’ outlining the NNSA’s activities and key priorities for the fiscal year 2022 to 2026 in mitigating the risk of nuclear terrorism and proliferation. Of the key activities noted by the NNSA, the annual report also acknowledges its role in “enabling the development of nuclear energy and other peaceful uses of nuclear technology that will help support the efforts to combat climate change.”
The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has released a report entitled “Life Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Options,” which analyzes the full lifecycle environmental cost of various electricity sources, including wind, solar, coal, gas, hydro, and nuclear. The study finds that nuclear energy has the smallest environmental impact—related to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), human toxicity, water use, and other environmental and health metrics—out of all the sources studied.
In a new report from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the authors discuss four conceptual deployment scenarios for advanced nuclear reactors, examining how advanced nuclear heat sources can be configured, fabricated, and delivered to decarbonize global fuel and other commodity markets. 
The Nuclear Conversation
Global America Business Institute, January 12, 2022

Grist, January 11, 2022

Terrestrial Energy, January 11, 2022

Bloomberg, January 10, 2022

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 10, 2022

The Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2022

World Nuclear News, January 6, 2022

Nuclear Energy International, January 6, 2022

Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, January 4, 2022

The Washington Post, January 4, 2022

Energy for Growth Hub, January 4, 2022

Foreign Policy, January 3, 2022

POWER Magazine, January 3, 2022

Neutron Bytes, January 2, 2022

Forbes, December 28, 2021

CNN Business, December 27, 2021

The Globe and Mail, December 26, 2021

The Washington Times, December 20, 2021

The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2021
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