In this issue, we highlight the Canada-UK Nuclear Cooperation Action Plan signed to promote greater dialogue and exploration of nuclear’s role in the clean energy system . We also note the latest developments in the DoD's mobile Advanced Microreactor program . Finally, we bring attention to a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency providing guidelines on the establishment and development of nuclear power for newcomer nations.
DoD Marches Forward with Micro Reactors
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) continues to advance a dual-track pincer movement designed to deploy small, land-based nuclear reactors to support its missions. If one or both of its approaches are successful, it will have a significant impact on the future of small modular and advanced reactors, potentially driving out doubts about the viability of the technologies. But there are numerous technical, legal, policy, and geopolitical challenges as this process proceeds, and the U.S. needs to play a leading role in addressing them.

There are multiple motivations for DoD’s interest in small reactors.

One, is the use in areas where U.S. forces are forward deployed. This can alleviate reliance on diesel fuel and its long and vulnerable supply lines. But it also can support the battlefield arsenal of the future including directed-energy (DE) and electromagnetic (EM) weapons that require “long endurance [and] energy dense power sources,” according to Project Pele . DoD, in April 2019, issued a Request for Solutions under this project for the first phase of a “small mobile nuclear reactor.” The project is being run out of the DoD Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO).

This week, it awarded three teams a total of almost $40 million to begin work on a mobile nuclear reactor with a power range of 1-5 megawatts. This decision begins a two-year design period that may result in one company being chosen to “build and demonstrate a prototype.” The reactor’s uniqueness, according to the project manager is in its mobility (40 metric ton weight limit), and safety (inherently safe with minimal operator involvement and using TRISO fuel . It also must be designed to minimize the risk of nuclear proliferation.

A second driver for DoD is powering domestic military installations. This parallel effort is being run by the office of the Undersecretary of Acquisition and Sustainment, and it is focused on a 2-10 megawatt reactor that could be built from commercial technology and be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The objective is to protect military installations from disruptions in the local power systems which could be subject to cyber or physical attack.

A third motivation is the challenge of nuclear geopolitics . The SCO director noted that “the United States risks ceding nuclear energy technology leadership to Russia and China” if it does not maintain its technological edge. In fact, the U.S. and its allies largely have ceded the gigawatt-sized light-water reactor (LWR) market to Russia, which currently accounts for two-thirds of the reactors under construction around the world. China is positioning itself to eat into the Russian’s lead in LWR exports, and both nations are gearing up for the battle for dominance over the next generation of smaller reactors.

In 2019, Russia launched a floating nuclear reactor with a power range of up to 70 megawatts, and China is considering building multiple floating nuclear power stations to support its bases in the South China Sea. This fight over next-gen nuclear power has significant implications for technological innovation, global competitiveness, international security, and clean energy.

A less publicized objective for the defense department is to decrease its liquid fuel usage and strengthen its contribution to clean energy and decarbonization. Defense activities consume roughly 30 terawatt hours of electricity per year and more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day. The expectation, according to DoD, is that this will continue to increase over time. But the department also is concerned about the impact of climate change on its infrastructure and missions. In a report requested by Congress the department identified numerous challenges it is facing from the effects of climate change.

The nuclear power initiatives that DoD is pursuing are largely being cast as support for its operations. But these projects will have implications beyond the Pentagon’s missions. There are technological questions about the development and availability of the new types of nuclear fuels that will be required for these reactors. There are concerns about the legal requirements for basing micro reactors in foreign nations. There are apprehensions about how adversaries will respond to their battlefield deployment. And, the governance system for these reactors, including the safety, security and non-proliferation requirements, are not yet well developed or even fully understood. These are challenges that must effectively be addressed, and it will be in the interest of international security if the U.S. and its allies drive the resolution of these issues. If they fail, authoritarian competitors including Russia and China, can seize control of the next generation of nuclear technology and its governance system. That will not be a desirable development for DoD or anyone else.

Ken Luongo, Partnership for Global Security

The Partnership for Global Security is supportive of the civil society initiative that calls for for a high profile nuclear presence at COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland. At this critical moment, using all technologies to decarbonize our energy systems are the actionable steps we must take in combatting climate change.
Nuclear Collaboration
A public-private alliance has been formed in New Brunswick, Canada, to promote the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other advanced nuclear technologies. The group will seek to make inroads into the cost and commercialization of new nuclear technologies indicating strong potential for co-financing between the public and private sectors in an increasingly competitive global race for nuclear innovation. 

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratories signed the Canada-UK Nuclear Cooperation Action Plan. This action plan includes exploring joint research projects and information exchange in an effort to promote greater dialogue and exploration of nuclear’s role in the clean energy system.

The U.S. and Poland have completed their third Strategic Dialogue on Energy as Poland prepares to court developers for its first ever nuclear power project. The project’s lead energy commissioner, Piotr Naimski, expressed Poland’s desire to expand nuclear power as a method of combating climate change: “We will have six to nine gigawatts in the nuclear sector by 2040 and 2045”. The meetings follow the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two countries in June last year. 

GE Hitachi (GEH) has submitted new plans to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for review. The plans are the first for GEH’s BWRX-300 SMR, which it claims has drawn considerable interest from potential international buyers. GEH is currently examining the feasibility of constructing one of these reactors in the Czech Republic. 

Over 140 IAEA member states have signed a declaration reiterating their commitment to building a more robust nuclear security regime. Signed at the third International Conference on Nuclear Security, the declaration reinforces the need for “threat mitigation and risk reduction measures” that stem from emerging threats like cyber attacks, and encourages signatories to minimize their Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) stockpiles.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
In a positive sign for its nuclear industry, China’s nuclear power output has continued to grow at a rate of 18 percent per year, according to figures released by China’s National Energy Administration. To meet its goal of 200GW of nuclear generating capacity by 2035, China currently has 12 new nuclear power plants (NPPs) under construction and a further 48 planned. 

A member of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, Ravi B. Grover, noted increasing African interest in the Indian pressurized heavy water reactor program. The African nations primarily interested, Grover states, have recently faced a decline in their hydroelectric power generation due to the adverse effects of climate change.

The Nuclear Industry Association has sent a confidential letter to the UK government arguing that the UK’s 2050 zero carbon emission target will not be met without a way to finance NPP deployment. This follows fears that the federal government will use the upcoming Budget to abandon an NPP financing scheme put forward by the treasury in 2019.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is moving forward with its plan to construct and demonstrate a prototype of a mobile Advanced Microreactor, awarding design contracts to three US-based nuclear companies. The agency intends to provide an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will identify the measures necessary to avoid, minimize or mitigate potential impacts of the reactor on human health or the environment. 

The Energy Impact Center’s (EIC) ‘Last Energy’ project has raised $3 million in its latest bid to modernize Pressurized Water Reactor designs. The project, which views cost overruns as the main inhibitor to the expansion of nuclear energy, seeks to make new plants cheaper and easily-deployable through a streamlined construction process.

California’s Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) introduced a bill to classify nuclear energy as an emission-free power source under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The RPS, which mandates 100% clean energy by 2045, excludes nuclear power from contributing to its emission-free plan despite its viability as a zero-carbon power source. 

Exelon’s Peach Bottom NPP in Pennsylvania is the second U.S. plant to get a 20-year license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
A Finnish research firm has launched a program to expand the application of nuclear power beyond electricity production to focus on district and industrial heating. The VTT Technical Research Centre is hoping to overhaul the country’s coal, gas and biomass heating systems with SMRs – a move that showcases the versatility of next-generation nuclear reactors.
Noteworthy Research
The IAEA has released a new report aimed at guiding the establishment and development of nuclear power for newcomer countries. Titled ‘Initiating Nuclear Power Programmes: Responsibilities and Capabilities of Owners and Operators’, the document outlines three distinct phases of obtaining civil nuclear capabilities in a bid to promote a regulated and uniform nuclear process. 

The CSIS Energy Security and Climate Change Program has released a report, The Changing Geopolitics of Nuclear Energy, analyzing how the changing market competition among the United States, Russia, and China will impact future geopolitical relations with nuclear recipient nations, and offering recommendations to continue U.S. commercial competitiveness in the global nuclear energy market.
The Nuclear Conversation
For more than two decades, 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.
1400 I (Eye) St. NW, Suite 440
Washington, DC 20005