In this week’s issue, we explore how the U.S. and South Korea can establish an effective foundation for nuclear energy cooperation with Saudi Arabia and prevent China from becoming the kingdom’s long-term nuclear energy supplier. We spotlight a mini-documentary on the resurgence of nuclear energy in the United States’ energy mix. We also highlight the impasse between Ukraine and the IAEA on the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Finally, we highlight key nuclear technology, security, and geopolitical developments, reports, and analyses.
Creating U.S.-Korean Cooperation on Saudi Nuclear Energy
The U.S. government is locked in a major political, technical, and security struggle with China. But its China objectives are mismatched with its approach to the international nuclear energy market in which China is a rising power. The most prominent example concerns Saudi Arabia.
The U.S.’ unproductive approach to Saudi Arabia’s Ahab-like quest for civil nuclear power has caused the kingdom to exclude it from its latest reactor RFP. China, along with Russia, France, and South Korea, were included on the Saudi list of approved bidders for the two 1400 MW reactors.
Of course, the worst possible outcome for the U.S. is for China to gain a nuclear power foothold in the Middle East. It raises nuclear security and proliferation concerns as well as impacting U.S. geopolitical authority in the region. And it could influence other nations to embrace China’s nuclear reactors, including smaller technologies suited for developing economy nations.
The threat of intensified China-Saudi cooperation is raising the hackles of key members of Congress.
With President Biden scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia in July, several House committee chairpersons sent a letter to the White House stating that “We urge you to make clear that [Saudi] partnership with China in ways that undermine U.S. national security interests will have a lasting negative impact on the U.S.-Saudi relationship.”
But it also embraced existing policy that, “any civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the Kingdom must not undermine the ‘gold standard’ contained in the U.S.-United Arab Emirates (UAE) [nuclear cooperation] agreement. We further expect that Saudi Arabia will adhere to the higher standards of transparency required by the [IAEA safeguards] Additional Protocol.”
The disconnect in this letter is that the current U.S. approach to the Saudi nuclear program isn’t working and doubling down on it increases the probability that the reactor award could go to China. This would significantly undermine “U.S. national security interests” in a very dangerous neighborhood for a very long time.
For example, the nuclear proliferation concerns animating the U.S. negotiating approach could be manifested under a Saudi-China deal. China’s export policies are less stringent, and an agreement would allow it to burrow-in deeply as the Saudi’s full service nuclear technology supplier.
If the U.S. is boxed out of the Saudi tender, a popular fallback position is to support the bid from South Korea. But there are significant impediments to that position.
One obstacle is the ongoing fight between the U.S.’ Westinghouse Corporation and Korea’s KEPCO over intellectual property and content in a Korean reactor. This conflict has been elevated from a commercial to a political dispute and been stalemated for over two years. The origin of the conflict is – Saudi Arabia.
KEPCO asserted that there was no Westinghouse content in its APR1400+ reactor and the U.S. company disagreed. The reactor is based on a Westinghouse design.
The reason for the KEPCO assertion was to escape from the requirement that there be a U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperation agreement and thereby unhook its sale from American policy and politics. Free of Westinghouse’s controlled content, the Koreans could deal unrestricted with the Saudi’s.
If the dispute is concluded in Westinghouse’s favor, however, and the Saudi’s want the Korean reactors that were built in the UAE, they will need to reach an agreement with the U.S. This agreement is necessary for Westinghouse technology to be exported to Saudi Arabia for inclusion in a Korean reactor.
Then there is another hitch. Korea’s past and present presidents have agreed to require the Additional Protocol (AP) as a prerequisite for cooperation with the U.S. on overseas nuclear market opportunities.
In May 2021, former Korean President Moon agreed to “adopt a common policy with the United States to require recipient countries to have an IAEA safeguards agreement Additional Protocol in place as a condition of supply of nuclear power plants.”
Last month, current Korean President Yoon agreed that the U.S. and Korea should “engage in global civil-nuclear cooperation in accordance with the highest standards of nuclear nonproliferation, including the IAEA Additional Protocol as a standard for both international safeguards and for nuclear supply arrangements.”
Saudi Arabia has rejected the U.S. request to accept the AP on the grounds that its inspection mandate is too intrusive. But, that rejection now limits the U.S. and South Korea as potential reactor vendors to the kingdom under their joint statements.
There is good reason to push Saudi Arabia to accept the AP. It is in competition with Iran, the nuclear program of which is unconstrained at the moment. And key officials of the Saudi government have stated that it would match Iran if it produced a nuclear weapon. This volatile situation undermines international confidence in the prevention of nuclear proliferation.
But the ‘gold standard’ is another matter. It forbids uranium enrichment and spent-fuel reprocessing under an agreement with the U.S. However, it has been applied sparingly in U.S. agreements, the UAE being one notable example. It is not a provision in U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements with either China or Russia, or many other nations. The Saudi’s have rejected this limitation.
Both the AP and the gold standard are designed to provide assurances that nuclear weapons are not being developed under the guise of civil nuclear programs. But insisting on both provisions can have unintended consequences.
The deadlock with Saudi Arabia over both of these issues tilts the playing field in favor of China and Russia, which won’t require either limit. That undermines the U.S. national security interests that the Congress has expressed so much concern about.
But there may be another path forward.
Part of the problem with previous nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is that they were conducted by the controversial Trump administration in the shadow of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Those poisoned politics created bitter domestic opposition to making a deal.
Now, however, there is a new administration, it recently reversed its position on calling Saudi Arabia a pariah state, and the Korean government has agreed to be a high-standards nonproliferation partner with the U.S. These evolved circumstances could provide a new political foundation for engaging with the Saudi’s, hopefully in a more productive, creative negotiation.
The alternative is to hand China an advantage and a potential nuclear foothold in the Middle East. That is a position it is very unlikely to relinquish and very likely to exploit to its advantage for a very long time.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

CNBC released a mini-documentary featuring PGS President Ken Luongo on the prospects for nuclear power to play a larger role in the United States’ energy mix and the changing geopolitics of nuclear energy. The video examines the history of nuclear energy and how numerous countries are moving towards adopting nuclear power as a reliable and emissions-free source of energy. It also assesses the current state of the United States’ nuclear power plants and the challenges facing their continued activity. While visiting the Idaho National Laboratory, the documentary interviews personnel working on the MARVEL microreactor design project and discusses the development of advanced reactor technology.
The Impact of the Ukraine Invasion on Nuclear Affairs and Exports
Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator, Energoatom, denounced a request by the IAEA to visit the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Energoatom stated that Ukraine did not invite IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi to visit the plant and had previously denied him such a visit. Ukraine maintains that any IAEA visit to the Zaporizhzhia power plant will only be possible when Ukraine regains control of the plant. Meanwhile, Grossi has been working on setting up an inspection of the plant for months, but has been unsuccessful in getting Russia and Ukraine to agree on the details.
Ukraine’s state nuclear firm, Energoatom, said it restored the internet connection between Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the IAEA. Energoatom stated that the connection to the plant’s servers was lost on May 30 but had been restored as of June 10. This allows the IAEA to resume monitoring data on the control of nuclear material at the plant.
The IAEA reported that most of the 39 radiation detectors in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone are back online for the first time since Russia seized the area on February 24. Additionally, the radiation measurements received thus far have indicated radiation levels are in line with those measured before the conflict.
The Biden administration is pushing lawmakers to support a $4.3 billion plan to buy enriched uranium directly from domestic producers in order to wean the United States off imports of Russian nuclear reactor fuel. The proposal aims to spur the development of more domestic enrichment and other steps needed to convert uranium into nuclear fuel. Energy officials also made the case that any interruption in the supply of Russian enriched uranium would cause operational disruptions at commercial reactors, and highlighted that the United States only has one remaining commercial enrichment facility.
Energoatom and Westinghouse have signed an agreement to increase the number of planned AP1000 reactors for Ukraine to nine, as well supplying all nuclear fuel for the country’s reactor fleet. The two companies also restated their plans for a Westinghouse engineering center in Ukraine to support construction of the new units. Energoatom announced earlier this year that it would stop using Russian nuclear fuel, making a full shift to using Westinghouse fuel.
The IAEA concluded its mission to Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone after carrying out planned nuclear safety, security, and safeguards activities there. During the three-day stay at Chernobyl, IAEA experts provided support to their Ukrainian counterparts on radiation protection, safety of waste management, and nuclear security. Ukraine has requested the IAEA’s technical assistance for this purpose, and the security of the facility was a top priority following Russia’s withdrawal from the facility on March 31.
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency reported that a shortage of spare parts at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant poses a threat to its safe operation. The agency revealed that an explosion from a Russian attack near the nuclear plant caused an oil leak. While Ukraine was able to repair the leak, they noted that there are almost no spare parts left and that stable operations of the plant could not be guaranteed.
Ukrainian nuclear power operator, Energoatom, denied a report that it might shut down the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant if it loses control of operations at the site. Interfax had cited a Ukrainian presidential aide as saying that the plant could be shut down if Kyiv lost all control. In response, Energoatom said the plant cannot be turned off from a technical, security, economic, or political point of view.
Nuclear Collaborations
Russian nuclear agency Rosatom announced the start of production of equipment for Egypt’s nuclear power plant in El Dabaa. The Russian announcement coincided with the visit of a high-level Egyptian delegation to Moscow. The Egyptian government signed an agreement with Russia to construct the first nuclear power plant in Egypt seven years ago, aiming to generate a total of 4,800 MW from four reactors.

South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) concluded an agreement with Westinghouse to jointly explore entering overseas large-scale nuclear power generation markets. KEPCO, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), and Westinghouse plan to draw up detailed plans by setting up a joint working group. This agreement builds on the announcement on U.S.-Korean nuclear cooperation made at the Biden-Yoon summit in May 2022.

Poland has issued a memorandum of understanding for its first nuclear power plant. U.S. engineering and construction firm Bechtel signed with two affiliates of Japan’s Toshiba to collaborate on the delivery of steam turbines and generators. Poland and the United States previously agreed on cooperating in the development of Poland’s civil nuclear power program in 2020.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) completed their joint technical review of Terrestrial’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR). Both regulators agreed in 2017 to cooperate in reviewing advanced reactors and small modular reactors (SMR). The intention is to commission the first power plants based on the IMSR within the next decade.

Rosatom has paused further cooperation with Norway on nuclear safety, ending a partnership lasting nearly three decades. Norway has spent over €2 billion helping Russia secure its nuclear dump sites and improving safety at its power plants, but recently froze all financing to nuclear projects with Russia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, Norway has said that contact channels, emergency preparedness, and information sharing would continue.

Vietnam power engineering consultancy PECC2, Denmark’s Seaborg, and manufacturer Siemens Energy examined the viability of floating nuclear power plants for electricity, hydrogen and ammonia production. The joint study outlines key steps and potential sites for the first modular floating power plant (MFPP) in Vietnam. Vietnam has considered establishing nuclear power generation since 1995, and Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade issued a trade report calling for the inclusion of SMRs in the country’s energy mix after 2030.

Brazilian nuclear energy company Eletronuclear and France’s EDF signed a new memorandum of understanding promoting cooperation in the development of nuclear energy projects. It is a renewal of the previous cooperation agreement from 2018 and expands the scope to include small modular reactors, hydrogen generation, and more research and development. The new agreement will be valid for another five years as Brazil continues its transition to carbon-free energy.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The United States, Canada, and several other countries have established a new partnership aimed at securing the supply of critical minerals such as nickel, lithium, and cobalt. The Minerals Security Partnership will aim to catalyze investment from governments and the private sector to produce minerals necessary for meeting emissions reduction goals. The U.S. government has been working with Canada to boost regional supply chains in order to counter China’s dominance in the minerals sector.

Russia installed the 340-ton VVER-TOI reactor vessel at the Kursk II nuclear power plant. The equipment was manufactured at the Atommash plant in Volgodonsk and was delivered to the Kursk site in September 2021. Kursk II is set to replace four RBMK units currently operating at the site, and Kursk II will be the first project to use the generation III+ VVER-TOI design.

According to a national energy system plan, the Dutch government is taking steps towards the construction of two new nuclear power plants. A scenario study is being conducted to determine how nuclear energy can be integrated into the Dutch power mix and will look into the cost efficiency of nuclear energy at the system level. The government’s coalition agreement at the end of 2021 stated that the country would aim to build two nuclear reactors after 2030 and extend the lifespan of the 485 MW Borssele plant.

The United Kingdom’s government bought an option to take a 20% stake in the Sizewell C nuclear power plant. The Sizewell power plant venture is jointly owned by EDF and China General Nuclear Power (CGN). The British government is keen to remove CGN from the project amid concerns over China’s involvement in critical U.K. infrastructure.

Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) announced that Unit 1 of the Shin Hanul nuclear power plant was connected to South Korea’s electricity grid for the first time. The reactor achieved first criticality on May 22, and the unit is scheduled to enter commercial operation later this year. The 1350 MWe pressurized water reactors were originally expected to enter service by 2018, but these dates have been repeatedly postponed pending modifications and safety checks by the Nuclear Safety and Security Committee (NSSC).

Iran has informed the IAEA that it will remove 27 cameras used by the agency to verify and monitor the country’s implementation of its nuclear commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi indicated his concern regarding Iran’s commitment to the agreement. Grossi had previously told the IAEA’s Board of Governors that the agency could not confirm the correctness and completeness of Iran’ declaration under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. The IAEA Board of Governors recently passed a resolution calling on Iran to fully cooperate with the UN Inspectors’ investigation into the three undeclared sites.

China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) poured the first concrete at China’s Tianwan nuclear power plant that will serve as China’s first nuclear energy steam supply project. Tianwan units 3 and 4 will create steam to be utilized by the Lianyungang Petrochemical Industry Base for industrial production. Total investment is estimated at $109.5 million, and construction is expected to take 24 months.

The governor of Japan's Shimane prefecture has approved the restart of unit 2 at Chugoku Electric Power Company's Shimane nuclear power plant. Shimane 2 is likely to be the country's first boiling water reactor (BWR) to resume operations, while other Japanese reactors restarted so far have been pressurized water reactors. Shimane 2 has been offline since 2012 following the Fukushima disaster, with Chugoku working to meet revised regulations and building a 15-meter-high sea wall to protect the plant from tsunamis.

The IAEA conducted its ARTEMIS review mission in Slovenia between May 22 and May 30. The mission concluded that Slovenia has a comprehensive and well-functioning system for used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste management, while also noting areas where Slovenia’s program could be further enhanced. Slovenia’s Agency for Radwaste Management (ARAO) hosted the mission, and the IAEA team will submit its final report to the Slovenian government in about two months.

South Korea’s government announced that it will spend $320 million over the next six years to develop next-generation small modular reactors (SMR). The investment decision comes as the science ministry’s project for developing an innovative SMR passed the preliminary feasibility study. Development will take place from 2023 to 2028, with the new SMR being designed to have a power capacity of 300 MW or less.

The UAE company Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) announced that 97% of the work has been completed on the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant. While the first two units are commercially operational, the third unit is in the operational readiness phase pending receipt of the operating license from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) is working in cooperation with South Korea's KEPCO to construct the power plant.

Czech power company CEZ and its subsidiary UJC Rez signed a memorandum of understanding for the establishment of the South Bohemia Nuclear Park. This project aims to accelerate the preparation and introduction of small modular reactors in the Czech Republic. Under the MoU, the signatories will undertake to cooperate in the preparation of SMR technology, the assessment of their energy, financial and technical feasibility, and the preparation of licensing.

Australian company Boss Energy Limited approved the final investment decision for the development of the Honeymoon in situ leech (ISL) uranium project in South Australia. The company said it will allow engineering, procurement, and construction on the site, with production set to resume in the fourth quarter of 2023. ISL operations began at Honeymoon in 2011, but the mine has been closed for maintenance since 2013.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The Department of Defense Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) has selected BWXT to manufacture and deliver the Project Pele Prototype Reactor to the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in 2024. BWXT will build the United States’ first prototype advanced nuclear microreactor. Project Pele is a partnership between the SCO and the Department of Energy to develop, prototype, and demonstrate a transportable microreactor that can provide a resilient power source to the DoD for a variety of operational needs.
California senator Dianne Feinstein wrote an op-ed for The Sacramento Bee calling on California to reconsider shutting down the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2025. Feinstein originally supported the planned closure of Diablo Canyon in 2016, but now argues that nuclear energy is a necessary energy alternative in addition to wind and solar to meet California’s ambitious climate goals. The power plant currently generates 15% of the state’s carbon-free electricity, and Diablo Canyon’s closing would remove nearly 10% of the state’ electricity generation.
The U.S. Department of Energy will begin testing of Clean Core Thorium Energy’s advanced nuclear fuel at the Idaho National Laboratory. Clean Core’s Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life (ANEEL) fuel uses a combination of thorium and high-essay low-enriched uranium (HALEU). INL expects to begin testing of the ANEEL fuel in its advanced test reactor by the end of 2022 or early 2023.
Westinghouse Electric Company and Bloom Energy Corporation announced an agreement to identify and implement large-scale clean hydrogen projects in the nuclear industry. Westinghouse and Bloom will pursue clean hydrogen production in the commercial nuclear power market and have said they will jointly develop an optimized, large-scale high-temperature integrated electrolysis solution for the nuclear industry. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Biden last year includes several hydrogen-specific projects.
According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, 45% of Americans expressed support for nuclear power, with 33% opposing the development of nuclear power. Those who supported nuclear power cited energy reliability and its importance as a low-carbon energy source while opponents cited the risk of nuclear meltdowns and concerns regarding nuclear waste. Among those who opposed nuclear power plants, 56% supported keeping currently operating plants open so long as new plants are not built.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
Nuclear fuel debris filters manufactured by Westinghouse Electric Sweden AB have been installed at unit 2 of the Olkiluoto nuclear plant in Finland and unit 3 of the Oskarshamn plant in Sweden. The filters are fully manufactured through 3D printing techniques and offer enhanced capture features to prevent debris from entering the fuel assembly. Westinghouse created the StrongHold AM filter in close cooperation with Finland and Sweden’s plant operators.
A consortium hoping to use heat from the United Kingdom’s proposed Sizewell C nuclear power station announced they have successfully completed a research and development project and are ready to construct a demonstration plant. The project is for a direct carbon dioxide capture plant that could potentially capture up to 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. The consortium’s goal is to utilize steam from the turbine installation at the Sizewell C power station when it’s operational.
The Norwegian shipbuilding company Ulstein has developed a design concept for a cruise ship fueled by a molten salt reactor. In the company’s concept, the 500-foot-long ship would generate its electricity with the onboard reactor and also serve as a charging station for a fully electric companion ship. Ulstein is currently exploring molten salt reactor technology to power its ships and believes that they could launch a fully operational nuclear-powered ship within 10 to 15 years.
Noteworthy Research
According to a new study carried out by Brattle Group and Carbon Free California, extending operations at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant would greatly reduce carbon emissions and help California reach its decarbonization goals years earlier than it otherwise would. The study examines how retaining Diablo Canyon could help meet California’s climate and reliability goals using Brattle’s gridSIM model and comparing the power plant’s current retirement date to a scenario where the plant’s operations are extended to 2045. The report comes at a time when Governor Gavin Newsom has indicated the government’s interest in exploring the option of retaining Diablo Canyon, which is the state’s only operating nuclear power plant.
In response to the National Academy of Sciences’ article on used fuel from small modular reactors, Terrestrial Energy published a letter documenting its problems with the article. Terrestrial’s letter points out several inaccuracies in the article regarding the Integrated Molten Salt Reactor, arguing that the IMSR provides numerous simple ways to limit thermal reactors from reaching the vessel and that the reactor will obtain burnup similar to current light water reactors. Terrestrial Energy finished their letter by stating that no industry takes full accountability for its waste stream as much as the nuclear energy industry.
The Nuclear Conversation
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.