In this week’s issue, we offer a nuclear agenda for the April summit between U.S. President Biden and South Korean President Yoon. We spotlight the Biden administration’s new memorandum to counter weapons of mass destruction terrorism and bolster radioactive material security. Finally, we highlight key nuclear technology, security, and geopolitical developments, reports, and analyses.
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A Nuclear Agenda for the Biden-Yoon Summit
The red carpet is being rolled out in Washington for the second U.S.-South Korea summit between Presidents Biden and Yoon. It will be held in late April and include a rare state dinner. This pomp reflects the growing importance of South Korea and its role as an essential ally in a region that is increasingly the centerpiece of U.S. global policy.
A major agenda item at the summit will be the overall nuclear relationship between the two countries. The North Korean nuclear and missile program inevitably will dominate the discussion as it is a rising danger that has numerous radiating impacts.
However, both nations would be wise to launch a detailed discussion on how to strengthen their deteriorated commercial nuclear relationship, which is a less publicized source of current bilateral conflict, and which holds promise for bolstering the two nation’s geopolitical alignment if it can be repaired.
The newly published Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community states that, North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, “almost certainly views nuclear weapons and ICBMs as the ultimate guarantor of his autocratic rule and has no intention of abandoning those programs.”
That assessment severely limits the diplomatic maneuvering room for any potential deal with the DPRK to limit its arsenal. Denuclearization seems a distant dream under the current circumstances. And this pessimistic situation has exacerbated bilateral tensions.
It has intensified the latent interest in South Korea for acquiring its own nuclear weapons. In January, Yoon stated that if the situation on the Korean peninsula became more dangerous, “we could acquire our own nuclear weapons.” That assertion was quickly qualified with additional comments from the president’s office noting the country’s commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which creates a barrier to nuclear weapons development. But the idea of an independent South Korean nuclear arsenal has public support.
The intensifying tension on the peninsula also has raised concerns about the strength of the U.S. guarantee to protect South Korea, including with the use of nuclear weapons, in response to an attack from the North. It relatedly has ratcheted calls for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, which were removed in the early 1990s.
In an effort to shore-up the extended deterrence commitment and beat back the enthusiasm for nuclear weapons based in South Korea, both nations have made a more visible display of their joint capabilities and announced the largest military exercises in the past five years.
It is certain that Biden and Yoon will not solve the North Korean nuclear challenge when they meet. But they do have the opportunity to make progress on other essential nuclear issues.
A critical area is to re-establish deep mutual trust in the commercial nuclear relationship.
The last several years have witnessed a freeze in U.S.-Korean civil nuclear cooperation because of a dispute between commercial nuclear giants, Westinghouse and KEPCO, over intellectual property in the Korean APR-1400 reactor and its relation to U.S. export controls.
This issue needs to be resolved expeditiously, and preferably before the April summit. It is the key to reconfiguring the commercial nuclear partnership on a more equal basis. But the wounds that have been created by the deep disagreement have left scars.
Competition between the nuclear industries of both countries for a share of the global nuclear market will be an area of continuing contention and it must be better managed. As nuclear energy becomes a viable option for decoupling Europe from Russian fossil fuels, a source of energy security for other nations, and a recognized zero-carbon energy source, the international market for nuclear technology will expand.
There needs to be a new understanding between the U.S. and South Korea on how to manage this competition without it once again boiling over and scalding an essential partnership.
Both nations have mutually dependent supply chains for their large-scale reactors. So, either nation will gain financially if the other wins a reactor tender. But both could suffer if mutual antagonism weakens their bond and opens reactor export opportunities for Russia or China.
There also is a danger that as a result of the intellectual property rift, South Korea will begin to drift away from partnership with the U.S. on next-generation small modular and advanced reactors. Right now, the U.S. is leading that technology race, but it is dependent on Korean financial and supply chain support. And South Korea is edging closer to the United Arab Emirates as a financing partner for nuclear technology development and export.
If South Korea were to make a concerted effort to strengthen its position in the small reactor market, it could seek to design its technology in a way that avoids U.S. export controls. That could create a security gap between the two nations in evaluating whether countries are fully prepared for nuclear power, including their willingness to accept high levels of nuclear security and a full range of safeguards. The Westinghouse-KEPCO fight was started over a very similar issue related to Saudi Arabia. This situation can’t be replicated.
Despite the challenges, and assuming the Westinghouse-KEPCO issue is settled before the summit, there are five other areas where the U.S. and South Korea could cooperate and potentially announce new initiatives at the summit.
Both countries need to jointly assess the strengths and weaknesses in their nuclear partnership in order to rebalance their cooperation and competition in the international nuclear market. A fundamental reality is that South Korea is no longer a junior commercial nuclear partner. Therefore, this discussion should focus on export opportunities, assess supply chain issues, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each country and include commercial as well as government officials. 
In addition, there needs to be engagement that builds a clear understanding of the joint commitment to require the nuclear safeguards Additional Protocol as a condition of supply in third countries. The agreement to do this has been codified in two bilateral summit statements, which are political commitments, but are not legally binding. Defining the parameters and implementation mechanisms of this commitment can alleviate potential political and commercial conflicts, as occurred with Saudi Arabia.
Also, the High-Level Bilateral Commission (HLBC), created by the 2015 U.S.-Korea nuclear cooperation agreement, should be revived but evolve to meet present day concerns. This forum was designed to address challenging issues at a high level. But the results to date have been disappointing. One critical issue to address is the actions necessary to dethrone Russia as the dominant global nuclear reactor and fuel exporter and prevent China from replacing it. This may require a range of cooperation including technology partnerships, developing fuel products that can replace Russian offerings, and creating advanced reactor test facilities that now only exist in Russia.
Further, the two nations should join forces on the development of the nuclear security and safeguards guidelines that will be required for small and advanced reactors that use exotic fuel cycles. It already is clear that some reactor designs, including those using molten salt and TRISO fuel, will not fit well within the current safeguards parameters of the IAEA. Those rules were designed primarily for large reactors where every fuel element can be counted. There also are novel nuclear security aspects of this next generation of reactors that need attention.
Finally, the two nations could take a page from the recent French initiative to build an alliance of EU states that advocate for nuclear energy as a climate change and energy security response. This idea could be expanded globally with the joint support of the U.S. and South Korea. An expanded concept could link the EU nations and others including Canada, the U.K., Japan, and India in a global nuclear alliance supporting zero-carbon power, energy security, and strong nuclear governance.
The Biden-Yoon summit is an important pivot point for U.S.-South Korea nuclear relations. The inability to halt the DPRK nuclear and missile program is a major challenge that is creating new tensions. But there also is corrosion in the relationship resulting from the deterioration of what was once a sterling civil nuclear partnership. Reestablishing the strength of this civil nuclear alliance is essential for addressing climate change, building energy security, upholding high nuclear governance standards, and preventing authoritarian nations from dominating global nuclear trade in this century. This is a large and important agenda with serious implications.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

President Joe Biden signed National Security Memorandum 19 to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Advance Nuclear and Radioactive Material Security. This new strategy advances several of the President’s national security priorities, including protecting the U.S. and the international community from the existential threat posed by WMD terrorism and preventing non-state actors from using WMD materials. The memorandum also prioritizes efforts to protect and permanently dispose of weapons-usable materials and transition from high-activity radioactive sources to alternative technologies when feasible.
The Impact of the Ukraine Invasion on Nuclear Affairs and Exports
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi published a statement to the Board of Governors on the ongoing situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. In his statement, Grossi announced that the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant lost all off-site power when its remaining 750 kilovolt line was disconnected, the first time the power plant lost all power since last November. In response to this violence, Grossi called on the IAEA and international community to commit to protect the safety and security of the plant.
Ukrainian authorities claim that the condition of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant continues to deteriorate. According to Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom, Russian soldiers have recently set up machine guns on the grounds of the plant, placed military equipment in engine rooms, and even carried out indoor welding work that has set off fire alarms. Last week, the IAEA said that the plant’s situation was precarious, warning of continued blasts audible from the plant.
The changeover of IAEA staff at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has taken place following a month-long delay. The experts had to make part of the journey across the frontline by foot in order to get to and from the power plant. Energoatom blames Russia for the delays.
The IAEA’s goal of establishing a security zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant encountered complications over differences between Russian and Ukrainian officials. Russian diplomat Mikhail Ulyanov stated that talks on a security zone are losing momentum, while Ukrainian energy minister German Galushchenko said that diplomatic steps to return the facility to Ukraine have reached a dead end. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has been pushing for the establishment of a safety and security zone around the Russian-occupied power plant to reduce the risk of damage to the facility.
The U.S. State Department identified numerous Russian individuals and organizations for economic sanctions, including those involved in Russia’s nuclear sector. Among the nuclear organizations targeted are the Joint Stock Operating Organization of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Rosatom construction subsidiaries Energospecmontazh JSC and Trest, and the Troitsk Institute. However, Rosatom itself is not included in these sanctions.
The IAEA published a new report, Nuclear Safety, Security, and Safeguards in Ukraine, focusing on the impact of Russia’s invasion on Ukraine’s nuclear energy sector and the efforts of the IAEA to minimize the risks of damage to nuclear facilities. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Gross summarizes the key events of the past year, which has seen several of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities come under direct shelling.
Nuclear Collaborations
Energy ministers from 11 European Union member states have called for a strengthening of European cooperation in the field of nuclear energy during an informal Council of Energy Ministers meeting. The ministers agreed to foster closer collaboration between their national nuclear sectors in order to ensure cooperation across supply chains and to explore joint training programs. They also discussed the possibility for increased scientific cooperation deployment of best practices in the field of safety.
Westinghouse signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bulgaria’s Kozloduy NPP-Newbuild to initiate planning for the potential deployment of AP1000 reactors. The working group will evaluate regulatory, licensing, and design issues to ensure full compliance with applicable regulations, as well as a streamlined execution path to enable Bulgaria to achieve its nuclear energy goals. Kozloduy recently signed a 10-year agreement with Westinghouse to supply nuclear fuel to one of the existing units starting in 2024.
Romanian nuclear utility Nuclearelectrica S.A. selected SNC-Lavalin Group member Candu Energy to conduct further pre-project work for the Cernavoda Unit 1 reactor. The two-year mandate, worth roughly $65 million, will see SNC-Lavalin perform long lead and front-end engineering services for Nuclearelectrica. This work is in preparation for the upcoming Cernavoda 1 refurbishment project, which will see the reactor’s operating life extended to 2060.
French nuclear power group Electricite de France (EDF) and Italy’s Ansaldo Energia are assessing potential cooperation in the development of nuclear energy in Europe. Under a letter of intent signed between the two organizations, the cooperation would support EDF’s new nuclear projects, with a particular focus on small modular reactors (SMR). The agreement also aims to restart a debate on the role of atomic energy in Italy, which ceased using nuclear-generated power in 1987.
The U.S. Department of Energy, the U.K.’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), and Andra have pledged to develop collaboration on the successful decommissioning and remediation of legacy nuclear sites. This collaboration includes the deactivation and decontamination, decommissioning and dismantling of facilities, long-term waste management solutions, and education and training of young professionals.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community. The issues outlined in this report include China’s construction of hundreds of new ICBM silos, Russia’s use of energy as a foreign policy tool to coerce cooperation, Iran’s increasing stockpile or highly enriched uranium, and North Korea’s commitment to further expanding its nuclear weapons arsenals. The report also states that the expansion weapons stockpiles and their delivery systems pose a significant threat to global nonproliferation efforts.
In December 2022, Russia delivered 6,477 kilograms of nuclear fuel enriched over 20% to China’s fast-breed reactor on Changbiao Island. U.S. intelligence officials warn that the CFR-600 reactor could produce weapons-grade plutonium that could help Beijing increase its stockpile of warheads as much as four-fold in the next 12 years.
According to the IAEA, uranium particles enriched to near bomb-grade levels have been found at an Iranian nuclear facility. The IAEA confirmed that particles enriched to 83.7% purity, close to the 90% enrichment levels needed to make a nuclear bomb, were detected at Iran’s Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP). Additionally, Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched up to 60% has grown from 25.2 kilograms to 87.5 kilograms since the last quarterly report.
The Canadian government has launched a program to support the commercial development of small modular reactors (SMR). The Enabling Small Modular Reactors Program provided $21.8 million of funding over four years to develop supply chains for SMR manufacturing and fuel supply and security, as well as to fund research on safe SMR waste management solutions.
The third reactor of the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant started its commercial operations. This adds 1,400 megawatts (MW) of nuclear electricity to the UAE’s electrical grid, boosting Barakah’s total production to 4,200 MW. The power plant’s operator, Enec, is now one unit away from completing the four-unit Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant and realizing its commitment to deliver up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity demand.
European Union countries intend to push for a global phasing out of fossil fuels among their climate diplomacy priorities this year, which the bloc hopes to approve this week after rewriting a contentious section on nuclear energy. The approval has been delayed by disputes over the role of nuclear energy in the transition, with disagreements centering on whether EU diplomacy should promote low-carbon nuclear hydrogen or focus on hydrogen produced from renewable energy. The latest draft did not specify which type of hydrogen the EU would promote.
Rosatom Director General Alexei Likhachev announced that nuclear fuel will be delivered to Turkey’s Akkuyu nuclear power plant site this Spring, with construction to be completed in the third quarter of this year. The Akkuyu power plant is Turkey’s first nuclear energy plant, with Rosatom building four VVER-1200 reactors.
Turkey is set to receive a $40 billion investment as the country plans to establish a second nuclear power plant in the Sinop province. The plant will consist of four pressurized water reactor units, with Turkey planning to commence excavations at the site this year after finalizing negotiations with technology companies. So far, Korea Electric Power Corporation has presented Turkey with a proposal to build the four reactors.
The IAEA conducted its ARTEMIS mission to Slovakia at the request of the Slovakian government. The team concluded that Slovakia is committed to the safe and effective management of radioactive waste and used fuel, while also noting opportunities for the country to enhance preparations for geological disposal. Some of the recommendations included that the government should decide on undertaking further work on geological disposal and that the National Nuclear Fund establish procedures for the timely and regular updating of the national program for radioactive waste and used fuel management.
Japan is considering bringing forward construction of a prototype fusion nuclear reactor according to a report from Nikkan Kogyo. A government panel will discuss speeding up the process by five years. Further details of the plan to move up construction of Japan’s first fusion reactor will be decided around 2025 during an interim check-in.
The European Utility Requirements (EUR) organization formally certified Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power’s (KHNP) APR1000 reactor design as compliant. The EUR requirements cover a broad range of conditions for a nuclear power plant to operate efficiently and safely. For KHNP, the acquisition of the final EUR certificate enhances the possibility of winning orders for nuclear projects in European countries.
The first nuclear reactor pressure vessel arrived at the Hinkley Point C power station in the United Kingdom, it is for the first of two reactors to be installed at the site. The reactor pressure vessel is the first to be built for a British power station for more than 30 years. Power generation at Hinkley C is expected to start in June 2027.
Belgium’s nuclear regulator, FANC, has advised the government against a life extension of the country’s three oldest reactors. FANC found that the government’s proposal was too complex, would pose safety concerns, and require additional nuclear fuel and mandate amendments to Belgium’s nuclear regulatory framework. Instead, the regulator proposed adjusting the life extension plans of the newer Doel 4 and Tihange 3 reactors so that safety upgrades are staggered.
A strike at Electricite de France (EDF) has led to a roughly 2.1 gigawatt drop in nuclear electricity output capacity of French nuclear power plants. According to EDF data, the strike affected production at four nuclear reactors at the Tricastin power plant, as well as that of the second reactor at Flamanville. The EDF workers’ walkout started well ahead of planned strike action against government reforms which would raise the country’s minimum retirement age.
The board of Rössing Uranium Ltd. approved an extension of the Rössing uranium mine’s operating life until 2036 following the completion of a feasibility study. In 2021, the majority shareholder, China National Uranium Corporation (CNUC) began a study to evaluate the feasibility of extending the life-of-mine beyond 2026.
Belarus is considering an organization for radioactive waste management and plans to build a radioactive waste storage facility by the end of the decade. The new organization will oversee the pre-project, design and survey work, as well as the construction of a radioactive waste storage facility to be put into operation by 2030. Belarus’ first nuclear power plant at Ostrovets is close to completion, with the second unit’s trial connection to the grid likely to happen in the next two months.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The Biden-Harris administration released the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2024. In it, the administration requests $52 billion for the Department of Energy for critical and targeted investments to promote economic growth and sustainable energy. The budget requests over $1 billion for the Fusion Energy Science Program to help unlock the full potential of commercialized fusion energy. Additionally, the budget requests $23.8 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the largest request in NNSA history.
Georgia Power announced that the Vogtle 3 AP1000 nuclear reactor has safely reached initial criticality. The reactor’s power output will now be raised to prepare it for synchronization to the electric grid, and the start of electricity generation. Georgia Power currently projects the in-service date for Vogtle 3 to be in May or June of this year.
A consortium of cities in Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, and Nevada will continue with the NuScale Power Corp. small modular reactor project at the Idaho National Laboratory. The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) approved the project’s budget and finance plan despite a 53% increase in the target price from the previous estimate. The next step is an application to construct and operate the plant, which is expected to be submitted to the NRC early next year.
Dow Inc. and X-energy have agreed to develop and demonstrate the first grid-scale next-generation nuclear reactor, the Xe-100, at one of Dow’s sites on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The X-energy plant will provide a Dow facility with process heat and power to make products. The agreement includes up to $50 million for engineering work, up to half of which is eligible to be funded through the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP).
Westinghouse Electric announced it will submit key licensing reports for its planned microreactor to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for joint review. The eVinci microreactor, which received $12.9 million from the Department of Energy in 2019, is designed to provide about 5 megawatts electrical (MWe) for eight years or longer without refueling and will be factory built and assembled before shipping.
The Biden administration announced it is offering $1.2 billion in aid to extend the life of distressed nuclear power plants. The funding comes from the Department of Energy’s Civil Nuclear Credit program. In this round of program funding, the money is available to both plants at risk of closure within the next few years and for plants that have stopped operating after November 2021.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued annual letters to the nation’s operating commercial nuclear reactors assessing their 2022 performance. Of the 93 reactors currently in the agency’s Reactors Oversight Process, 87 reached the highest performance category in safety and security. An additional six in the second performance category will need to resolve one or more items of low safety significance, with regulatory oversight including additional inspection and follow-up of corrective actions.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has granted an exemption allowing the two units at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant to continue operating while the agency considers Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s (PG&E) application to renew the plant’s license. Normally, NRC regulations allow a reactor’s operating license to remain in effect beyond its expiry date provided that the licensee has already applied for a renewal at least five years prior to expiration. However, the NRC told PG&E in January that they would need to submit a new application, thus requiring an exemption to continue operating.
The Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station in Oswego, New York has begun hydrogen production with the completion of the first-of-its-kind nuclear hydrogen facility. This milestone is part of a $14.5 million cost-shared project between the Department of Energy and Constellation to demonstrate how nuclear power plants can help lower the cost and scale-up the production of clean hydrogen.
Texas-based energy company Vistra Corp. announced its acquisition of Ohio-based Energy Harbor Corp. in a $3.4 billion deal that includes ownership of three nuclear power stations. Energy Harbor currently operates two nuclear power plants in Ohio and another in Pennsylvania. Vistra will add about 4,000 megawatts of nuclear power generation capacity to its portfolio after the deal is completed, which is expected to take place in the second half of this year.
Holtec International filed a second application for funding through the Department of Energy to reopen the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant. Holtec previously applied for federal Civic Nuclear Credit funding to reopen the plant, but was denied in mid-November. This time, Holtec is applying for funds from the Department of Energy loan office. The Palisades power plant has been closed since May 2022.
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) and Urenco USA announced an enrichment services supply agreement as part of the fuel supply program for UNSC’s Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR). UNSC will purchase enriched uranium product (EUP) from Urenco USA for the manufacture of TRISO particles and fully ceramic microencapsulated fuel via USNC’s planned joint venture with Framatome. The first batch of EUP is slated for delivery to the USNC-Framatome fuel manufacturing venture in 2025.
Noteworthy Research
An annual report from the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) claims that nuclear power is losing ground to renewables in terms of both cost and capacity as nuclear reactors are increasingly seen as less economical and slower to construct. The report states that building nuclear power facilities is far slower for countries looking to reduce their carbon emissions, as well as more expensive than renewable alternatives. In response to this study, the World Nuclear Association argued that other studies have shown that nuclear energy has a proven track record in providing new generation faster than other low-carbon options.
The Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) released a report collecting data on gender balance in the nuclear sector in NEA countries. The overall goal of this study is to understand female workforce representation, career trajectories, and challenges facing women in the sector. The NEA provides numerous recommendations on how to attract women into the sector, retaining and supporting women currently working in nuclear energy, advancing and developing women as leaders, and using data and accountability to implement these recommended actions.
The Energy Communities Alliance (ECA) published a report urging the Department of Energy to prioritize finding disposal pathways for the radioactive waste it is obligated to clean up. The ECA is calling for renewed focus and action by the DoE to develop disposal solutions for some of its most pressing waste types, including waste resulting from former spent nuclear fuel reprocessing activities, high-level waste and spent fuel, and greater-than-Class C low-level waste. The alliance also recommends that the DoE take action to ensure sustained engagement and support from communities that could host these disposal options.
A new article from Scientific American focuses on the management and disposal of highly radioactive waste from small modular reactors (SMR). The report argues that advanced reactor designs will not save the United States from the need to build geologic repositories for nuclear waste and may make waste disposal worse in some cases by creating new kinds of complex waste that is more costly to manage. In response to these concerns, the report recommends that the United States follow the pathway set out by the 2012 Blue Ribbon Commission and the Stanford/George Washington University expert panel.
The Nuclear Conversation
Reuters, March 8
Wirepoints, March 8
CNN, March 7
Real Clear Energy, March 6
Scientific American, March 6
The Conversation, March 5
Canary Media, March 3
Newsweek, March 3
The Stimson Center, March 3
Barron’s, March 2
Power Mag, March 1
Wired, March 1
Project Syndicate, February 28
New Day Post, February 27
The Washington Examiner, February 27
Wired, February 27
Politico, February 23
CT Insider, February 22
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.