In this week’s issue, we discuss the need for the next Presidential administration to quickly establish an aggressive climate agenda that involves a full suite of zero-carbon technologies, including civil nuclear energy. We also note a new report by the IAEA, ‘Advances In Small Modular Reactor Technology Developments’, that seeks to assist nuclear countries in selecting Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) that are tailored to their needs. Finally, we draw attention to a recent webinar by the Global Nexus Initiative, where a host of experts discussed the need for cross-sectoral collaboration in utilizing next-generation nuclear technologies to tackle climate change.
A Policy Framework for Next-Gen Nuclear
The results of the U.S. election have not been certified but there is a strong likelihood of a new administration in January. If so, it will need to move quickly to reestablish effectiveness on the climate agenda. An important way to demonstrate leadership is to act on an integrated strategy to advance next-generation nuclear energy as a key element in a full suite of zero-carbon technologies.
As a respected bipartisan expert noted at the recent Global Nexus Initiative (GNI) webinar on decarbonization, nuclear power is now in the clean energy family. That wasn’t always the case and it is still controversial in some quarters. But maintaining its importance on the carbon-free energy agenda will require an extension beyond the aging fleet of existing reactors, many of which face a retirement cliff at mid-century. 
Returning the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement, which it officially left this week, is a priority because it will realign the country with other nations and offer a renewed leadership opportunity. But this step is insufficient without assertive action. At the moment the Paris agreement targets are not being met with much besides rhetoric.
Shifting the U.S. government into a high gear won’t be easy. The country’s reputation for policy leadership, consistency, and results has been seriously damaged both at home and abroad. And governmental alacrity has been increasingly diminished by a combination of structural sclerosis, bureaucratic caution, and political inconsistency.
But next-gen nuclear is one of the rare areas of bipartisan agreement and that makes it uniquely positioned to be aggressively moved forward by the U.S. in collaboration with its allies.
However, the next-gen nuclear focus cannot continue to be technology centric and policy poor, as is currently the case. A strong policy ecosystem is necessary to support the reactor technologies and their global deployment.
There are at least five interlocking components to an effective and integrated next-gen nuclear policy framework.
The rationalization of the international regulatory system for these reactors is a top priority. It will be a significant impediment to success if individual nations write different regulations that require reactor vendors to customize their product to widely disparate requirements. A universal regulatory regime is probably too much to ask for, but a harmonized system among the major developer and exporting nations is possible. Canada and the U.S. have already moved in this direction and they are engaging with other nations and international organizations. This harmonization is not a luxury, it is an essential underpinning for the future viability of these technologies, in part because it would open the door to serial manufacturing capability which could reduce costs and result in standardization.
Equal in importance to regulation is the need for strong nuclear safeguards and security for the next generation of nuclear technologies. A number of these reactors have unique characteristics and fuel cycles. New analyses are grappling with these issues, including GNI’s, and governments are engaging with reactor designers and international organizations including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But there are many designs, many aspects of the technology that are not inside the current international governance envelope, and much more work to be done in this area. Without effective safeguards and security structures these reactors, at least those developed by democratic nations, will stall.
Identifying the market and non-electricity uses for these reactors also is essential. The international market is attractive because developing economy nations are potentially well suited for the deployment of these technologies. But many of these nations are nuclear newcomers and face a steep learning and governance curve in preparing for them. There will need to be a more focused assessment to characterize the target markets and the support systems required to allow for safe and secure operation of reactors in these nations. Similarly, if these new technologies are being seriously contemplated for industrial uses (remote energy production, process heat, hydrogen production) then numerous questions must be answered. The oversight and preparation responsibilities will extend beyond the IAEA and its nuclear Milestones matrix. It likely will require the active involvement of the exporting nation and the vendor. That is a major change from past practice and the groundwork for this evolution is not well developed.
The export potential of next-gen technologies raises the stakes of nuclear geopolitics. Russia has come to dominate the international market for large reactors. China is looking to make inroads in the large reactor export area and is locking up energy and infrastructure in the developing economy world under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Both nations are at work on small, exotically fueled future reactors. There is a very real potential for these two authoritarian governments to lockdown the 21st century’s global nuclear market. That has serious security consequences, and it would be a major challenge to the global influence of the U.S. and its allies. Nuclear geopolitics is a now mostly a talking point, although the recent action of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation now allows it to provide overseas nuclear finance. But there is no cohesive strategy for addressing the geopolitics of nuclear power at the moment.
In order to unleash the potential of next-gen technologies, the public has to buy-in psychologically and emotionally. Achieving that social license is a major challenge for any type of nuclear energy. It is not enough to tout the technology. The ability to effectively communicate value and how the technology fits within the larger global narrative about responding to climate change and ensuring safety, security and non-proliferation is essential. So far, there are primarily talking points on these issues, not deep engagement. Canada has done significant and effective work on stakeholder engagement. The U.S. has not done enough.
It looks like change may be coming to Washington, but with it comes a significant responsibility to effectively respond to the climate challenge. The country has had fits, starts, and failures in its past efforts to move toward zero-carbon. But the stakes are much higher now. Next-gen nuclear is a key component in a comprehensive technology strategy. But it requires a lot more support and attention than other technologies in the clean energy family. An essential part of that activity is developing an integrated policy framework and aggressively following through on the actions required to move it in parallel with technology advances. A complete policy ecosystem is necessary to support the technology. We can’t afford to fail for lack of one.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security
Webinar Spotlight

The Global Nexus Initiative (GNI), co-led by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and the Partnership for Global Security (PGS), hosted a webinar last week on "The Climate Imperative for Decarbonization: Contributions from Nuclear Power" Join GNI and its panelists for a virtual panel discussion on identifying all the technology and policy pathways that realistically can be pursued to achieve global decarbonization objectives and how nuclear power can contribute.
Nuclear Collaborations
The U.S. has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Bulgaria for cooperation in the development of a nuclear energy program. The agreement is the third civil nuclear MOU that the U.S. has signed in recent months (others with Romania and Poland).
Led by founder Bill Gates, Terrapower has formed a partnership with Core-Power, a London-based company that is developing a specialized battery for nuclear-powered ships. The partners have submitted an application for a marine-based Molten Salt Reactor to the DOE, in an attempt to gain investment as part of the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a regional grouping of formerly-Soviet nations, has announced plans to establish an association of nuclear energy regulators and organizations to provide support to its nuclear newcomer nations. A draft of the agreement was approved at a CIS meeting earlier this week, which was spearheaded by Belarus’ Deputy Energy Minister. Belarus is building its Ostrovets nuclear power plant (NPP).
The U.K. government is reportedly in talks with France’s EDF to advance the construction of the new Sizewell nuclear power plant in Suffolk, following the collapse of two NPP projects in Anglesey and Cumbria. The government remains strongly committed to the construction of new nuclear across the U.K. and is expected to include significant investments in its upcoming energy policy white paper.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
China’s Hualong One reactor has reached criticality for the first time, marking a new era of Chinese indigenous nuclear reactor production. Stationed at Unit 5 of the Fuqing NPP in Fujian province, the 1,000 MW reactor will now undergo tests before generating commercial electricity.
The IAEA has released a report, ‘Advances In Small Modular Reactor Technology Developments’, aimed at assisting nuclear nations in choosing particular SMR designs that are tailored to their individual needs. The report provides the latest data and information on 72 reactors currently under construction around the world in 18 nations.
Rosatom is planning to deploy its land-based variant of the RITM icebreaker class SMR, the ASMM project, in the Arctic region of Yakutia. As of today, six RITM reactors have been manufactured and installed on three new icebreakers -- Rosatom hopes to launch the land-based variant reactor in 2027.
At the annual Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa, regulators from 33 African nations emphasized the need for stronger continental collaboration in nuclear security, safety and regulation. The meeting was centered on the Forum’s 2020-2021 Action Plan, which recommends improved multilateral engagement and synergies between African nations, particularly as a growing number of countries pursue civil nuclear programs.
Rwanda has edged closer to establishing a nuclear energy program after a recent cabinet meeting approved draft legislation for the development of a nuclear oversight authority. The move comes just months after the Rwandan parliament voted in favor of a nuclear energy agreement with Russia.
Kenya has chosen to defer its plans for developing nuclear energy beyond its original 2030 deadline, stating that governance and compliance measures would take longer than previously expected. Collins Juma, CEO of the Nuclear Power Energy Agency, noted the importance of small modular reactors to the African nation: “We are looking into having those small reactors in phases as we monitor how the country’s electricity demand grows.”
South Korea’s project on spent nuclear fuel pyroprocessing will end before the end of the year, following 23 years of research and development and $792.8 billion spent. Under the current Korean administration, nuclear energy has been subject to a strategy of phase-out.

The office of South Korea’s President has declined to comment on a report that claimed Seoul approached Washington to purchase fuel for a nuclear-powered submarine. The report follows speculation that South Korea’s defense blueprint for 2021-2025 features a plan to build a 4,000-ton nuclear-powered submarine.

Poland is considering the implementation of a BWRX-300 water-cooled, small modular reactor (SMR) project, GE Hitachi announced, after discussions began between Synthos Green Energy and Poland’s National Atomic Energy Agency (PAA). Under Polish law, Synthos needs to ask the PAA to issue a general opinion before a project begins, signalling advanced preparations for moving forward with the regulatory process with the PAA.
The Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has announced that it intends to develop a nuclear energy project, according to the Mexican Energy Secretary Rocio Nahle. The potential plant would be based in Baja, just south of the U.S. border, where CFE is currently carrying out studies and consultations with locals.
Japanese officials have continued to express conflicting messages on the future of nuclear power in the country, contradicting whether nuclear energy will be needed to meet Japan’s 2050 carbon neutral goal. A government official has confirmed that Japan will promote the use of offshore wind and battery storage in its strategy, but a final decision on civil nuclear power is yet to be announced.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The U.S. is set to expand its nuclear reach into space following the signing of an MOU between NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) in late October. The agreement will see both agencies cooperating to develop nuclear power in space, as well as facilitating research and development into a number of other science and engineering projects.
Idaho Falls has chosen to maintain investment in The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems’ (UAMPS) Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP), but has reduced its purchasing commitment by roughly half. The city’s financial commitment is now capped at just under $1 million, as voted by the city council in a unanimous vote. In addition, CFPP is facing mounting challenges after the Bountiful, Beaver, Murray City opted out of the project last week. There are now 8 Utah cities that have declined continued investment in the $6 billion project.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
China has tested a swath of new unmanned attack drones, raising concerns about the growing military capability of the Chinese Communist Party. The aircraft, labelled the ‘suicide drone’ is dispatched in large numbers to swarm and attack a target, and is the latest development from China’s military-civilian fusion strategy.
Noteworthy Research
ClearPath has released a short brief, titled, A Simpler, Dedicated Pathway for Advanced Nuclear Reactor Licensing’, that offers solutions to many of the issues associated with licensing nuclear reactors in the U.S.

‘Ensuring Cyber Security in India’s Nuclear Systems’ is a recent report by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) that evaluates the state of India’s nuclear security infrastructure and offers a roadmap for improved safety, governance and regulation.

The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey has released a report, ‘U.S. Nonproliferation Cooperation with Russia and China’, that calls for finding common ground in order to minimize the threat of nuclear insecurity.

‘Elections, Nukes, and the Future of the South Korea-U.S. Alliance’ is a recent report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that highlights the likely shifts and potential disruptions in the future of South Korea-U.S. relations. The report stresses the need to mitigate current and mounting tensions in order to secure a strong alliance deep into the 21st century.

The Council on Strategic Risks has released a briefer outlining the nuclear energy potential and security risks in Brazil. ‘Brazil: A Climate Nuclear, and Security Hotspot’ makes the case for including the South American nation in global nuclear and climate discussions in order to ensure that its rules and regulations comply with the highest security standards.
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.
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