In this week’s newsletter, we review the progress made by the U.S. State Department in concluding Nuclear Cooperation Memoranda of Understanding (NCMOU) agreements. We spotlight a recent report with action items to strengthen cooperation in the nuclear market between the United States and South Korea. Finally, we highlight recent developments in nuclear policy and governance, international collaborations, and geopolitics.
U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Memoranda of Understanding Around the World
Nuclear Cooperation Memoranda of Understanding (NCMOUs) are diplomatic instruments designed develop stronger ties between the U.S. and partner countries to support the development of strategic civil nuclear cooperation. The NCMOUs help partners build infrastructure for the responsible use of nuclear energy and technology including strong standards for nuclear safety, security, and safeguards. NCMOUs can be a precursor to a formal agreement of nuclear cooperation (123 agreement) but are a flexible method of extending U.S. nuclear energy outreach to counter Russia’s extensive civil nuclear engagement around the world as well as China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The formal 123 agreements are legally necessary to enable exports of nuclear materials and equipment. With NCMOUs as a new tool, cooperative relationships in the field can begin prior to a formal 123 agreement.

The maps below identify eight countries that have signed NCMOUs with the United States: Ghana, Kenya, Armenia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and the Philippines. These agreements are important but the number is notably lower than the over 30 countries identified by the World Nuclear Association as considering, planning, or starting nuclear power programs. Many of these countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa are not currently NCMOU partners.

Alex de Ramon, Della Ratta Fellow, Partnership for Global Security

The Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) released a report calling for stronger cooperation between South Korea and the United States on small modular reactor (SMR) exports. Specifically, the report recommends that South Korea should launch a program to complement the State Department’s Foundational Infrastructure for the Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) program and help build a stable U.S.-based supply chain of high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU). South Korea is currently completely dependent on Russian company Tenex for HALEU. The report also notes that of the 34 export nuclear power plants under construction in 2022, 23 were ordered from Russia and 4 from China, further amplifying the need for South Korea and the United States to strengthen their nuclear export relationship.
The Impact of the Ukraine Invasion on Nuclear Affairs and Exports
Energoatom President Petro Kotin said that Russia is preparing to evacuate around 3,000 staff from areas in and around the Zaporizhzhia power plant. The plan is part of a larger evacuation of civilians in the surrounding communities ahead of a potential Ukrainian offensive in the south. The Russian-appointed governor of the region stated that about 1,600 civilians had already been moved out. If the pullout occurs as planned, there will be a dangerous lack of personnel to operate the plant, which already stands at 4,000 staff compared to 11,000 before the war. As of May 12, the IAEA reported that essential personnel working in main control rooms were still present at each shift.
According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Russian nuclear agency Rosatom provided a quarter of the United States’ nuclear fuel last year, accounting for a collective $1 billion. This is in spite of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and numerous U.S. economic sanctions levied on Russia. American Nuclear Society Immediate Past President Steven Nesbitt stated that while the United States is self-sufficient in the fabrication of uranium and uranium processing, U.S. capabilities in conversion and enrichment are more dependent on Russian nuclear fuel.
The presidents of France and Ukraine made a joint statement during the latter’s visit to Paris calling on Russia to withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, and identifying its militarization by Russian armed forces as a grave threat to security. The statement included a broader call for Russia to withdraw its forces from all Ukrainian territory. France reiterated its support to Ukraine for as long as necessary to defend its sovereignty.
Russian news agency TASS reported that engineers have reduced the risk of a hydroelectric dam bursting and damaging the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Workers are safely discharging water and began repair work on pipes and pumps. Once water levels return to normal, engineers stated that the risk would be eliminated.
The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine claims that Russian forces have placed military equipment and explosives in the turbine compartment of power unit 4 at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The Inspectorate stressed that such actions are highly detrimental to the nuclear and radiation safety of Zaporizhzhia’s nuclear installations and called on the international community to place more pressure on Russia. This accusation is in addition to two other reported instances where Russian troops allegedly placed heavy military equipment and explosives in Zaporizhzhia’s other unit engine rooms.
Nuclear Collaborations
NuScale and the Romanian government opened a simulator for the control room of the NuScale VOYGR small modular reactor power plant at the Politehnica University of Bucharest. The NuScale Energy Exploration Center offers users a hands-on experience to apply nuclear science and engineering principles through simulated nuclear power plant operation scenarios. The Centre was funded by the U.S. State Department through the FIRST program.
The African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) launched a five-year program on nuclear safeguards with funding from the European Union and support from the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland (STUK). The program aims to strengthen nuclear material control measures in the continent and build capacity for state systems of accounting for nuclear materials. AFCONE will use knowledge-sharing from STUK to become a regional hub of expertise for national-level nuclear programs.
South Korea’s Doosan Enerbility has begun the forging production process for the first VOYGR small modular reactor module that will be deployed as part of the U.S. Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP). The CFPP is to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory site and will use six of NuScale’s power modules, with the plant set to begin operations as soon as 2029. Doosan Enerbility and NuScale signed a business collaboration agreement for the supply of NuScale Power Modules and other equipment back in 2019.
South Korea’s Industry Minister, Lee Chang-yang, proposed enhanced cooperation with Hungary on nuclear power, along with other advanced industrial sectors. A specific area of focus is joint work on small modular reactors. The Minister also asked for Hungarian support for Korean firms operating in the country regarding negative impacts of the EU’s recent regulations on foreign subsidies.
French company Orano signed a partnership agreement with Niger’s government covering multiple uranium mining projects. This includes remediation of the Cominak site, continued operation of the Somaïr mine, and demonstrating in-situ leach methods to confirm feasibility of investment at the Imouraren deposit. The final component of the agreement is an investment of €40 million into skill development and education opportunities for girls.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has signed three agreements with Chinese nuclear energy organizations. The companies are China's Nuclear Power Operations Research Institute, the China National Nuclear Corporation Overseas (CNNC), and the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC). The memoranda of understanding cover cooperation in nuclear energy operations, in high temperature gas-cooled reactors, and in nuclear fuel supply and investment, according to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC).
TVEL delivered a modernized ultrasonic unit to China’s Yibin fuel production facility for the fabrication of VVER-1000 nuclear power plant fuel. TVEL described the delivery as an important project in the development of strategic relations between Russia and China. China has four VVER-1000 power units at the Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant, with fuel being produced under license from TVEL at Yibin since 2009.
The U.S. Department of Energy and Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) signed a joint statement of intent to work together on the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel. A key tenet of the agreement is information-sharing when it comes to science and technology programs, joint technical studies, and best practices on managing used nuclear fuels, including from small modular reactors.
Ansaldo Nucleare and Westinghouse completed the first testing campaign at the Passive Heat Removal Facility in the United Kingdom. This testing is part of their collaboration to develop a next generation nuclear power plant based on lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR) technology as part of their cooperation agreement from 2022.
Industrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB) signed four contracts and two agreements covering various aspects of nuclear fuel supplies at the Nuclear Trade and Technology Exchange (NT2E) conference. INB signed three contracts with Westinghouse covering the supply of metallic components and gadolinium rods for the Angra 1 nuclear reactor, as well as another contract with Rosatom for the acquisition of natural uranium hexafluoride.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
A coalition of European Union members have called on the European Commission to recognize nuclear energy in the EU’s energy strategy and relevant policies. The Nuclear Alliance is made up of 16 European countries led by France, which hosted the third Nuclear Alliance meeting this week to discuss the expansion of nuclear energy. Discussions centered around how to build an independent European nuclear supply chain and the skills and innovation necessary to revive Europe’s nuclear industry.
A key element of the European Union’s Green Deal package has been delayed after France said it won’t back a law to scale up renewable energy. Member-state officials were due to endorse the Renewable Energy Directive, but French concerns over how nuclear can help industries meet climate goals, along with opposition from other countries, saw the law struck from the agenda. France, which relies on nuclear power for the bulk of its electricity supply, has been pushing for nuclear power to have a greater role in the energy transition.
France’s parliament scrapped a law that limits nuclear output as it passed a bill aimed at simplifying and accelerating authorizations for constructing new reactors. The bill eliminates a target to reduce the share of atomic power to 50% of the country’s electricity output by 2035 and removes a ceiling of 63.2 gigawatts of nuclear installed capacity. This is part of French President Emmanuel Macron’s effort to revitalize the country’s atomic industry.
Italy’s coalition government wants to reintroduce nuclear energy in its energy mix, declaring it is necessary for the country to pursue its energy objectives and ensure energy sovereignty. Italy was an observer at the 16 nation Nuclear Alliance meeting. The Chamber of Deputies approved the majority’s motion to commit the government to accelerate Italy’s decarbonization process and to assess the opportunity to include nuclear power in the national energy mix. The government must also identify territories outside of Italy where nuclear power is produced to enter into international agreements and partnerships to guarantee imports.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) told a parliamentary inquiry that it would take 15 years to have a power plant up and running if the current moratorium on nuclear energy was lifted. The Environment and Communications Legislation Committee discussed the proposed Environment and Other Legislation Amendment Bill which would remove the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act’s ban on developing nuclear energy in the country.
The second unit of the Ostrovets plant in Belarus was connected to the grid on May 13. Commissioning of the unit is scheduled for this autumn. When both VVER-1200 units are commercially operating, the plant will provide about 18.5 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity per year, equivalent to 4.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas.
Energy startup Newcleo announced an investment of €3 billion ($3.3 billion) into small modular reactors in France by 2030. Newcleo plans to launch a first-of-a-kind unit of that kind by the same year, which will be a 30 MWe lead-cooled fast reactor running on MOX fuel. The announcement came in the context of the sixth annual “Choose France” summit held at Versailles.
This April, Electricite de France’s (EDF) nuclear power generation from its French reactors rose 14.7% year-on-year compared to last year’s production. However, in the period since the start of 2023, generation was down 2.8% due to outages caused by stress corrosion as well as strikes occurring in March and April. Additionally, output in Britain was down 22.7% compared to last April.
Nuclear fuel producer Urenco Ltd.’s long-term orders rose by over 10% in the last three months, which it attributes to the invasion of Ukraine and renewed interest in nuclear energy as a contributor to curbing climate change. Urenco’s CEO noted that momentum around nuclear is higher than it has been in several decades. The company will invest in new production capacity to meet the rising demand: one specific decision pending for later this year is on where to build a new fuel production plant for the upcoming generation of reactors, with both the United States and the United Kingdom expressing interest.
Production began on main components for units 3 and 4 of the Shin Hanul Nuclear Power Plant in South Korea. Doosan Enerbility is under contract to supply the reactors, steam generators, and turbine generators for the two APR1400 units. Construction is set to begin next year after a five-year suspension during the administration of former President Moon Jae-in, who favored a phaseout of nuclear power.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday formally approved Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s (Tepco) operation plan for the release of treated water from its Fukushima plant into the ocean. Construction of an underseas tunnel to be used for the release is expected to be complete by the end of June. The government and Tepco aim to start discharging the treated water by the summer of this year.
India is weighing lifting its ban on foreign investment in nuclear power and its prohibition of private control over nuclear power generation. A panel set up by the government is recommending overturning the ban imposed by the Atomic Energy Act, as well as giving a greater role in the industry to local private companies. The country aims to triple its nuclear generation capacity by 2031, which could help India reach a net-zero emissions target of 2070.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Geoffrey Pyatt delivered his remarks at the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Nuclear Energy Assembly. In his remarks, Pyatt states that nuclear power will be essential for the United States to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Likewise, Pyatt compliments the U.S. advanced nuclear developers for stepping up to meet the United States’ energy demands and bolster its independence from Russian and Chinese nuclear energy and fuel. Pyatt ends his comments by supporting U.S. nuclear cooperation with the Czech Republic.
Dow has selected its UCC Seadrift Operations manufacturing site in Texas for its proposed advanced small modular reactor (SMR) project with X-energy Reactor Company. The Xe-100 reactor was one of two designs selected by the Department of Energy in 2020 to receive $80 million to build an advanced reactor demonstration plant that can be operational within 7 years. Dow and X-energy will now prepare and submit a construction application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), with the aim for construction work to begin in 2026.
Microsoft signed a power purchase agreement with nuclear fusion energy startup Helion for at least 50 megawatts of electricity beginning in 2028. Helion plans to locate its fusion plant in Washington state and sell power directly into the grid, with Microsoft planning to use fusion electricity to power its data centers. Helion added that its fusion reactor is on track for the 2028 deadline.
The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $22.1 million to 10 industry-led projects, including two aimed at expanding clean hydrogen production with nuclear energy and one focused on bringing a microreactor design closer to deployment. The other projects intend to tackle nuclear regulatory hurdles, improve operations of existing reactors, and facilitate new advanced reactor developments. These projects will be funded through the Office of Nuclear Energy’s industry funding opportunity announcement.
A bill banning Russian uranium imports to the United States passed the House subcommittee on energy, climate, and grid security. The House bill contains waivers allowing the import of low-enriched uranium from Russia if the U.S. energy secretary determines there is no alternative source available for operation of nuclear reactors. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States banned imports of its oil, but it has not yet banned imports of its uranium.
Westinghouse signed a contract with Dominion Energy to design, manufacture, and deliver replacement steam generators for the Surry Nuclear Power Station in Virginia. Westinghouse and Dominion will engineer and manufacture six steam generators to be delivered starting in 2028. The contract further supports Dominion’s Subsequent License Renewal (SLR) program to extend the long term operation of Surry units 1 and 2.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order establishing the new Tennessee Nuclear Energy Advisory Council. Among other responsibilities, the 15-member board will identify legislative, policy, and budgetary changes to eliminate barriers facing the expansion of nuclear energy facilities in Tennessee. Lee stated he wants Tennessee to meet the growing need for clean energy as new companies move to the state.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm stated she is hopeful about pending loan applications to fund the restart of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Michigan. Granholm made the remark during a congressional hearing while responding to Representative Tim Walberg. If approved, the approximately $1 billion in federal loans would help pay for the Palisades facility to become the first U.S. reactor to restart after powering down.
Westinghouse Electric Company submitted its pre-application Regulatory Engagement Plan to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the AP300 Small Modular Reactor (SMR). The engagement plan outlines the pre-application activities Westinghouse will have with NRC staff to support the AP300 SMR licensing. Design certification is anticipated by 2027, followed by site-specific licensing and construction on the first AP300 unit toward the end of the decade.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued an interim license authorizing construction of Holtec International’s spent fuel facility in New Mexico. The license allows Holtec to transfer and store 8,680 metric tons of nuclear waste over the next four decades, with Holtec ultimately planning to store as many as 10,000 canisters of spent fuel over a 19-phase process. New Mexico state officials and its congressional delegation have opposed siting the facility in the state, with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signing a bill to block the facility’s construction.
The Department of Energy, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Environmental Protection Agency announced they have reached a conceptual agreement on revising plans for managing millions of gallons of nuclear waste stored at the Hanford Site. This agreement follows three years of discussions and more than 60 mediation sessions. The agencies will now draft potential amendments to the Washington v. Granholm consent decree and the Tri-Party Agreement (TPA) that reflect the new agreement.
Noteworthy Research
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) released the first phase of their Advanced Reactor Roadmap, outlining a path for the deployment of advanced reactors as part of the clean energy transition. The roadmap has three sections: an outline for an approach to help the nuclear industry fully realize the potential value of advanced reactors, a discussion of seven enablers for large-scale deployment of advanced reactor technologies, and establishing ownership and implementation targets for 45 key actions necessary for delivering advanced reactors into the market.
According to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researcher Son H. Kim, nuclear power plants currently slated to close by 2050 in the United States could be among the most important players in addressing climate change. Kim determined that lifetime extensions of existing nuclear power reactors from 60 to 80 years would contribute a reduction of approximately 0.4 gigatons of carbon emissions per year by 2050. Additionally, the study found that the money saved by keeping nuclear power reactors online is $5 billion saved for every gigawatt of energy.
The Nuclear Conversation
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.