In this week’s newsletter, we assess the nexus between nuclear nonproliferation norms and next-generation reactors. We spotlight a McKinsey Sustainability assessment of how nuclear power can address climate change and energy security challenges. Finally, we highlight recent developments in nuclear policy and governance, international collaborations, and geopolitics.
The Nexus of Nonproliferation Norms and Next-Gen Nuclear Energy
There are many cross currents coursing through the development process for next-generation small nuclear reactors including funding, regulatory approval, and technology demonstration. But one issue receiving little attention is the relationship between these new reactors and the global non-proliferation system.
The challenges posed by the adaptation of international nuclear safeguards and security requirements to these reactors is one set of significant issues. But other nonproliferation norms are intersecting with this technology’s advancement.
One issue was recently highlighted in a letter from non-proliferation experts to the DoE and NNSA opposing the proposed use of highly-enriched uranium to fuel the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE) at Idaho National Laboratory. HEU is a nuclear-weapon usable material.
The MCRE is a very small fast spectrum reactor and the proposed experiment is being funded by the DoE Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, Southern Company, and Terra Power. The reactor would produce about 200 kilowatts of energy, a minuscule output compared to typical nuclear power reactors. It would operate for a limited period and the purpose of the experiment is to “demonstrate the operation of molten fuel salts at temperatures” sufficient to prove performance, safety, and economic benefits of the fuel cycle when compared to conventional light-water reactors.
The problem, as described in the letter, is that the test would “use fuel containing more than 600kg of 93%-enriched, weapons-grade” uranium. This would violate U.S. government policy dating back to the Ford Administration to minimize the use of HEU in civil applications. It also would conflict with considerable U.S.-led work that has gone on for decades to convert research reactors around the world from HEU to low-enriched uranium which is not weapons-usable.
However, the difference between the 1970’s and the 2020’s is that the MCRE is being used to support advanced nuclear reactor technology that can be used to address climate change and achieve carbon reduction targets. This creates an uncomfortable face-off between “existential threats” - nuclear weapons vs. climate change – that currently is festering.
Another current example where nuclear proliferation policy and climate challenges intersect is in the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR). The VTR is another proposed test facility for irradiating advanced reactor components and qualifying fuels that would support the development of next-gen reactors. The Congress has been somewhat indecisive about the value to cost ratio of the VTR. But the only similar facilities exist outside the U.S., including in Russia.
The main non-proliferation concerns about the VTR are that its fuel would include plutonium and that it potentially could be configured as a plutonium breeder. Both issues pose a problem similar to the MCRE because it would conflict with the U.S. policy to minimize the use of weapon-usable materials in civil nuclear processes.
But VTR could use plutonium that has been declared excess to the U.S. nuclear stockpile under a now-suspended security agreement with Russia. This could aid arms control efforts by demonstrating the willingness to eliminate excess weapons grade materials.
However, this benefit may not be sufficient. Of the many options for the disposal of this excess 68 tons of plutonium, the most prominent was to mix it with uranium to produce power reactor fuel, a prior permutation of the VTR idea. The U.S. spent over $8 billion on this solution before abandoning it. And nonproliferation specialists opposed it.
A third example of nuclear nonproliferation and carbon reduction clashing is in the potential reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel for re-use in some next-gen reactors.
Oklo, an advanced reactor company, has a partnership with Argonne National Laboratory to commercialize technology that would recycle spent fuel with the goal of reducing the cost of creating new fuel for the company’s reactor. This pairing is backed by DoE.
Also, the Canadian company, Moltex, proposes to recycle CANDU spent fuel and this approach has been supported by its government. However, non-proliferation experts wrote to the Canadian government to express concern about their official support. The main concern is that “by backing spent-fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction, the government of Canada will undermine the global nuclear weapons nonproliferation regime.” The authors asserted that “saving the world from climate disaster need not be in conflict with saving it from nuclear weapons.”
But these examples make clear that the issues of nonproliferation and carbon reduction using advanced nuclear technologies are increasingly coming into conflict. And that clash needs to be addressed in a sound and balanced manner that serves the needs of both issues.
There are several new factors that need to be considered in this context. One is the dramatic change that has occurred in the global nuclear market since the 1970s and with the nuclear programs of Russia and China. Another is that a large segment of the world, representing about 6.5 billion people, is now rebelling against the U.S.-dominated rules-based international order and looking beyond American policy positions, including on nuclear issues.
These geopolitical realities, along with the pressing need for reliable clean energy, erode the once effective argument that U.S. nonproliferation policy is a beacon that other nations will follow. That may have been true in the past, but the power of this position is being diminished. And the weak position of the U.S. (and its allies) in the global nuclear market further saps this influence.
Russia continues to dominate nuclear fuel and reactor exports, despite its horrendous attacks on civil nuclear facilities in Ukraine. And its generous financial and operating package for newcomer nuclear purchasers is unlikely to end.
China is poised to lap the U.S. in domestic reactors operation likely by mid-century. This will be viewed symbolically in developing economy states as a significant technological achievement by a nation that once struggled with the economic, energy, and population problems that they now face.
Also, both Russia and China are very active in developing for export small advanced nuclear reactors, some of which may use weapon-grade fuels. Both countries also are supportive of spent fuel reprocessing. And they collectively dwarf the U.S. and its democratic allies in energy and infrastructure engagement with the developing economy world. This sets the stage for reactor transfers from them to new countries that would ignore U.S. policy imperatives.
These realities require a change in strategy.
Pressing nuclear policy ideas primarily on North American and European governments is convenient but Russia and China are more likely to be the global reactor developers and exporters to new countries. To counteract their advantages, and the potential dangers, there needs to be much more intensive U.S. engagement with the wide swath of nations that are impacted by climate change and interested in small nuclear reactors.
Rethinking relationships and expanding engagement among estranged partners is also essential. The non-proliferation community, both governmental and civil society, is not well suited for evaluating the macro-level risks, conflicts, and tradeoffs required to balance nuclear non-proliferation and carbon reduction. Similarly, the next-gen nuclear reactor development and climate change communities are not well versed in evaluating nuclear proliferation and weapons dangers. These communities need to engage more and tussle less.
This situation also requires that the academic and institutional systems that produce subject experts also develop the multidisciplinary expertise and skill sets needed to cut across silos and support the effective management of an increasingly complex, messy, and integrated global environment.
Choosing nuclear weapons or climate change as the top global threat is a losing proposition. A conflict between the two is unnecessary and unsustainable. Both will remain global imperatives and that will require balancing risks and rewards. But the structure for adjudicating these tradeoffs is in its infancy.
Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

McKinsey Sustainability published an analysis arguing that nuclear power should be part of the global transition toward carbon-free energy, but that doing so will require the nuclear industry to step up. The assessment identifies numerous challenges facing the future deployment of nuclear power plants, including the complexity and variation of reactor designs, scarcity of skilled personnel, a limited industrial base for materials, systems, and components, and complex and changing regulatory requirements for plant construction. In order to ensure the nuclear industry can meet these challenges, McKinsey Sustainability proposes numerous actions. These include aggressively reallocating public and private capital to the nuclear sector, innovating faster to keep pace with other technologies, streamlining and speeding up the global licensing processes, and creating an industrial base that will strengthen U.S. competitiveness in the energy transition.
The Impact of the Ukraine Invasion on Nuclear Affairs and Exports
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi proposed a set of five principles to safeguard the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant this week at the UN Security Council. Neither Russia nor Ukraine committed to respect them, though Russia’s ambassador to the UN claimed that the proposals were in line with measures that his country has been implementing for some time. His five principles included that there should be no attack on or from the plant and that no heavy weapons (such as multiple rocket launchers, artillery systems and munitions, and tanks) or military personnel be housed there. Grossi also called for off-site power to the plant to remain available and secure; for all its essential systems to be protected from attacks or sabotage; and for no actions that undermine these principles. Concerns grew after the plant lost external power for the seventh time on May 22nd.
On May 26th, Ukraine’s defense ministry said that Russia was planning to simulate a major accident at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in an attempt to interrupt Ukraine’s upcoming counteroffensive. According to the ministry’s intelligence directorate, Russia would announce a radiation leak after shelling the plant, thereby forcing an international investigation and a cessation of hostilities. The Ukrainian statement provided no evidence for its claim. President Putin made a counter accusation that Ukrainian forces are planning a “dirty bomb” attack at the plant.
Russian military forces are enhancing defensive positions in and around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant ahead of the expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the region. According to eyewitnesses, new trenches have been dug around the nearby city of Enerhodar and more mines have been laid. Russian forces also have had firing positions set atop some of the plant’s buildings for several months.
The Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, which hosts a small research reactor, has been heavily damaged by repeated Russian strikes. Evaluations stated that many buildings on the site were beyond repair. Although the reactor was put in a “deep subcritical” state at the start of the war, Institute staff said that a radiation leak could spread for six miles, covering a population of 640,000. No radiation has leaked so far.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained two Ukrainians for attempting to blow up power lines at two of Russia’s nuclear power plants. Explosives were placed on pylons at the Leningrad and Kalinin plants. The attack had been planned for the eve of Russia’s Victory Day, May 9th, commemorating its victory in World War II. The FSB said that the attackers were working for Ukraine’s foreign intelligence service.
Nuclear Collaborations
Romania’s NuScale small modular reactor (SMR) project is poised to receive up to $275 million from US organizations as well as financial support from Japan, South Korea, and the UAE. The U.S. Export-Import Bank will provide $99 million, with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation considering additional support of $3 billion and $1 billion. The announcement was made at the recent G-7 meeting in Japan. NuScale and RoPower Nuclear are currently conducting a FEED phase 1 study to analyze its preferred site for the first VOYGR-6 plant: funding will support phase 2 which includes securing licenses, authorizations, and long-lead items for the project.
Westinghouse, Bechtel and Polskie Elektrownie Jądrowe (PEJ) signed a new agreement setting a plan for delivery of Poland’s first nuclear power plant. The agreement defines the scope of responsibilities for each firm. It also stipulates that design work can start later this year with the construction contract to be completed in 2025. The plant would aim to produce energy starting in 2033.
General Atomics and U.K. company Tokamak Energy have agreed to collaborate in the area of high temperature superconducting (HTS) technology for fusion energy and other industry applications. Tokamak Energy’s roadmap is for commercial fusion power plants to be deployed in the mid-2030s. The plan is for completion of ST80 HTS in 2026 to demonstrate the full potential of HTS magnets and to inform the design of its fusion plant, ST-E1.
The Bulgarian government intends to commission French company Electricite de France (EDF) to analyze the feasibility of completing two Russian-ordered reactors at its Belene plant. The project has struggled since the participation of Russian companies is now politically impossible. The next step is for EDF to offer terms and a price for completion of the project. Otherwise, the government will look for buyers for the equipment that has already been delivered.
Over a dozen Japanese companies have invested over $80 million in the UK-based company Core Power, which aims to develop a floating molten salt reactor. The company is now majority-owned by Japanese companies including Onomichi Dockyard and Imabari Shipyard. The company received DOE research funding last year as part of a study into the development of floating nuclear power plants in the U.S.
Japan's Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC), comprising nine utility companies, announced it will work with France's Orano on demonstration R&D for the reprocessing of used mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. Japan does not currently have a domestic reprocessing capability but aims to establish one in the late 2030s. The group of utilities also hopes to have at least twelve reactors using MOX fuel by 2030.
The International Nuclear Regulators’ Association (INRA) released a joint statement affirming their commitment to collaborate on generic design assessment and licensing of SMR technologies. INRA members agreed to make bilateral and multilateral arrangements to providing advice and guidance and sharing regulatory evaluations. The nine members are Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US.
France is intensifying nuclear cooperation with Mongolia, focused on uranium extraction, as part of efforts to diversify its energy supply. France’s Orano is developing a mine in the country, while a joint venture between Areva and Mongolian company Mon-Atom has obtained licenses to exploit uranium deposits. French President Macron also expressed interest in helping the country transition from carbon-intensive industries toward greener alternatives.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The Netherlands’ government officials have earmarked more than $350 million to fund further development of nuclear energy in the country, including extending the operating license of the 485 megawatt (MW) Borssele Nuclear Power Plant. The current Dutch coalition government has stated that nuclear power should have a prominent role in the country’s energy and climate policies, with the Borssele plant being the only operating power plant in the country.
Taiwan is considering keeping its nuclear power plants on standby in case of emergencies such as external blockades by China or a serious natural disaster. Taiwan has plans to phase out its last remaining atomic plant by 2025 as it is moving towards gas-powered and offshore wind generation. This is the first time that the government has signaled the possibility of retaining its nuclear plants.
An IAEA team arrived in Tokyo for a final review of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant before Japan begins releasing treated radioactive water into the ocean. The team met with officials from the Japanese government and the plant’s operators, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco). The IAEA’s subsequent report found that Tepco’s had demonstrated its capabilities for accurate and precise measurements of the radionuclides present in the treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi site.
On May 31st, Japan passed a law allowing its reactors to operate beyond sixty years. Although the age cap will technically remain at sixty years, operators can take advantage of exceptions after approval from the country’s nuclear safety watchdog. The new rules allow operators to exclude shutdown periods when counting total years of operation.
Iranian state media reported that the country has resolved IAEA questions about its Marivan site where undeclared nuclear material (uranium) was found in 2020. It was not immediately clear what Iran had done to address the organization’s concerns. Inquiries into two other sites remain ongoing. The IAEA has not confirmed this report but is set to release its quarterly report on Iran this week.
The IAEA conducted its Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) in the Czech Republic. The IAEA team found that the Czech Republic is committed to maintaining and strengthening its robust regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety. The team also made several recommendations and suggestions to further reinforce continuous improvement and enhance the Czech regulatory system and the effectiveness of the regulatory functions in line with IAEA standards.
The Russian-owned Baltiysky Zavod signed a contract with Atomflot for the construction of a multifunctional nuclear technology service vessel which can load and unload nuclear fuel from reactor units of nuclear icebreakers and floating power units. The multifunctional vessel is also designed to safely accept, store, and ship generated liquid radioactive waste. Russia is in the process of rolling out a new fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers under Project 22220.
Canada announced it has made progress in refurbishing two of its reactors. Fuel loading has been completed at the Bruce 6 reactor ahead of schedule, keeping the project on track to resume operation later this year. Additionally, Canada’s nuclear regulator gave the go-ahead for Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to restart the Darlington 3 reactor.
Argentina’s hopes to begin repairs at its Atucha II unit next month, which has been closed since last October. In preparation, Nucleoelectrica has completed special tools for the procedure as well as a full-scale model of the reactor. The repair plan is currently under review by the country’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority.
Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor has been forced to significantly cut back its output after the market price for electricity in Finland dropped below zero cents per kilowatt-hour (kWH). According to TVO communications manager Johanna Aho, cutting back on nuclear power production due to excessively low electricity prices is very rare but not unheard of. The Olkiluoto 3 reactor began regular electricity production in mid-April.
Europe’s Nuclear Alliance has called for nuclear energy to provide up to 150 gigawatts of Europe’s electricity capacity by 2050, up 50% from the current capacity. The alliance claims that should the European Union follow through with deploying 30 to 45 new large reactors and developing small modular reactors, it can expect an increase of some $99.6 billion in its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, plus the creation of an additional 300,000 jobs. The Nuclear Alliance is a group of 16 pro-nuclear countries led by France, with Italy and the United Kingdom as observer members.
Hungary received European Commission approval to amend its contracts with Rosatom for new reactors at its Paks Nuclear Power Plant. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the Commission approved the amendment of contracts to speed up the investment of the project. Hungary previously signed an agreement with Rosatom to build two new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant using Russian technology.
Rusatom - Additive Technologies showed off a new 3D printer capable of printing large components of nuclear reactors. The technology is intended to reduce costs and manufacturing time. The printer can produce products with a diameter of up to 2.2 meters and a height of 1 meter.
According to the head of French nuclear watchdog ASN, France needs to boost its nuclear industry with more skilled workers and investment to keep its fleet of nuclear plants safe. Bernard Doroszczuk stated that plans should include anticipated checks at existing plants to make sure they will be safe in the next 15 to 20 years, as well as recommending that water temperature limits for reactor cooling be more closely monitored. Last year was marked by major outages at Electricite de France’s (EDF) facilities due to stress corrosion and a summer drought that led to production cuts.
The Panstwowa Agencia Atomistyki (PAA) declared GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) to be compliant with Polish nuclear safety and radiological protection standards. As part of the review, the PAA analyzed aspects of the BWRX-300 technology such as hazard identification reactor protection against internal and external hazards, requirements for the reactor control room, safety containment systems, and reactor core design requirements. Orlen Synthos Green Energy had submitted their application to the PAA in July 2022 for an assessment of the BWRX-300.
China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) commissioned a seawater uranium extraction test platform in the South China Sea. CNNC said its new marine test platform has the ability to carry out material verification and amplification experiments in real ocean conditions. The company added that the test platform will eventually form a seawater uranium extraction scientific research base together with a research and test center.
China has suspended plans to build floating nuclear reactors in the South China Sea. Final approval has been withheld for a mega platform intended to power remote islands and infrastructure in the region, with safety and feasibility cited as the top concerns for authorities. Both China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation have been actively conducting research and development work on floating nuclear power plants for the last 10 years.
The IAEA signed several agreements with Chinese entities on May 22nd. These included cooperation on SMRs, nuclear fusion, nuclear data, and fuel cycle and waste management. Agreements were signed during a visit by IAEA head Rafael Grossi, during which he met many high-level officials and visited nuclear facilities across the country.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to send legislation to the House floor that would ban imports of Russian-enriched uranium that have not received a waiver through 2027, and prohibit them after that point. The House bill would ban U.S. imports of enriched uranium produced in Russia, permitting the Department of Energy to issue waivers if there is no alternative supplier available to a U.S. nuclear plant and the import is determined to be in the national interest. A parallel bill was already passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It is not yet clear when either will receive a floor vote.
The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee passed the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act of 2023, introduced by Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch in March. The ADVANCE Act will facilitate America’s nuclear leadership worldwide, develop and deploy new nuclear technologies, preserve America’s existing nuclear energy infrastructure, and strengthen America’s nuclear fuel cycle and supply chain infrastructure.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced that 8 U.S. companies developing nuclear fusion energy will receive $46 million in taxpayer funding to pursue pilot plants attempting to generate power from the fusion process. The Energy Department’s Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program hopes to help develop pilot-scale demonstration of fusion within a decade. Projects may last up to five years, with future funding totaling $415 million contingent on congressional approval and engineering and scientific milestones.
An electric-powered prototype of the MARVEL microreactor has successfully been installed at the Creative Engineers Inc. (CEI) manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania, with testing beginning as soon as July. MARVEL will be the first new test reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in more than four decades and promises to advance research and development of microreactor designs. The MARVEL is a sodium-cooled microreactor that will generate 100 kilowatts of power and is expected to begin operation by the end of 2024.
Advanced nuclear reactor firm Oklo will build its second and third commercial Aurora Powerhouse reactors in southern Ohio. Oklo announced it signed an agreement for land owned by the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI), a DoE community reuse organization. The company is targeting a power production time frame as soon as 2028.
Georgia Power Co. announced that Unit 3 at the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant has reached its full output of 1,100 megawatts of electricity. Operators are conducting further testing to prove they can run the reactor in ways required for operations. The fourth reactor has also finished a key testing phase and operators expect to start loading radioactive fuel between July and October of this year.
The Illinois General Assembly has approved a bill that would repeal the state’s decades-old moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction. SB 0076 deletes language in the Illinois Public Utilities Act that forbids nuclear plant construction in the state, with the amendment also requiring that any new power reactor must be an “advanced nuclear reactor” as the term is described in federal law. The bill will now move to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk for consideration.
The LENOWISCO planning district and Dominion Engineering Inc. released a Site Feasibility Study for potential small modular reactors (SMR) in Virginia. The project team reviewed seven preliminary sites within Lee, Wise, and Scott counties, declaring the region to be competitive for the development of an SMR. The Virginia Department of Energy has touted southwest Virginia as an ideal location to develop advanced nuclear technology, with Governor Glenn Youngkin hoping to make Virginia the nation’s leader in SMR technology.
Noteworthy Research
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report pressing the Department of Energy (DoE) to take actions to fully implement the Insider Threat Program. According to the report, DoE has failed to implement seven required measures for the Insider Threat Program because the Department has not integrated program responsibilities or identified or assessed resource needs. The GAO recommends that the DoE track and report on actions it takes to address reviewers’ findings and recommendations, establish a process to better integrate program responsibilities, and assess resource needs for the program.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) released a report summarizing ten key steps to creating a fully decarbonized power system in the United States. Among the key steps recommended include investment in emerging clean energy technologies, a rapid increase in clean energy and storage deployment, more domestic manufacturing, and changes to the energy industry’s market and operations. The report also defines nuclear power, among other energy sources, as clean energy generation.
Independent research consultancy Wood Mackenzie published a report arguing that the biggest economic hurdle facing the deployment of advanced reactors and small modular reactors (SMR) is cost. According to its estimates, conventional nuclear power currently has a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) at least four times that of wind and solar power, which the industry will need to address in order to meet global demand for carbon-free energy. However, Wood Mackenzie believes that nuclear power should play a central role in the decarbonization of many countries.
The International Energy Agency released a new World Energy Investment report. It found that almost two-thirds of the $2.8 trillion set to be invested globally in energy this year is expected to go to clean technologies including nuclear. For every dollar invested in fossil fuels, $1.7 now goes into clean energy. Investment in nuclear generation will reach $63 billion this year, up $10 billion from last year. However, almost all of the increase in clean energy investment is concentrated in advanced economies and China.
The Nuclear Conversation
News items and summaries compiled by:

Patrick Kendall, Program Manager, Partnership for Global Security

Alex de Ramon, Della Ratta Fellow, 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.