In this week’s issue, we discuss recent global energy trends that have impacted clean energy ambitions, and identify how major industrialized nations are rethinking and embracing the role of nuclear power in the clean energy transition.
We also spotlight the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Nuclear Energy for a Net Zero World report. Finally, we cover major civil nuclear policy announcements from the United Kingdom and France.
Reliance on Renewable Energy Runs into Reality
The intensifying global energy crisis has generated a clean energy stress test that is uncovering serious flaws in renewables-centric strategies.
An interesting impact of this crisis of rising energy prices and faltering renewable output is the reversal in some nations’ thinking on the role of nuclear power as a zero-carbon energy backbone.
There clearly is a disconnect between clean energy ambitions and the reality of renewable power to fully or preponderantly shoulder the intensifying carbon-free electricity demand under current circumstances.
One cause of the energy crisis, in Europe, is calm weather that has limited output from wind turbines. This occurred at a time when natural gas supplies are low, driving up energy prices and forcing greater reliance on fossil fuels.
The acute crisis also struck China which is experiencing a major energy shortage that is slowing its economy. In response, it has opened the floodgates on coal mines and coal-fired power plants, impacting global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
The result is that the Biden administration’s top climate diplomat already is downplaying expectations about major new developments at the international climate meeting in Glasgow. This despite the U.N. multinational climate panel’s dire warning that there needs to be “immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
But the U.S. can use this opportunity to orchestrate nations around the importance of zero-carbon baseload power as a backbone of the clean energy transition, including sustained high-profile support for the role of existing and next-generation nuclear energy. The world already is moving in that direction.
France is highly dependent on nuclear energy. It had made a political decision to reduce its percentage of nuclear power from roughly 70% to 50% by 2035. Now, however, its president noted, “we will continue to need this technology” and the government will invest over $1 billion in “innovative small-scale nuclear reactors” by the end of the decade.
In Britain, the prime minister stated that, “We do need to go forward with more nuclear power. I think it should be part of our baseload, a big part.”
To that end, the U.K. government has centered nuclear power along with renewable energy it’s new Net Zero Strategy. It is moving toward taking a financial stake in one new nuclear plant, removing China’s General Nuclear Power Group as a major investor. There also are discussions with Westinghouse on the construction of another plant in Wales. And the British government is preparing to approve funding for a fleet of up to 16 small reactors.
Even Japan and South Korea are rethinking their post-Fukushima anti-nuclear position.
Japan’s new prime minister noted that a decade after the disaster, “it is crucial that we re-start nuclear power plants.” In South Korea the role of nuclear energy in achieving the nation’s pledge of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 has become a major issue in the upcoming presidential election.
Perhaps most remarkable is the building pressure on Germany to reconsider its decision to phase out its nuclear plants by 2022. Over two-dozen German intellectuals advocated sustaining the use of nuclear power to support the nation’s decarbonization objectives.
Germany significantly increased its coal use in the first half of 2021 to the point where it exceeded renewable energy output despite its massive investment in wind and solar production. According to the head of the International Energy Agency, “one kilowatt of energy you produce in France is six times less carbon intensive than the equivalent in Germany.”
The U.S. is mimicking many of the same clean energy transition policies as Europe, raising the specter of a spill-over of the energy crisis to America as well as disappointing carbon reduction results.
Ironically, the Biden administration is heralding its wind power expansion strategy while simultaneously asking fossil energy companies and nations to rein in prices as the American energy consumer braces for continued spikes.
California, the nation’s leader in the transition to renewable energy, is facing numerous clean energy transition challenges. Rolling blackouts have occurred and the state is scrambling to identify power sources as it moves to shut down fossil-fuel plants and its lone remaining nuclear reactor which supplies almost 10% of the state’s electricity.
Also the U.S. electric grid is not ready to absorb the vast demands that decarbonization plans will place on it. Upgrading this essential infrastructure is necessary but it will be a long and very expensive process. There are two major pieces of legislation that can begin that overhaul but the pathway to passage of either or both bills is unclear.
The energy shock and the response to it also has geopolitical and global security dimensions.
It is now clear that the backdrop to next month’s U.N. climate change confab will be energy scarcity and rising prices. This is not a fertile foundation for coaxing additional commitments on carbon reduction. And it is sparking a rethinking about potential over-reliance on wind and solar power in major industrialized nations.
The international climate change meeting should take note of this reality and then get real about how countries can cleanly and reliably power their post-pandemic economic growth.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security 

In preparation for the COP26 climate summit, the IAEA has released a report entitled Nuclear Energy for a Net Zero World. The report is focused on the role of nuclear energy in achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. In the report, nine leading nuclear power countries, including the U.S., China, Russia, France, and more have provided statements on the importance of nuclear energy in combating climate change. 
“As we head toward (COP26), it is time to make evidence-based decisions and ramp up the investment in nuclear. The cost of not doing so is far too high to bear.” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. 
Nuclear Collaborations
France’s EDF has offered to help Poland develop its nuclear power program by building as many as six EPR units, each unit producing 1650 MWe. This “non-binding preliminary offer” has the potential to decarbonize Poland’s electricity by 40% and create many local jobs. 
Armenia has started working with GeoProMining to develop a new nuclear power plant (NPP) at the Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine. GeoProMining’s NPP proposal is currently under negotiation in the Armenian Parliament.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and BWXT Canada Ltd. have entered into a teaming agreement regarding the cooperation on “engineering and procurement to support the design, manufacturing, and commercialization” of the BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR). 
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The UK has announced its extensive Net Zero Strategy to help reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The strategy contains various measures on how it will deliver on its net-zero commitment, including the use of new nuclear energy. The government detailed plans to secure a final investment decision on a large-scale NPP by the end of this parliament as well as a new GBP120 million “Future Nuclear Enabling Fund” to reduce barriers to entry for new nuclear projects.
French President Emmanuel Macron has unveiled a 30 billion euro plan to ramp up the nation’s high-tech sectors, including the development of innovative SMRs. According to Macron, this is France’s “number one priority” in the country’s new industrial strategy. This announcement comes as the country considers measures to assist manufacturers struggling to cope with high energy prices as well as ways to cut the cost of carbon dioxide emissions, following a gas-supply crunch. 
In an open letter, both domestic and foreign experts have pleaded with the German government to keep its NPPs online. Following the Fukushima disaster, Germany has been “phasing out” its nuclear energy, but the authors of the letter argue that continuing to do so will increase Germany’s carbon emissions. Germany currently has a 2030 goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 65%, but if it continues to reduce nuclear power, the country may only cut about 49% of its emissions.
Ten EU member states have penned a joint article calling for the inclusion of nuclear energy in the European taxonomy framework. In the article, the ministers describe nuclear energy as a “safe and innovative” solution to the CO2 emission problem. The EU is set to discuss the sustainable finance rules in the coming months, ultimately deciding the possible inclusion of nuclear energy.
With funding from the UK’s Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), U-Battery Ltd. has revealed a model for a new type of high temperature, gas-cooled advanced modular reactor (AMR) technology. The project was funded under BEIS’ Advanced Manufacturing and Materials (AMM) investment programme as part of the UK’s Nuclear Innovation Programme.
The CEO of ARC Clean Energy Canada, Bill Labbe, has announced that its ARC-100 SMR will be operational by 2029. ARC is set to begin the second phase of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s Vendor Design Review (VDR) process. In addition to the VDR process, ARC is also focusing on development and preparation work at Point Lepreau as well as supply chain progression.
Belarus’ Emergencies Ministry has promoted a bill on regulating the safe use of nuclear energy. The potential bill will involve many regulations, incorporating the IAEA’s principles of safety and enhancing the responsibility of Belarus’ relevant central government agencies. 
Japan’s secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has remarked that 30 of its nuclear reactors must be restarted to achieve the country’s 2030 goal of reducing carbon emissions by 46%. Since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, many of Japan’s reactors have been moved offline, with only 9 currently in use. The LDP is also promoting the potential building of SMRs.
Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) has announced that fuel loading at Shin Hanul 1 NPP has been completed. This is one of two APR-1400 reactor units at the NPP that will be ready for commercial operation by mid-2022.
Bangladesh has installed the reactor pressure vessel at the Rooppur NPP, a major step towards completing its first nuclear reactor. Following this milestone, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has commented on the importance of building a second nuclear reactor, stating “We will no longer face a power crisis.”
Russia has announced the planned construction of a small NPP for the purpose of providing electricity to a gold mine. Beloye Zoloto has won the auction for the field license, with the NPP believed to be operational by 2028. The Ust-Kuyga NPP will produce about 55MWe from a single RITM-200N SMR. 
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The U.S. Air Force has selected the Eielson Air Force Base (AFB) in Alaska as the site to host its first micro-reactor under the pilot Project Pele. The project is scheduled to have an operational micro-reactor by the end of 2027, and will be owned, operated and licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is funding a new project at the Palo Verde NPP dedicated to the production of clean hydrogen energy from nuclear power. The 20 million dollar project will help the DOE’s initiative to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% and achieve a net zero carbon future for the nation.
Connecticut has released its latest Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) detailing the state’s future supply needs. According to the IRP, the continued operation of the Millstone pressurized water reactor is essential for Connecticut to achieve a 100% zero carbon electricity supply by 2040. Millstone’s renewed contract in 2019 states that the plant will continue to operate until 2029.
The U.S. Navy has awarded Fluor a subsidiary of $1.16 billion to continue nuclear propulsion work at the Naval Nuclear Laboratory. According to the initial contract between the two, the navy exercised a cost-plus-fixed-fee option to continue receiving propulsion development, technical support, and nuclear reactor management training.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
World leaders and nuclear experts have voiced their concerns regarding the nuclear powered submarines under the AUKUS agreement, calling for the use of low enriched uranium (LEU). The group of former US officials and non-proliferation experts have called for the use of LEU over highly enriched uranium (HEU) in future submarines to mitigate potential negative impacts on the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. Additionally, the IAEA has set up a task force to look into the nuclear safeguards and legal implications of the agreement.

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Energy and Chinese company Huawei have signed a preliminary agreement to strengthen research and development of intelligent digital technologies. This agreement will help the United Arab Emirates (UAE) achieve its carbon neutrality goals ahead of schedule and accelerate the digital transformation of the UAE’s energy industry.
The U.S. DOE Nuclear Energy University Program has provided funding to further explore the electrochemical corrosion degradation science of concrete as it applies to high-level nuclear waste (HLNW).
Equans Specialized Nuclear Services has developed a transfer vehicle for solid medium and high level nuclear waste on behalf of Belgian’s agency for the management of radioactive waste. After 18 months of testing at waste generator sites, the transfer vehicle is expected to be in official service by the end of the year.
Texas A&M and the DOE have manufactured the first thorium-based fuel pellets called Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life (ANEEL). The ANEEL fuel technology improves fuel performance in CANDU reactors and other pressurized heavy-water reactors (PHWRs). 
The Nuclear Conversation
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