In this week’s issue, we discuss the opportunities and concerns presented by a new Department of State program, ‘Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST)’, that aims to provide capacity building support to partner nations developing their nuclear energy programs. We also highlight a recent letter signed by over 100 clean energy stakeholders asking Congress to provide a multi-billion dollar increase for the Department of Energy (DoE) across all Science and Energy program areas.
A Small FIRST Step
Buried deep within a White House clean energy Fact Sheet is the announcement of a new U.S. program to support the export of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). It is a useful initiative but a wholly insufficient placeholder for the comprehensive nuclear competitiveness strategy that the U.S. urgently needs.
The Foundational Infrastructure for the Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST), a mouthful of a name to extract an acronym, is run by the State Department. It is designed to “provide capacity building support” to “partner countries” to ensure “the highest standards” of nuclear security, safety, and nonproliferation. All are necessary and valuable objectives.
But FIRST is more than just a best practices capacity building effort. It also is designed to allow U.S. small reactor vendors to compete with Russia and China and strengthen the position of the U.S. government in the shadowy struggle over nuclear geopolitics.
In that regard, FIRST looks like a reconfiguration of a Trump-era effort initiated under State’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program that sought to “counter security vulnerabilities posed by Chinese and Russian sales of civilian nuclear energy technologies.” It’s scope included large light-water reactors and next-generation SMRs and advanced reactors.
FIRST now seems to have narrowed the focus to SMRs. Whatever its origin, it will face significant challenges.
The most obvious problem is lack of urgency. At $5.3 million, its paltry funding will support a bare minimum of overseas engagement, and not for very long. The Trump program focused on five regions – Eastern Europe, South Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Africa.
The FIRST program does not identify which nations or regions it will pursue. But, for SMRs, certainly South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa are obvious targets.
In those regions, Russia and China already have engaged over 30 countries in nuclear agreements or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) energy commitments that can lead to nuclear technology exports.
By contrast, the U.S. has formal 123 nuclear cooperation agreements with about 10 nations in those regions. It has no Nuclear Cooperation Memorandums of Understanding (NCMOUs) or Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) with any nations in the regions.
NCMOUs and IGAs were specifically created to compete with Russia’s nuclear MOUs and allow the U.S. to gain a foothold in nations contemplating nuclear power or its expansion. They have proven to be successful in Eastern Europe where countries are interested in new large LWRs.
But they have not yet worked in developing economy nations that are more well-suited for the deployment of smaller reactors. This leaves the U.S. well behind in developing the necessary civil nuclear partnerships that can support its next-gen technologies and values.
A second concern about FIRST is its embrace of the IAEA Milestones as the core guidance for SMR-interested partners. 
These guidelines were designed to prepare nations for the deployment of large reactors and they haven’t been adapted for next-generation technologies or the intensifying demand for near-term clean energy.

While there is considerable technological overlap between large and smaller light-water reactors, it is unclear how well the milestones are optimized for SMRs. Also, the Milestones will need to evolve their guidance on safety, security, and safeguards for small, non-light water-cooled advanced reactors.

Further, the Milestones offer a 10-to-15-year preparation process for new nuclear nations. Developing economy nations are making clear that they need zero-carbon energy in the near term to manage the intensifying impacts of climate change and to provide reliable clean power to their growing, energy-hungry populations. Small reactors combined with renewable energy could be the right combination to meet these demands. So, there is impatience with the insistence on a stepwise process that limits access to power reactors.

Beyond FIRST’s programmatic problems, what really is required is a modernized, cohesive nuclear export and geopolitics strategy that needs to include three critical elements.

First, quickly and realistically evaluate the small reactor market and proactively engage with countries that look like good candidates for deployment, even if those nations have not reached out to the U.S. or currently have agreements with Russia or China.

With small reactors aiming for deployment by 2030, the objective should be to, within 4 years, create a chain of nations across the developing world that are aligned with U.S. and other democratic nation nuclear values and vendors.

Second, design a package approach to nuclear export that can maximally compete with Russia and China while supporting market values. Market share will depend on overcoming existing government-vendor divisions. They need to work together. New nuclear nations prefer an integrated package that includes the full scope of the project, vendors, and government in a single contract.

One approach for the U.S. to consider is, rather than waiting 10-15 years for the Milestones to play out, offer to provide the reactor when ready for deployment and then fund 10-15 years of government, vendor, and IAEA operation, training, governance, and infrastructure development.

A formal nuclear cooperation agreement can spell out these commitments in advance. Once key milestones are met by the host nation, the reactor can be turned over for indigenous operation. This is a concurrent approach that establishes energy relationships, builds national capacity and economic value, and maintains support for high nuclear standards.
Finally, there’s financing. It is the steepest challenge cited by many developing economy nations when considering nuclear power. For the U.S. and other key exporters, there are OECD constraints on the amount of official support that can be provided to a nuclear project. In contrast, Russia and China lavish state funds on their overseas nuclear projects and subsidize their vendors.
Like the Milestones, these rules were designed for large reactor projects. With the advent of smaller reactors and the potential for factory-built units, the OECD-constrained nations need to revise these limits and work together to unleash sustainable government and private sector financing.
Effectively competing on the new frontier of nuclear export this century will require significant changes to the existing processes and predilections of the U.S. and allied nations. FIRST is a useful small step toward the viable nuclear export of next-generation nuclear, but it is not nearly enough.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

A community of over 100 clean energy stakeholders, from industry to nongovernmental organizations, have written a letter to Congress asking for a multi-billion dollar increase across all Science and Energy program areas of the Department of Energy (DoE), including advanced nuclear, to enable research, development, demonstration, and commercial deployment activities. The letter maintains that investing in clean energy innovation will increase U.S. competitiveness, create jobs and economic growth, and facilitate the transition to a clean energy economy.
Nuclear Collaborations
France’s EDF and Russia’s Rosatom have agreed to jointly develop clean hydrogen in Russia and Europe, with planned cooperation in areas including research and development (R&D). As for possible production methods, a Rosatom statement mentioned that “The Russian nuclear industry has great technological and scientific potential in developing hydrogen production-both by electrolysis…and from methane conversion with associated CO2 capture and storage technologies.”

Burundi has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Rosatom to cooperate in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The agreement includes provisions to help develop nuclear infrastructure in Burundi, create domestic nuclear public education programs, and facilitate national use of radioisotopes and radiation technologies in industry and medicine.

Iraq is holding talks with Russia, France, and the United States to discuss the possible construction of civil nuclear reactors. The preliminary Russian meeting generated an MoU intended to help expedite reactor construction.

X-energy and Canada’s Kinectrics have signed a global collaboration agreement concerning the “design and deployment” of X-energy’s Xe-100 small modular reactor (SMR). Kinectrics has assisted X-energy with licensing efforts of the Xe-100 in Canada as the result of a June 2020 accord.

The IAEA has designated Canada’s Ontario Tech University as a Collaborating Centre. The institution, which is the first in Canada to receive such a title, will support IAEA activities concerning R&D of advanced nuclear power technologies (with a focus on SMRs and microreactors) and non-electric applications of nuclear energy.

Jacobs’ nuclear laboratories in the United Kingdom will perform R&D work concerning U-Battery’s and Westinghouse’s proposed advanced modular reactors (AMRs). The companies have progressed to Phase 2 of a UK government competition investing £40 million in the development of AMR designs.

EDF has signed a new membership agreement with the University of Sheffield’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to facilitate deeper collaboration and work to achieve the UK’s decarbonization goals. The organizations will cooperate on UK nuclear supply chain development and technological initiatives to reduce the costs and improve the quality and safety of nuclear power plants (NPPs).
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
EDF has made a binding offer to provide six European Pressurized Reactors (EPRs) for India’s proposed Jaitapur NPP. The French Ambassador to India hailed the 9900 MW project, which he deemed the largest in the world, noting that it would provide electricity to 70 million households, avoid 80 million tons of CO2 annually, and create thousands of local jobs. A binding framework agreement is expected in the coming months.

France’s 1.3 GW Flamanville-1 reactor is back online after a 19-month outage. The unit was taken out of service as part of a 10-year overhaul that began in January 2018. Seven other French reactors are scheduled for 10-year overhauls this year.

 Japan has pledged to derive 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and nuclear power by 2030-31. The nation is reviewing its current strategic energy plan, in which nuclear is set to account for 20-22 percent of the 2030-31 generation mix. This announcement has caused disarray within the government as well as public doubt, as nuclear energy continues to face significant opposition.

The Governor of the Fukui Prefecture (Japan) has approved the restart of Unit 3 at the Mihama NPP and Units 1 and 2 at the Takahama NPP. The units, which have exceeded the 40-year nominal operating period, were granted life extensions in 2016. 

The Fennovoima consortium has announced that Finland’s Hanhikivi-1 reactor is now scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2029, a year later than planned. The organization expects to obtain a construction license by the summer of 2022 and start construction in 2023. Fennovoima has also stated that the estimated cost of the reactor is expected to increase by between 500 million and 1 billion euros.

The European Parliament has approved a resolution that includes a request for EU institutions and member states to “demand a stop to the construction of controversial nuclear power plants built by Rosatom.” The resolution expresses a desire to reduce the bloc’s dependence on Russian energy.

Atomenergomash has begun drafting blueprints for a scaled-down version of Akademik Lomonosov, its floating NPP. The head of the bureau has said that designs should be finalized within the next two years, and the final product will be aimed for the global market. Draft designs for the plant, which is expected to employ two modernized RITM-200 reactors, were originally revealed around December 2020. In other news concerning Russian floating NPPs (FNPPs), President Vladimir Putin has formally given his support to Rosatom’s $2.25 billion proposal to build five FNPPs to power the Baimsky gold-copper deposit in Chukotka.

Unit 3 of Pakistan’s Karachi NPP has entered the commissioning phase following the completion of successful cold functional testing. The Hualong One reactor is set to begin commercial operation in 2022.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The Biden administration has privately signaled its support for production tax credits to keep existing nuclear facilities from being shuttered. This comes as the Biden administration unveiled its $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, supporting advanced nuclear and a Clean Energy Standard that would include all low carbon technologies.

The U.S. Department of State is launching the ‘Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST)’ program, which will help partner countries build IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)–compliant nuclear power programs and support deployment of advanced nuclear technologies like small modular reactors (SMRs). The Department of State has agreed to provide $5.3 million as an initial investment.

Unit 3 of the Indian Point NPP has been shut down, marking the official end of electricity generation at the site. Entergy had agreed to prematurely retire Units 2 and 3 of the plant in a settlement agreement with New York State, who had challenged renewal applications on environmental and safety grounds. Unit 3 was one of the state’s ten largest electricity producers.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and lawmakers from Illinois, Maine, and Vermont have teamed up to introduce the ‘Sensible, Timely Relief for America’s Nuclear Districts’ Economic Development’ (STRANDED) Act.’ The bill aims to aid communities that “are home to shuttered nuclear plants or soon will be” and would allocate annual funding through a five-year federal grant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved a 20-year life extension for Units 1 and 2 at the Surry NPP in Virginia. The reactors will now be allowed to operate until May 2052 and January 2053, respectively, at which time the plant will be 80 years old.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) has introduced the ‘Clean Energy for America Act,’ which consolidates current energy tax incentives into three emissions-based, technology-neutral provisions intended to encourage investment in clean electricity, clean transportation, and energy conservation and create jobs.

Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have released a discussion draft of a bill that would establish the Energy Sector Innovation Credit (ESIC). ESIC is a “technology-inclusive” provision intended to promote innovation of clean energy technologies through measures like allowing up to a 40 percent investment tax credit or 60 percent production tax credit for “low market penetration technologies across a range of energy sources” (including nuclear).

Georgia Power announced that all modules for the construction of Units 3 and 4 at the Vogtle NPP have been positioned, and Unit 3 has started hot functional testing. Southern Company recently indicated that it is targeting a December service date for Unit 3 and hopes to start Unit 4 between August and November 2022.

New Jersey has decided to renew $300 million annual subsidies for the state’s three power reactors. The state’s two NPPs in Salem and Hope Creek provide 37.5 percent of New Jersey’s power and around 90 percent of its clean electricity.

Xcel Energy customers will receive $9.6 million in refunds as part of a nuclear waste settlement between the company and the Department of Energy (DOE). The arrangement includes $2.9 million in funding for the PowerOn bill payment assistance program, which provides discounted electricity service for LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) participants.

A bill has moved forward in the Nebraska Legislature that would offer tax incentives to companies that build advanced reactors in the state.
Provisions aiming to study the feasibility of SMR deployment in Colstrip and repeal a 1978 law that requires the public to electorally approve prospective nuclear power facilities have passed the Montana Senate and House, respectively. The Senate proposal is a resolution and does not require any approval from the Governor.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
The G7 Nonproliferation Directors Group (NPDG) has published a statement reaffirming its commitments to building the conditions for a safer and more secure world. The statement included support for strengthening nuclear security cooperation to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.

The NRC is seeking comments on the “state of practice, benefits, and future trends” concerning the utilization of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to help develop and operate safe, cost-effective power reactors. Feedback will be accepted until May 21.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) has revealed that at least two dozen federal entities use the Pulse Connect Secure software that two advanced hacking groups have recently targeted. Two of the organizations are the DOE’s Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories, which conduct research pertaining to nuclear energy. The hackers, who have suspected links to China, are believed to have breached at least five federal civilian agencies.

The head of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that weapons-grade plutonium from Chinese fast breeder reactors could be diverted for weapons purposes. The first fast breeder reactor is scheduled for startup in 2023.

The IAEA has reported that Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at 60 percent at an above-ground Natanz plant, going from two cascades of IR-6 devices to one. However, the nation has also installed additional IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuges at its afflicted underground Natanz plant.

Austria’s climate minister has presented a proposal to reform the Euratom treaty, noting that the current version should contain “stricter rules” for the security and decommissioning of NPPs, as well as the final storage of nuclear waste. The official also believes that regulations must eliminate the “unfair advantages for nuclear energy.”

Luxembourg and the German regions of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate have renewed calls to close France’s Cattenom NPP, which borders the three areas. The group had commissioned an independent review, which concluded that security of electricity supply was not a barrier for decommissioning the plant. In similar news, Geneva authorities have appealed France’s Nuclear Safety Authority’s decision to allow EDF’s 900 MW reactors to operate past 40 years; Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry has called for the suspension of Armenia’s Metsamor NPP; and the Greek Foreign Minister has stated that Turkey must “reach an understanding” with neighboring countries concerning its Akkuyu NPP project.

Ukraine has opened a new nuclear waste facility in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Ukraine, who has previously had to export nuclear waste to Russia, will use the facility to store waste from its four operating domestic NPPs and save up to $200 million annually.

Stakeholders in the nuclear power industry have written a letter to U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm requesting the establishment of a DOE office devoted to nuclear waste management. The entities asserted that such an office would help provide a focal point for executive branch activities concerning spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW), facilitate engagement with external stakeholders, and show meaningful initiative.   
Noteworthy Research
 A new white paper from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers delineates policy responses that can help the U.S. spur clean energy innovation and job growth. Recommendations entail supporting technological progress (including advanced nuclear energy demonstration projects), investing in supportive infrastructure for energy technologies, developing targeted regulations, and helping ensure equitable job development in industries affected by the clean energy transition.

A new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) discusses ‘Small Modular Reactors: Challenges and Opportunities.’ The NEA stresses the importance of ensuring SMR economic competitiveness, reviewing SMR compatibility with the current nuclear regulatory and legal framework, and boosting government support for and international collaboration.

A new report from the DOE Hybrids Task Force identifies “high priority, near-term opportunities” for hybrid energy system (HES) research collaboration across DOE program offices. Some of the possible ventures include refining cost estimation methods for nuclear-based HES, carrying out valuation studies concerning multi-vector HES, supporting “repowering” analyses for nuclear energy, and continuing to develop next-generation thermal-to-electric conversion technologies that can be used at sites like NPPs.

An independent evaluation commissioned by the Nuclear Energy Institute has found that most NPPs in the PJM Interconnection (a regional transmission organization) will not receive enough revenue moving forward to remain viable. The authors note that the development of a more clean energy–focused market would improve the aforementioned NPPs’ economic outlook.

A new working paper from the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project argues that factors like electricity costs and risks of radioactive contamination and public opposition should prevent deployment of proposed U.S. Army mobile reactors from moving forward at this time. The author asserts that the development of safer diesel fuel shipments, the cheaper relative cost of diesel-generated electricity, and U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan render other ostensible rationales for reactor deployment moot.

A new report published by the University of California, Berkeley aims to “demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility” of achieving 80 percent clean electricity in the United States by 2030. The ‘80% Clean’ model retains existing nuclear capacity (not counting planned retirements) and assumes hydropower and nuclear (combined) constitute 20 percent of total annual generation under normal conditions. The authors found that existing hydropower and nuclear (with the same retirement caveats) and natural gas capacity, along with new battery storage, can meet electricity demand in the envisioned scenario even when wind and solar generation is low.

A new Resources for the Future study aims to assess benefits of increased research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) funding for five advanced clean energy technologies, including advanced nuclear. Surveyed experts estimated that additional funding would reduce levelized costs of new advanced nuclear facilities by around 25 percent in 2035. With a CES in place, associated weighted average benefit-to-cost ratios from 2040 to 2060 were over 5 for all technologies. Advanced nuclear was expected to produce the highest household electricity savings in 2050 under such conditions.
The Nuclear Conversation
The House Live, May 4

POWER Magazine, May 3

Foratom, May 3

CleanTechnica, May 3
S&P Global Platts Analytics, May 3

The National Interest, May 2

The National Interest, May 2

The Guardian, May 1

Hogan Lovells, April 30

American Nuclear Society, April 30

Rosatom Global, April 30 

U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, April 30

World Politics Review, April 30

International Atomic Energy Agency, April 29

Nuclear Engineering International, April 29

Bloomberg Green, April 29

Nuclear Innovation Alliance, April 28

Nuclear Engineering International, April 28

Reuters, April 28

Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, April 27 

Good Energy Collective, April 27

Caspian News, April 27

Forbes, April 27

Al Jazeera, April 26

New Civil Engineer, April 26

The Maritime Executive, April 25

CNN, April 25

VnExpress International, April 25

The Hill, April 24

Forbes, April 23

Global America Business Institute, April 23

The Diplomat, April 23

American Nuclear Society, April 23

Nuclear Engineering International, April 22  

Vox, April 22

POWER Magazine, April 22 

Vox, April 22

Forbes, April 22
NucNet, April 22 
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, April 22

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 21 

Alaska Journal of Commerce, April 21 

World Nuclear News, April 21
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