In this week’s issue, we discuss opportunities for the U.S. to build an effective and necessary response to China's Belt and Road Initiative by repositioning itself as a clean energy technology leader. We also highlight new data from the Energy Information Administration illustrating that more electricity was generated from nuclear than coal in the U.S. last year. Finally, we note the Department of Defense’s selection of two advanced reactor companies to continue development of a final microreactor design under Project Pele.
Responding to the Belt and Road Rout
It’s a bad sign for the free world when a headline blares, “China is convinced that America is in decline.”

There are many reasons why China’s leadership could consider America to be a fading superpower, but certainly, one is its inconsistent and insufficient response to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) over the past eight years. This has spanned two administrations and both parties.

A new, detailed report from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) states that “[h]undreds of projects around the world now fall under the BRI umbrella” as it has expanded from a regional to a global initiative. And that “U.S. inaction as much as Chinese assertiveness is responsible for the economic and strategic predicament in which the United States finds itself.”

The CFR analysis recommends that the U.S. not “respond to BRI symmetrically, attempting to match China dollar for dollar or project for project.” Instead, it should be strategic in leveraging its core strengths and work with like-minded nations with a particular focus on technology development and governance strengthening.

The report makes myriad sensible recommendations. But a serious campaign to challenge the dominance of BRI needs a starting point. The energy area is one opportunity for the U.S. to begin to reverse the rout of BRI in the developing economy world. 

Many of the BRI energy projects support nonrenewable power sources. Among the renewable energy projects hydropower dams predominate. The wind and solar projects are much smaller. So far there are no nuclear projects.

Large-scale nuclear power already provides 30% of the world’s low-carbon electricity and the technology will be necessary to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century. But Russia now dominates that large reactor export market.

So, one opportunity is to leverage the U.S. lead in the development of smaller, next-generation nuclear energy. It is a gap in the BRI portfolio, a rare area of bipartisan political support, and an area where the U.S. needs to maintain a technological edge for national and global security purposes. 

But the U.S. will have to change its business model if it wants to effectively compete for this next-gen market. According to the CFR report, the BRI countries value the “ease of dealing with a single group of builders, financiers, and government officials,” a package of partners the U.S. has not been very successful in assembling for nuclear power projects.

An interesting new article makes several important points that could help the Biden team mount a better BRI counter-offensive in the energy sector. It argues for a U.S. clean energy industrial policy that would support the domestic economic “Build Back Better” objectives of the administration as well as position the country as a clean energy technology exporter.

Industrial policy is not the pariah concept it once was now that the COVID pandemic has ravaged the American economy and highlighted the irresponsibility of overdependence on offshore supply chains. Even free market republicans have warmed to the idea as a means of more effectively competing with China.

To be successful, however, the process will require sustained government, private sector, and other stakeholder alacrity, cooperation, and investment. This will inevitably raise cries of favoritism for nuclear power. But, as the article’s author noted, “the energy sector has never been free of government intervention.”

Taking advantage of this opportunity also will require mounting a campaign to nail down the most likely next-gen nuclear markets, preparing those nations for the technology’s deployment, and assembling the range of policies and coalitions necessary to support this effort.

That kind of leadership needs to come from the top of the administration.

The Biden team is in the process of preparing more ambitious climate targets for an April summit and is assembling a reported $3 trillion infrastructure package that will offer massive clean energy technology expansion. These are opportunities to pull together the investment, policy development, market cultivation, and government-wide integration that are necessary for success of U.S. next-gen nuclear.

The alternative is China’s continued BRI coal plant exports that will lock “countries into decades of carbon intensive growth,” an outcome that is anathema to the administration’s zero-carbon objectives.

During the U.S.-China meeting this month, the communist party’s foreign policy chief declared that, “The United States does not have the qualification…to speak to China from a position of strength.” That is a stunning slap in the face and a challenge to the globe’s leading democracy.

Coupling China’s assertiveness with perceptions of a fading superpower can be lethal to the global balance of power and the economic interests of America and its allies. This precarious position can be fleeting if the administration can construct an effective and strategic response to BRI beginning with clean energy. It won’t be easy, but it can build economic opportunity at home, strengthen the cohesion of a divided nation, and reposition the U.S. as a global technology and governance leader in the developing economy world.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Strategic Capabilities Office has selected BWXT Advanced Technologies and X-energy to continue development under Project Pele to demonstrate their microreactor prototypes. One company may be chosen after a final design review in early 2022 and the completion of environmental analysis. The initiative is meant to address increasing DOD electricity demand and produce a reactor that will generate 1 to 5 MW of power for at least three years.
Nuclear Collaborations
World Nuclear Association and the ASEAN Centre for Energy have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen regional cooperation and capabilities in the areas of nuclear energy technology and science and establish the framework for future domestic nuclear power programs.
Westinghouse has launched a bid to supply its AP1000 reactor technology for Poland’s first nuclear power plant (NPP) as part of the civil nuclear agreement (NCA) with the U.S. Poland plans to install six to nine GW of capacity from generation III or III+ pressurized water reactors (PWRs) by 2043.
Egypt’s Petrojet has signed a teaming agreement with South Korea’s Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), Kepco E&C, Hyundai E&C, and Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction to help train local nuclear power technicians and experts and assist in the general construction of the El Dabaa NPP. Egypt has contracted Russia’s Rosatom to build four VVER-1200 PWRs at the site.
The Sizewell C consortium, a group of British businesses, has signed a MoU pledging to invest £4.4 billion in East England if the country’s planned Sizewell C NPP moves forward. Stakeholders hope that such investments would help develop regional jobs and skills.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
Russia has included nuclear power in its draft green taxonomy. The document is modeled after the European Union’s Taxonomy of Sustainable Financing, but has been tailored to serve the Russian economy.
Rosatom and officials from Armenia’s Metsamor NPP will form a working group to help push for a ten-year plant life extension. The Soviet-built 420 MW station, which produces around 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity, is currently scheduled for decommissioning in 2026.
Political disputes over possible Russian involvement in the tender process to build a new unit at the Czech Republic’s Dukovany NPP is preventing it from moving forward. CEZ has noted that it would prefer a “political agreement,” but domestic security services and opposition parties have positioned themselves against the nation’s pro-Russian president, the Czech Industry Ministry, and CEZ’s Chief Executive. The tender, which is planned to take about 18 months, is estimated to be worth around $7.17 billion.

Unit 2 of Pakistan’s Karachi NPP has been connected to the national grid. The 1100 MW China-supplied PWR is scheduled to begin commercial operation by the end of May.
England’s Hinkley Point B NPP will be allowed to restart power generation. The site’s two reactors will run for twelve months (contingent upon further approval) before entering the defueling phase. The NPP was taken offline in 2020 to inspect the reactors’ graphite cores.
Japanese courts have issued mixed verdicts concerning the restart of domestic reactors. Judges lifted the injunction pertaining to Unit 3 of the Ikata NPP, which has been offline for around a year and a half. On the other hand, the Tokai Dai Ni reactor, which shut down right after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, was not permitted to restart. Nine out of 54 pre-Fukushima reactors have been approved to resume operations, and four are currently running.
Canada has awarded Moltex Energy $50.5 million to help build and fuel its innovative small modular reactor (SMR) technology. The company hopes to construct the world’s first 300 MW Stable Salt Reactor–Wasteburner (SSR-W) and Waste To Stable Salt (WATSS) facility at the Point Lepreau Generating Station in New Brunswick and connect the SSR-W to the electrical grid by the early 2030s.
The IAEA has launched a new Coordinated Research Project (CRP) to “address technical challenges in the long-term storage of spent power reactor fuel.” The four-year initiative, which will be known as “Spent Fuel Research Assessment,” or SFERA, will examine “issues related to fuel, fuel cladding and fuel assembly structures.” 
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
 More electricity was produced from nuclear power than coal in the U.S. last year, the latter of which was pushed out of the top two domestic electricity generation sources for the first time since at least 1949. However, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that these trends will be reversed in 2021 and 2022 as three NPPs retire, and increased natural gas prices make coal more appealing.
House Energy and Commerce Republicans have proposed a ‘Securing Cleaner American Energy’ agenda. The agenda includes legislation to create and operate a domestic uranium reserve, streamline plant and technology licensing, support public-private partnerships in the civil nuclear sector, facilitate the nuclear export process, and expand the use of hydrogen technology from sources like nuclear.
U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) has introduced the ‘Combating Global Poverty Through Energy Development Act,’ which aims to remove international financial institution funding prohibitions on coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear energy projects.

A New Jersey appellate court has ruled that the state’s three NPP units can maintain their Zero Emission Certificates (ZECs) originally awarded in 2019. The ZECs provide up to $300 million annually in subsidies, money that the facility operator Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) has said is necessary to keep the units open. 
BWXT Nuclear Operations Group has received $35 million in federal contracts for uranium recovery and conversion, and the second construction phase of a new research reactor fuel line. The research reactor contract will facilitate the manufacturing of uranium-molybdenum alloy High Assay Low Enriched Uranium (U-Mo HALEU) fuel to replace high enriched uranium fuel in high-performance American research units.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is investigating FirstEnergy’s activities concerning Ohio’s House Bill 6 (HB6). Authorities allege that the Ohio House Speaker helped pass the nuclear bailout provision in HB6 as compensation for the company’s dark money donations that helped him obtain his position.
FERC has dismissed Californians for Green Nuclear Power’s (CGNP) October 2020 complaint seeking to prevent the closure of the state’s Diablo Canyon NPP. Units 1 and 2 of the NPP are set to close in November 2024 and August 2025, respectively.
Centrus Energy Corp. plans to finish construction and start operating America’s first HALEU production facility by early 2022. The facility will be located in Piketon, Ohio. HALEU is a new fuel source for next generation advanced reactors.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
France intends to build Local Crisis Centers (CCLs) at domestic NPPs to help facilitate crisis management of nuclear infrastructure. The post-Fukushima initiative, which will initially target eleven NPPs, will launch with the electrification of the Tricastin site in 2022.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) has released its 2021 ‘Mission and Priorities,’ which focuses on the “safe cleanup” of nuclear waste generated from energy and weapons production at facilities like the Hanford and Savannah River sites. EM will employ 3D laser scanning at the latter’s Salt Waste Processing Facility to improve safety. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm has stressed the need for collaboration and inclusivity in what must be community-conscious work.

The DOE has launched three new cybersecurity research programs to protect domestic energy infrastructure. The programs will aim to address vulnerabilities in foreign-manufactured technologies, mitigate electromagnetic and geomagnetic interference, and bolster cybersecurity research and talent development.

Poland’s National Atomic Energy Agency and Health Ministry websites were hacked and edited to disseminate information about a fake nuclear waste leak from Lithuania. The head of the country’s security services listed Russia as the alleged perpetrator.
Iran has begun enriching uranium with IR-4 centrifuges at its Natanz plant and plans to install more machines, according to an IAEA report. Iran has also announced that it intends to cold test its redesigned Arak reactor shut down under the JCPOA before commissioning it later this year.
Japan’s nuclear regulatory body has temporarily banned the transport and loading of nuclear fuel at the country’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP after the site was found to have been vulnerable to unauthorized entry at 15 locations for a year. The site will remain offline for at least another 1.5 years as investigations and improvement plans are conducted and designed, respectively. The plant was shut down in 2012, but Units 6 and 7 passed safety inspections in 2017.
Noteworthy Research
A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), ‘“Advanced” Isn’t Always Better,’ asserts that the advanced reactor designs currently under construction “do not offer obvious improvements over LWRs [light-water reactors] significant enough to justify their many risks.” UCS recommends temporary suspension of the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, the establishment of a congressionally mandated independent panel to review and approve DOE R&D for new nuclear concepts, further nuclear security–related analyses of HALEU, safeguards cooperation with the IAEA, and a federal focus on R&D concerning the safety and security of LWRs.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has released a new report recommending that ‘nuclear newcomers’ develop nuclear fuel cycle and waste management strategies that take domestic needs, resources, and capabilities into account, consider future deployment of traditional and advanced reactors, and enact policies in areas like regulation, international cooperation, and public transparency.
A new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), ‘Building Back Better: How Big Are Green Spending Multipliers?,’ finds that cumulative spending on nuclear energy has six times the output effect on GDP compared to spending on fossil fuel sources. The authors believe such results may be due to the longer average construction and operation time and relative higher post-investment employment.
SNC-Lavalin has published a report that examines Canada’s plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and proposes actionable steps that support nuclear energy’s role in decarbonization. The authors state that Canada should boost installed nuclear capacity from 14% to 24% of the nation’s energy mix, with the goal of commissioning one large reactor each year from 2030 to 2050. The authors also recommend bringing three 300 MW SMR units online annually from around 2035 to 2050.
The Conference Board of Canada has released a new report entitled ‘A New Power: Economic Impacts of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors in Electricity Grids,’ which focuses on deployment in the Ontario and Saskatchewan provinces. Major findings include the possible generation of $2.6 billion in GDP, $1.7 billion in wages, and $873 million in taxes upon SMR deployment in Ontario and the annual addition (on average) of 7042 jobs from the installation of a SMR fleet in Saskatchewan.
The Nuclear Conversation
Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, March 24

Utility Dive, March 23
Nuclear Energy Institute, March 23
Reuters Events, March 23
World Nuclear News, March 23
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March 22

South China Morning Post, March 22
Idaho Falls Magazine, March 22
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 21
Energy Voice, March 18
Politico, March 17
International Atomic Energy Agency, March 16
CNN, March 16
World Nuclear News, March 16
American Nuclear Society, March 15
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 15
Power Technology, March 15
Forbes, March 14
The Associated Press, March 14
The Diplomat, March 13
The Washington Post, March 12
ExchangeMonitor, March 12
Atlantic Council, March 12
World Nuclear Association, March 12
World Nuclear Association, March 11
World Nuclear News, March 11
The National Interest, March 11
American Nuclear Society, March 11
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 11

IEEE Xplore, March 9
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