In this week’s issue, we discuss the next steps that the United States must take in order to truly compete in an emerging next-generation nuclear reactor export market. We also note a recent White House memorandum that calls for the acquisition of new nuclear-powered icebreakers. Finally, we draw attention to a recent report by Energy Systems Catapult, ‘ Nuclear for Net Zero ’, that examines the credible pathways available for significant reductions in the costs and risks associated with new nuclear projects in the U.K. 
Clawing Back Nuclear Markets Requires More Than Rhetoric
The U.S. is talking a good game about the global security importance of wresting the international nuclear market back from the clutches of authoritarian governments. But, despite the uptick in government prioritization, there is not yet a comprehensive and effective strategy for achieving that goal within a realistic window of opportunity.

The global nuclear turf fight is with two of the world’s most ruthless regimes, Russia and China, both of which present significant challenges to U.S. global influence and power. Russia already controls much of the world’s large reactor exports with $133 billion in foreign orders. China is establishing a beachhead for its technology in the U.K. and is currently constructing 4 reactors abroad.

As a recent U.S. government report noted, “the United States is entirely absent from [the] global new build nuclear reactor market with no foreign orders.” That market is estimated at $500-740 billion over the next 10 years.

This absence may be mitigated, as the U.S. is negotiating with Poland and Romania on new large reactors, is still in the running for the perpetually postposed reactor tender of Saudi Arabia, and could pick up the pieces if China makes good on its threat to withdraw from a U.K. nuclear project.

But the future for large reactors is shrinking and the next phase of the nuclear export game is competition over smaller next-generation technologies. This market represents a clean slate for U.S. technologies, competitiveness, and principles. But, achieving control or significant influence in that market will require careful and comprehensive preparation now because reactors could be ready for deployment in a decade. Already, Russia has deployed a floating reactor and China is progressing on its high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed reactor. They will not relent in the fight for future global markets.

It is in the face of this persistent competition that U.S. strategy is showing its fissures. A recent webinar and other discussions have identified several key gaps.

There is no doubt about the dedication of America’s energy and security agencies to the mission of resurrecting the nation’s nuclear competitiveness. There is much more activity now than in the past, and government experts are tackling difficult structural problems. However, two concerns have been identified. One is the need for a more effective weaving of agency activities in a comprehensive “whole of government” plan. The second is that the analytical and diplomatic foundation for the case against Russian and Chinese nuclear technology, and the responsive actions , are weak relative to the rising rhetoric about the danger.

Beyond government, the nascent next-gen reactor industry is fragmented, underfunded, and fiercely competitive. Without a clear strategy supporting deployment, it is focused on developing numerous technologies, hurdling the regulatory process, and identifying sustainable sources of High Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel. With those concerns paramount, the industry has less bandwidth to worry about the international requirements and landscape into which its technologies may be deployed. Building that awareness, capacity, and market cultivation is critical but not yet a high U.S. priority.

However, developing an international strategy that prepares the global market for novel nuclear technologies is an essential linchpin in the pivot to market control. 

The nation’s most likely to be interested in these technologies will have small electrical grids, growing populations, and climate change challenges. Small reactor developers are looking for a larger market than traditional providers because the deployments will be distributed and the price per unit is projected to be lower.

The target nations also are nurturing developing economies and wrestling with effective governance. But as the pressure for clean, distributed energy increases, many of them are questioning the need for decades of preparation before obtaining their first reactor. 

This situation mandates creative new thinking about public-private responsibilities, policies, and financing. Exporting nations and vendors are likely going to have to take more responsibility and provide more assistance to newcomer nuclear nations than was the case with previous generations of nuclear technologies. Financing probably will require deeper government involvement and risk mitigation. These evolutions need to be integrated into a sustainable cultivation and support strategy for purchaser nations that can pave the way for safe and secure deployment.

The international strategy also needs to include allied partners that can support both diplomacy and technology. The U.S. nuclear industry by its government’s own assessment is in a weakened condition. Even small reactors that are advancing toward demonstration require foreign technology partners . And as the U.S.-China competition intensifies, and Europe and Canada grow increasingly irritated with China’s arrogance, these allied nations collectively will need to present a more unified front in favor of democratic principles, including strong nuclear governance. 

The U.S. has made an important decision to reverse the erosion of its position in the international nuclear market for valid international security, geopolitical, and economic reasons. It may yet secure a few new large reactor sales, but the real game is in exerting strong control over the next generation reactor market. That window of opportunity is open now, but it will close quickly over the course of the next decade. To strengthen and hold its position for the future, the U.S. needs an effective, comprehensive strategy now. There is a lot of important activity at the moment but still plenty of disconnects that can short-circuit success. 

Ken Luongo, Partnership for Global Security

It’s Not Techno-Angst That’s Driving East Asia to Abandon Nuclear Power ’, a new report published in Foreign Policy, discusses the political dynamics in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan that have guided anti-nuclear power policy in East Asia.
Nuclear Collaborations
Rosatom has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with GE Steam Power and Framatome to participate in a tender for the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant (NPP) in Bulgaria. The project, which involves the construction of two Russian-designed 1000MWe Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs), has recently been revived after it was suspended in 2012. 

Last Energy, a U.S.-based investor, has invested an undisclosed amount into Fermi Energia as it moves ahead with its plans to begin building a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) in Estonia by 2021. The moves signals a growing interest in the civil nuclear industry by U.S. investors, particularly with regards to next-generation nuclear technology. 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has signed a $254 million contract modification with SNC-Lavalin’s Isotek Systems for the development of advanced nuclear fuel at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The collaboration requires Isotek to use material recovered from Uranium-233 for mostly medical purposes until at least 2024.

A recent agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) will renew cooperation on the use of nuclear energy for sustainable industrustrial development. In combining resources, the two entities hope that nuclear energy will be more broadly used to sustainably contribute to food, agriculture, water, environment, and trade industries, amongst others. 
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The Polish Minister for Climate, Michal Kurtyka, has issued a statement highlighting the benefits of nuclear energy as Poland looks towards the technology as part of its clean energy future. While assisting the country in its aim to achieve climate neutrality, Kurtyka stated in an interview last week, nuclear energy would also provide Poland with energy security and help to lower energy costs of the rapidly industrializing nation. 

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has become the world’s first utility to take an ownership stake in an SMR project, after forming a joint venture with U.S.-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) to build, own and operate a Micro Modular Reactor (MMR) at the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) in Ontario, Canada. 

The Rwandan Chamber of Deputies has voted to ratify an agreement with Russia on the construction of Rwanda’s Centre of Nuclear Science and Technology, originally signed in late 2019. The Centre will develop solutions for the use of nuclear energy across the energy, industrial, medicinal and research sectors, and represents the growing Russian nuclear presence across Africa. 

Rolls Royce is leading a consortium of U.K. businesses that have submitted proposals to accelerate the development of a new fleet of SMRs in Northern England. The calls could see a new fleet of indigenous British-designed reactors under construction in high-tech factories by the end of 2021, valued at an estimated £250 million. 

As South Africa edges towards renewing its nuclear power industry, its Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has issued a call for new information regarding a potential 2,500MWe of nuclear generation capacity. The move comes just weeks after the South African government announced plans to expand its nuclear capacity, which says that the information is necessary to gain insight into the cost, ownership, consumer benefits and sustainability of expanding the sector. 

In a blow to Russia’s civil nuclear export program, Armenia has rejected some funding from the Kremlin to modernize its Metsamor NPP. After the Russian government agreed to provide a $270 million loan and a $30 million grant for the plant in 2015, the Armenian government has announced that it will only use $107 million - or 60 per cent - of the dedicated funds. 
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) has approved a licensing application from California-based company Oklo for the construction of a 1.5MW reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory. The license application was the first for advanced nuclear fission technology, marking a breakthrough in the commercialization of advanced nuclear technologies. 

The DOE has announced more than $65 million in funding for nuclear energy research, awarding grants to 93 advanced nuclear technology projects. The awards fall under several DOE nuclear development projects, cutting across technology development, facility access, and infrastructure programs. 

Using $27 million in funding from the DOE, three teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will provide a framework for reducing operating and maintenance costs of advanced nuclear reactors. 

The Trump administration is working to allow international development funding to be spent on nuclear projects abroad, taking the first steps to overturn a long-standing ban. A proposal put forth by the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) would focus on providing reliable, carbon-free energy to developing nations that are witnessing rising demands for energy.

President Donald Trump has issued a Memorandum on Safeguarding U.S. National Interests in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions ’ calling upon the U.S. Coastguard to acquire nuclear-powered icebreakers. The move comes as geopolitical tensions flare in the Polar regions, particularly with Russia, which remains the only nation to possess nuclear-powered icebreakers. 

Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
Workers at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) have reportedly benefitted from a revamped employee concerns program, with TVA Nuclear Chief Tim Rausch stating that workers concerns are now more easily communicated to managers. Critics of TVA, however, argue that workers are being stifled in their attempts to raise queries about potential safety problems, calling for a thorough review from the NRC.
Noteworthy Research
Nuclear for Net Zero ’, a recent report by Energy Systems Catapult, analyses the credible pathways available for significant reductions in the costs and risks associated with new nuclear projects in the UK. The report recommends an expanded role for nuclear projects currently under construction, increased investment in Small Modular and Advanced Reactors, and the use of nuclear energy for industrial heating. 

The Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board has released a report, ‘ Achieving Net Zero: The Role of Nuclear Energy in Decarbonisation ’, that aims to support the UK government in identifying the full potential of civil nuclear technologies. Concluding that nuclear energy must play a far more significant role in the UK’s energy system, the report recommends that the UK must plan for nuclear energy to provide half of the nation’s low-carbon firm energy. 

The IEA’s ‘ Special Report on Sustainable Recovery ’ outlines a set of actions that can be taken over the next three years to improve economic growth while making energy systems more environmentally friendly. Amongst other recommendations, the report advocates for extending the lifelines of existing nuclear reactors and increasing investments into advanced nuclear technologies. 

The Nuclear Conversation
Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 17

Why Electricity Will Remain the Essential Ingredient for Human Flourishing
National Review, June 13

Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 12

International Energy Agency, June 12

Seeking Alpha, June 12
E&E News, June 9
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