In this week’s issue, we discuss the International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi's compelling statement on the new evolving nuclear challenges that the Agency must address. We also highlight a new report from the Atlantic Council on ‘Advancing US-ROK Cooperation on Nuclear Energy.’ that identifies practical pathways on which U.S. and South Korean commercial and government entities can collaborate. Finally, we draw attention to the recent Chinese and Russian domestic energy policy updates to vastly expand nuclear energy generation capacity. 
Grossi Gets Ahead of the Evolving Nuclear Agenda
Topping the list of necessary skills for an effective Director General (DG) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are the ability to walk a political tightrope, often without a net, while orchestrating multiple rings of the global nuclear circus.

Despite this taxing high-wire act, the new DG, Rafael Grossi, has decided that the job also requires a new skill set – vision. He clearly sees where the nuclear world is headed and is determined to get ahead of the trends.

This feature of his tenure became very apparent during a recent webinar, hosted by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, when he highlighted four key issues that require high-level attention and that will differentiate him from his predecessors.

The highest profile concern is the role of nuclear power in addressing climate change and supporting the global movement toward zero-carbon emissions by mid-century. The Agency entered into this debate in earnest with a Fall 2019 international conference on the issue.

But the most remarkable move was Grossi’s appearance at the United Nations (U.N.) Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) of the U.N. Framework Agreement in Madrid in December of that year. It was his first trip as the new DG and he made a stark declaration, “We came here with a clear message from the IAEA: nuclear energy is part of the solution to the climate crisis.”

Like everything else, the COVID pandemic disrupted Grossi’s post-COP plans, but he has stated his intention to again be present at the Glasgow COP scheduled for November of this year and is seeking partners to support this engagement.

Elevating the role of nuclear power as a part of the IAEA and COP missions received the support of the former Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz. During the webinar, Moniz said, “there are too many organizations, individuals, and countries that want to exclude nuclear” as well as other cutting-edge technologies that can reduce carbon emissions. He added, “having the agency out front in promoting that discussion on the nuclear side is really critical.”

Nuclear security is another issue that has had a high profile, particularly during the Obama-era heads-of-state Nuclear Security Summits (NSS). But its salience has fallen significantly in the post-summit period. This decline was partly attributable to the unfortunate inability of the summits to build a bridge for all stakeholders to continue to engage collaboratively on the agenda. It also was a function of Russia’s opposition to Obama’s initiative as well as the allergy of the Trump administration to its predecessor’s priorities.

But the reality is that there was not much oxygen left in the nuclear security silo if it could not link to more relevant global concerns, like the role of nuclear power in addressing climate change. Strengthening the link between these two issues and their connection to global security, has been the driving force behind the pioneering activities of the Global Nexus Initiative. In a sign that this policy intersection is rising in global relevance, it recently has been afforded a higher profile by a major U.S. philanthropic foundation.

Grossi asserted that the “heroic” phase of nuclear security is “behind us” while the “enormity of the challenge” posed by nuclear materials remains globally relevant. In his view, the new response requires that standards be raised through a depoliticized, agency-focused approach centered on specific situations and threats, including those posed by emerging technologies.

Looking forward, Grossi makes clear that he views the evolution of civil nuclear technology toward small modular and advanced reactors, “not with fear but with hope.” He noted that it is up to the IAEA to, “find the safety, and security, and safeguards, and nonproliferation practices” that will make possible the contribution of these new technologies to global economic, energy, and scientific advancement. One motivation is a constant stream of officials from developing countries that tell him “we need these reactors.”

In order to facilitate the safe and secure deployment of these technologies, Grossi is a strong proponent of engaging with the global nuclear industry. This has not traditionally been a priority or even a serious consideration for previous DGs. One of the legacies of the NSS process was the active participation of the nuclear industry and civil society, which hosted their own side summits. This engagement provided both communities with deeper and broader contact with the Agency than in the past.

These communities continue to be valuable to the IAEA, but Grossi has emphasized the importance of creating a relationship with industry. He noted that he has begun a “real, serious dialogue with industry” by talking with CEOs of major companies around the world because “we need to understand each other.” He concedes that building these relationships may be a difficult challenge, but he noted, “not impossible.”

The IAEA has serious responsibilities, many of them legacy issues of nuclear operations and nonproliferation challenges. But the global nuclear landscape is evolving rapidly and is being driven by new issues including climate change, novel technologies, and shifting alliances. The new DG seems to understand the importance of these new nuclear issues and that his legacy will be linked to how he manages them. His mission, he noted, “is about delivering results.” Acknowledging that there is a new nuclear agenda is a good start toward that goal.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

The Atlantic Council has released a new report on ‘Advancing US-ROK Cooperation on Nuclear Energy.’ The analysis recommends that commercial and government entities in the U.S. and the Republic of Korea (ROK) collaborate on third-country projects (especially those involving advanced reactors) and that both countries increase export financing for nuclear projects, cooperate on civil nuclear research endeavors like the U.S. Versatile Test Reactor, and strengthen commercial ties around next-generation technologies. 
Nuclear Collaborations
China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) have signed contracts for cooperation in fuel supply and the conversion and enrichment of natural uranium. The companies, which are also jointly developing the Hualong One, or HPR1000, pressurized water reactor (PWR), have expressed a desire to pursue further collaborative projects in the future.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Forum of Nuclear Safety and Security Authorities in G5 Sahel and Senegal (FASSN) have signed a cooperation agreement to strengthen regional nuclear security, particularly concerning threats arising from the “transboundary movement of radioactive materials and sources.”
GE Hitachi and Fermi Energia have signed a “teaming agreement” to support the potential deployment of a BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) in Estonia. This accord builds on the exploratory memorandum of understanding (MOU) that the two companies signed in 2019. Fermi Energia has also recently signed a MOU with Rolls-Royce looking into possible deployment of Rolls-Royce’s SMR technology in the same country.
Poland and the United States’ October 2020 civil nuclear agreement (NCA) has officially come into force. According to the responsible Polish diplomat, the U.S. now must prepare a technology and financing proposal within 18 months regarding Poland’s planned $18 billion investment in American nuclear technology and services.
Lithuania and Ukraine have agreed to establish a working group concerning the safety situation at Belarus’ Ostrovets Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). In a statement, Lithuania’s energy ministry asserted that the Russian-built station is a geopolitical threat and indicated the importance of ceasing Belarusian electricity imports and construction of the NPP’s second unit.
The Netherlands’ Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group, TU Delft, DIFFER, and Thorizon have joined forces to further the development of molten salt reactor (MSR) technologies. Thorizon, a reactor manufacturer, aims to launch a thorium-fueled MSR by 2035.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
China plans to increase its installed nuclear capacity to 70 GW by 2025, which would require the construction of approximately 20 new reactors. The nation intends to achieve its nuclear aspirations by constructing third-generation coastal nuclear plants and demonstration projects for SMRs and “offshore floating nuclear reactors,” and plans to build new “radioactive waste disposal sites and nuclear fuel reprocessing plants” to deal with the increased waste.
Rosatom has claimed that national energy plans will demand the construction of 24 new NPP units. Russia, which aims to achieve a 25% nuclear energy share by 2045, is currently building three units.
Rosatom plans to build five small-scale floating NPPs in Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula to serve the Baimskaya mining area. If granted permission for the project to move forward, the company intends to start constructing port infrastructure in 2023 for possible NPP completion in 2026.
Russia’s Rosatom has developed a new nitride uranium-plutonium fuel (MNUP) rod design for its BREST-OD-300 lead-cooled fast neutron reactor. The company is also creating second-generation fuel rods with a higher burnout level for the reactor. Both initiatives are part of Rosatom’s Proryv project, which aims to “demonstrate closing the nuclear fuel cycle.”
Russia’s TVEL has established a fuel production facility near Moscow for China’s CFR-600 sodium-cooled fast reactor, which is slated to begin commercial operation by 2023. The facility will also supply fuel for China’s CEFR fast reactors and Russia’s BN-600 fast reactor at the Beloyarsk NPP.
France’s nuclear safety authority will allow EDF’s thirty-two 900 MW reactors to run for fifty total years provided maintenance work and required modifications are performed and implemented as scheduled. Many of EDF’s fifty-eight NPPs, which had a set forty-year lifespan, were due to cease operations soon.
Romania’s Nuclearelectrica intends to commission Unit 3 of its Cernavoda NPP by 2031. Construction of the U.S.-funded project is slated to commence in 2024.
Japan’s JRR-3M research reactor is back online, with full operation due to resume in the end of June. The reactor was shut down in 2010 after a periodic inspection and received safety upgrades after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident.
Brazil’s Eletronuclear is accepting bids to resume “construction works” of its 1405 MW Angra 3 NPP. The company aims to begin in October, hire a contractor by late 2022 to finish building the plant, and connect Angra 3 to the grid in November 2026. Construction of Angra 3 was halted in 2015 amid corruption scandals. 
Unit 2 of Pakistan’s Karachi NPP (K-2) has achieved criticality. The 1100 MW K-2, which is the country’s first reactor with a generation capacity over 1000 MW, is scheduled to connect to the grid by the end of March. The reactor will “almost double” Pakistan’s installed nuclear capacity.
Poland may site an NPP at “Europe’s largest coal-fired power station” in Belchatow. The nation intends to site the first two or three out of a planned six Generation III or III+ pressurized water reactor (PWR) units in Lubiatowo-Kopalino or Zarnowiec, two cities near the Baltic coast. Poland hopes that construction of Unit 1 can begin in 2026 for deployment in 2033, with completion of the final unit in 2043. 
Germany has agreed to pay energy companies around $2.9 billion to account for lost profits from the country’s phase-out of nuclear energy, a settlement proposed after ten years of corporate litigation. The nation hopes to shut down the last of its 17 NPPs by 2022.
The United Arab Emirates’ Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation has awarded a license to operate Unit 2 of the Barakah NPP. Fuel loading in the aforementioned reactor is scheduled to “take place soon,” while Unit 1, which was connected to the grid in August 2020, will likely begin commercial operations this year. Construction of the NPP’s final two units is 94% and 87% complete, respectively.
The Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety will allow construction of two new units at the Dukovany NPP to move forward. The government hopes to connect the first reactor to the grid between 2035 and 2037, but energy legislation that would facilitate the issuance of tenders has encountered significant domestic opposition. Nevertheless, the project’s governing official has said that a final tender document will arrive in the coming weeks.
Turkey and Russia have laid the foundation for the third unit of the former’s Akkuyu NPP. The groundbreaking ceremony for the fourth and final unit is set for 2022, and the third unit is scheduled to become operational in 2025.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
House Democrats have introduced the CLEAN Future Act, which establishes a road path for achieving domestic carbon neutrality by 2050. The bill aims to limit greenhouse gas emissions to no more than half of 2005 levels by 2030 through the implementation of measures like a clean electricity standard, which would require utilities to provide an 80% clean electricity share by 2030 and an 100% share by 2035.
Virginia has released its nuclear energy strategy as the state continues to work toward decarbonization of its electricity sector by 2045 by facilitating the development of advanced generation sources and energy-storage technologies. The state is also considering a possible “generation mandate” for nuclear energy and a public-private partnership concerning SMRs or other advanced reactors.
In an interview with The Washington Post, the new Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, indicated support for the use of SMRs, which she noted should be “part of the national system.” Nuclear issues are also prominent in Congress, where legislation concerning uranium mining, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project, and nuclear technology licensing and financing modernization has recently been introduced or moved forward.
X-energy has signed the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) Cooperative Agreement, beginning its participation in “the $2.5 billion project to build the world’s first commercial scale advanced reactor.” X-energy plans to construct four operational Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) in Washington state within seven years.
Rosatom’s Uranium One has been granted an in-situ recovery (ISR) uranium mine permit to operate in Wyoming.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
The White House has released an ‘Interim National Security Strategic Guidance’ document in which the Biden administration acknowledges the new, evolving global security landscape. The administration claims that it will reestablish international credibility, leadership and cooperation to address emerging technological and geopolitical competition from China and Russia.
Russia continues to develop domestic accident tolerant fuel (ATF), as Rosatom has finished the second irradiation cycle of the experimental twenty-four element fuel assemblies with VVER and PWR fuel rods in the MIR research reactor. Rosatom is also working on uranium disilicide manufacturing for possible ATF use, which could facilitate “the introduction of longer fuel cycles without increasing the enrichment level.”
India intends to create a new cybersecurity strategy in light of possible Chinese breaches at the National Stock Exchange and in Mumbai’s electric grid. The plan aims to establish “protocols for prevention and audit” to protect “critical infrastructure,” within which nuclear would be considered “supercritical.”
Commonwealth Fusion Systems plans to start constructing its first test reactor, SPARC, at a site near Boston later this year. The Bill Gates–funded company hopes that the reactor, which could be operational by 2025, will “leap ahead” of projects like ITER, a multinational fusion endeavor, through its use of “small but powerful magnets, made from high-temperature superconductors.”
Removal of spent nuclear fuel from Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi NPP has been completed. This was the first spent fuel extraction from a reactor involved in the infamous 2011 disaster. The plant’s operating company, TEPCO, intends to begin comparable work on the 1000 collective spent fuel units in Units 1 and 2 no earlier than FY2024.
The IAEA has revealed that Iran has started enriching uranium with a third set of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its underground plant in Natanz, another violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The agreement only allows uranium enrichment with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, which are much less efficient. This comes as Iran has agreed to participate in technical meetings with the IAEA beginning next month regarding traces of man-made uranium found at three domestic sites.
The IAEA has stated that North Korea (DPRK) “has been showing signs” of operating a steam plant at a plutonium reprocessing facility in Yongbyon, sparking concern about possible fissile material production. 
Noteworthy Research
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the Nuclear Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) at Idaho National Laboratory have developed a Plant Parameter Envelope (PPE) tactic for advanced reactors. This approach could significantly reduce regulatory and vendor costs by shortening the mandatory National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process from around two to four years to between six and twenty-four months.
The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine have released a consensus study report, ‘Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid,’ that delineates necessary steps for the development of an American fusion pilot plant in the 2035-2040 timeframe. The authoring committee’s recommendations include the establishment of joint ventures like public-private partnerships to design and plan pilot plants and determine ideal technology utilization.
A new report from the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), ‘Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident, Ten Years On: Progress, Lessons and Challenges,’ concludes that Japan has made “significant progress” in implementing relevant technical and institutional nuclear safety reforms following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident. The NEA recommends the development of a multi-stakeholder–focused nuclear safety system, a larger focus on decommissioning technologies, specific waste management and disposal plans, damage compensation reforms, public decommissioning transparency and engagement, and knowledge management through debris examination.
The International Energy Agency has published the ‘Japan 2021’ Energy Policy Review, which recommends that Japan makes necessary investments to accelerate reactor safety reviews, restart NPPs deemed compliant with safety regulations, consider excluding the period in which reactors were idled and reviewed from the forty-year license period, and take steps to accelerate the decommissioning process.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has included the Department of Energy’s Contract and Project Management for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Office of Environmental Management in its ‘2021 High-Risk List.’ However, the GAO notes that the organization manages federal contracts more effectively than was found in the previous report published in 2019.
The Nuclear Conversation
Scientific American, March 9
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March 8
BloombergQuint, March 8
Power Engineering, March 8
World Nuclear News, March 8
RealClearEnergy, March 8
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March 8
S&P Global, March 8
Greentech Media, March 8
The National Interest, March 7
The Economist, March 6
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March 5
Council on Foreign Relations, March 5
Homeland Security Today, March 4
World Nuclear News, March 4
POWER Magazine, March 4
World Nuclear News, March 4
World Nuclear News, March 4
The Wall Street Journal, March 3
International Atomic Energy Agency, March 3
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, March 2
Power Engineering International, March 2
The Conversation, March 1
POWER Magazine, March 1
Global Compliance News, February 27
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, February 25
The Hill, February 23
The Wall Street Journal, February 19

Institute for International Science and Technology Policy, Feburary 5
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