In this week’s issue, we assess developments at the nexus of nuclear export, geopolitics, and global security. We spotlight an article from The Wire China featuring PGS President Ken Luongo on China’s nuclear energy ambitions and rivalry with the United States. Finally, we highlight recent developments in nuclear policy and governance, international collaborations, and geopolitics.

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Imbalances Emerging on Nuclear Export, Geopolitics, and Security
Notable developments are occurring at the nexus of nuclear export, geopolitics, and global security driven by continuing and significant changes in the international environment. But as these issues further fuse and shape our future, it is not clear whether government policy and reactor market development can keep pace with the technology-centric next-gen nuclear trajectory. This policy-technology imbalance is a growing problem.
A recent article on China’s rise as a global nuclear power leader has been complemented by a new report on how that ascension is likely to create conflict with the U.S. This is particularly true in emerging markets for smaller reactors.
These stories both highlight the ambition of the U.S. to position itself as an alternative global nuclear supplier to China and Russia. But it is not clear that the government’s seemingly scattershot actions are adequate to match its stated ambition. There seemingly is not a strategic plan for locking down nuclear export markets.
One significant problem is that the very substantial funding being funneled by the U.S. government into new, smaller nuclear reactors is overwhelmingly for technology development and demonstration. There is little attention focused on the policies that will support these reactors or the cultivation of the markets where they will be deployed.
DoE has awarded $4.6 billion to three reactor designs, the Nuscale’s VOYGR, TerraPower’s Natrium, and X-energy’s Xe-100. The latter two reactors are funded out of the DoE Advanced Reactors Demonstration Program. Additional “Risk Reduction” funding for 5 other reactors added another $600 million to the investment.
Similarly, the U.K. this week announced it has chosen six companies designs for smaller nuclear reactors as part of a competition to deliver new nuclear plants to Britain by the mid-2030’s. These companies will now strive to receive government support and contracts by mid-2024.
Certainly, you need to design and demonstrate the new technologies before they can be deployed. But what is being shortchanged in the technology-driven process of the moment is the development of the policies and accurate market analysis that will support the realistic export and international competitiveness of these reactors.
These two issues are particularly important for the U.S. and other democratic nation nuclear suppliers.
Their next-gen reactors are likely to be more expensive than those produced by Russia and China. They also are unlikely to be able to match the financial subsidies that these authoritarian nations can offer developing economy nations. And they will be working with client countries that reside in less stable regions, like Africa and the Middle East. Russia and China already have made deep infrastructure inroads in these regions.
Therefore, besides being qualitatively superior, the western reactor suppliers need to offer an effective operational support and security policy package that strengthens international confidence in their reactor sales and operation. That responsibility likely is going to fall more heavily on governments as the reactor developers are mainly focused on managing their product and regulatory requirements.
But the national government response on these issues has been scattered and uncoordinated. An example of good intentions on the policy agenda, but lack of specifics, was a communique from the recent OECD “Roadmaps to New Nuclear” conference. It noted a commitment to “support the creation and maintenance of enabling policy frameworks, regulatory pathways, and codes and standards to enable nuclear energy deployment.” But it offered no specific action plan for the development of these vital items.
An important, if vague, policy step forward was taken by the IAEA in its the preprint release of its newest “Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power” report.
This document specifically addresses the applicability of the Agency’s 19 infrastructure issues, known as the “Milestones Approach”, for small and medium-sized modular reactors, particularly high temperature gas cooled reactors. It noted that, after several rounds of assessment, “it is expected that some elements of the infrastructure can be down scaled” because of lower power output and related risks. That is a significant statement, but offers no details.
The draft report further noted that for nuclear safeguards, the new reactor technologies, “may require the development of new approaches depending on the SMR design and type of fuel.” For nuclear security, it determined that, “It is not clear to what extent the complexity of the security arrangements for SMRs may be simplified.”
The need for evolving safeguards and security approaches for next-gen reactors was clearly identified by the Global Nexus Initiative's assessment of these technologies in 2019 and amplified in several subsequent analyses. Further official and expert work is necessary to build out the details of these preliminary analyses. Next-gen reactors are going to need an effective nuclear safeguards and security policy framework if they are to thrive.
A second challenge is to realistically scale nuclear power, both large and small, to meet climate objectives. The talk has intensified but the pathway is unclear as there are serious technical, regulatory, and financing issues to be addressed.
The U.S. climate Czar, John Kerry, noted during last month’s New York Climate Week, “we can’t get to net zero 2050 unless we have a pot, a mixture, of energy approaches in the new nuclear economy. And one of those elements which is essential in all the modelling I’ve seen, is nuclear.”
The new Net Zero Nuclear campaign, backed by the UAE and the UK, indicated that nuclear energy capacity needs to triple by 2050 to achieve global climate targets. That translates to 40 GW of new nuclear power per year, a requirement that vastly outstrips current deployment.
These developments were followed by the IAEA’s Nuclear Innovations for Net Zero scientific forum, held in Vienna last week. There, the U.S. Secretary of Energy dramatically raised the stakes for domestic nuclear deployment noting that, “reaching our 2050 net zero goals depends on at least tripling our nuclear energy capacity to 300 gigawatts or more.”
All of these statements are light years ahead of the tepid support for nuclear energy that pre-dated the Glasgow climate summit in 2021. There, the value of nuclear power as a significant carbon reduction technology along with renewables began to crystallize and gain international acceptance and momentum.
But the statements about the value of new nuclear sound more like the hope for achievement rather than the certainty of success. Failure cannot be an option given the climate and global security stakes. But success will not be achieved by rhetoric. Now is the time to bring the technology, policy, and market requirements into balance. The persistently airy nuclear buzz will lose its fizz if serious action isn’t taken now to lock down identifiable markets and begin to seriously prepare non-OECD countries for nuclear operation.
Spending billions on next-gen reactor technologies grabs headlines, consumes vast government resources, and offers supporters high level speech material. But the true measure of success will be the global market penetration of these reactors in the face of stiff competition from Russia and China. That’s not a talking point, it’s the reality.
Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

The Wire China published an article on China’s nuclear energy ambitions and its plans to deploy additional nuclear reactors. In this article, PGS President Ken Luongo provides his thoughts on China’s nuclear energy policy, its pursuit of advanced reactor technology, and the nuclear competition between China and the United States. Both China and the United States are pursuing the development of advanced reactors, with both countries currently making progress in developing small modular reactors (SMR) and molten salt reactors (MSR).
The Impact of the Ukraine Invasion on Nuclear Affairs and Exports
During the 67th session of the IAEA General Conference, the IAEA adopted a resolution that calls on the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw all military and other personnel from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and return control to Ukraine. The resolution was put forward by Canada, Finland, and Costa Rica and was supported by 69 countries. The resolution contains a requirement to enable the IAEA to ensure the safe and secure operation of the ZNPP and to carry out efficient and effective implementation of security guarantees.

Shortly before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the UN General Assembly, Russia launched a massive missile attack on at least 6 cities across Ukraine that left at least two dead and more than 20 wounded. Ukrengergo, Ukraine’s electrical grid operator, released a statement on social media that the strike was the first successful attack targeting energy facilities in months, resulting in partial blackouts in five different regions across the nation.
Nuclear Collaborations
France and eight other countries supporting nuclear energy proposed a plan to break the existing deadlock over state support to extend the life of European Union (EU) aging reactors in an effort to come to an agreement with Germany. While France has pushed for rules that would allow it to tap new financing sources to extend the life of its reactors, Germany has thus far blocked such efforts out of concern that EDF would be able to sell power at uneconomical costs. Should a deal be reached, talks will begin with parliament over the final shape of the reform.

Representatives of the nuclear industry in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and representatives of the governments of 20 countries have issued communiqués committing to work together to expand nuclear energy capacity. They pledge to extend the operating period of nuclear generation resources, accelerate the deployment of advanced reactors, and deepen international cooperation for the development of the nuclear supply chain. Organizations involved include the Canadian Nuclear Association, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the World Nuclear Association.

US firms Westinghouse Electric Company and Bechtel signed an engineering services contract with Polish power company Polskie Elektrownie Jądrowe (PEJ) for the country’s first nuclear power plant, which will be constructed at the Lubiatowo-Kopalino site in the Choczewo municipality in Pomerania. The contract stipulates that Westinghouse and Bechtel, in cooperation with PEJ, will finalize a site-specific design for the plant featuring three of Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactors. The design and engineering documentation includes the nuclear island, the turbine island, and the associated installations, auxiliary equipment, and related infrastructure related to the safety of the facility.

The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) approved a design for HD Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering (KSOE) and Kepco’s design for a floating offshore nuclear power barge. HD KSOE provided basic designs for the marine systems, while Kepco will continue to work on risk assessments for future applications. The floating small modular reactor (SMR) barge is intended to serve as offshore power generation for remote communities and island electrification.

Laurentis Energy Partners and Nuclearelectrica signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding collaboration on the production of medical isotopes at the Cernavoda nuclear power plant and exploring the possibility of heavy water production in Romania. The MoU comes on the heels of last week’s announcement by Canada’s Natural Resources and Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson of $3 billion CAD in potential export financing to support clean energy security in Romania.

Argentina's National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) and the French Alternative Energies & Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) have signed a cooperation agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear technology and new energy technologies, expanding on a previous agreement signed in 2010. The new agreement will last for 10 years and includes the option to extend it further. Cooperation will include information exchanges, reciprocal visits, organization of seminars and workshops, technical collaboration or research, and developmental projects.

The developer of the LDR-50 small modular reactor (SMR) Steady Energy and Finnish energy firm Helen signed a letter of intent aimed at enabling an investment in a small-scale nuclear power plant for district heating. The letter is valid from 2024 through 2027 and would allow Helen to procure up to 10 reactor units with a capacity of 50 MW from Steady Energy. Helen’s district heating network spans 1400km, one of the longest in the Nordic countries, and decarbonizing using SMRs would be a significant climate action on a national scale, according to the CEO of Helen Olli Sirkka.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
Saudi Arabia announced that it will update its nuclear policy and give the IAEA wider access to its facilities to account for atomic materials. Saudi Arabia’s program was previously monitored under the Small Quantities Protocol, but the kingdom will now move to implement a full-scope Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz added that the kingdom is also looking to activate a regional cooperation center in partnership with the IAEA to improve its preparedness for nuclear emergencies.

A bipartisan group of more than two dozen nuclear and Middle East experts sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, urging him not to allow Saudi Arabia to have a uranium enrichment program on its soil. The 27 experts say they support a normalization of nuclear cooperation, but think the kingdom does not need uranium enrichment to produce nuclear energy. Saudi Arabia has doubled down on its demand for a civil nuclear program that includes uranium enrichment in negotiations with the United States and Israel.

A Chinese Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA) stated that China expects to greenlight 6-8 new nuclear power units a year within the foreseeable future. China is currently expanding its nuclear power capacity, with nuclear power expected to contribute about 10% of China’s total power generation by 2035. China currently has an installed nuclear capacity of 57 GW, and the country aims for a total generation capacity of 400 GW by 2060.

Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant announced it began releasing a second batch of treated radioactive wastewater into the sea after the first round of discharges ended smoothly. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said workers activated pumps to dilute the treated water with large amounts of seawater, slowly sending the mixture into the ocean through an undersea tunnel. The wastewater discharges have been strongly opposed by fishing groups and neighboring countries.

The United Kingdom has selected six companies to advance to the next round in a government competition to develop small modular reactors. Among the finalists selected are Électricité de France (EDF), NuScale Power, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy International, and Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc. The firms will be invited to bid for contracts later in the year, with the winners announced early next year. The United Kingdom has set a target of building 24 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2050.

The board of Kazatomprom approved a strategy to increase uranium production volumes by 2025, returning to a 100% level relative to its subsoil use agreements for the first time since 2018. Kazatomprom stated that 2025 uranium production is now expected to be between 30,500 tons of uranium (tU) and 31,500 tU. Kazakhstan is the largest global producer of uranium, with Katazomprom producing uranium from 26 uranium deposits grouped into 14 mining assets.

IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi showcased progress for the IAEA’s Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI) during the IAEA’s 67th General Conference. Grossi called on countries to keep up the momentum behind the global effort to facilitate the effective deployment of small modular reactors (SMR). Grossi launched NHSI last year to bring together policymakers, regulators, designers, and vendors to develop common regulatory and industrial approaches to SMRs.

At an annual IAEA meeting, Japan and China sparred over the release of treated water containing tritium from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the ocean. The Chinese representative referred to the treated water as “nuclear-contaminated water” and reiterated the country’s opposition to the discharge. In response, Japanese representative Sanae Takaichi refuted the claims, claiming that the operation is being processed safely and meets international standards.

The Italian government has launched the National Platform for Sustainable Nuclear Power, which will lead within nine months to developing guidelines for possibly reintroducing nuclear power among national energy sources. The government will use the platform to define a time frame for the possible resumption of nuclear energy in Italy and identify opportunities for the country’s industrial chain. Italy is currently considering reinstating nuclear power, specifically looking at new technologies such as small modular reactors and fourth-generation advanced reactors.

The IAEA is supporting Jordan’s plans to adopt nuclear energy through the IAEA Platform on Small Modular Reactors (SMR) and their Applications. Jordan also recently benefited from an IAEA expert mission on SMRs for electricity and potable water production, after previously hosting an IAEA workshop on nuclear desalination. Jordan’s envisaged desalination plant would produce fresh water from the Red Sea for delivery to the 4 million residents of Amman.

Bangladesh held a ceremony to mark the arrival of the first batch of nuclear fuel at the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. The arrival of nuclear fuel marks the moment that the site gets the status of a nuclear facility, and also means Bangladesh is officially a nuclear country. The Rooppur plant features two Russian VVER-1200 reactors, with the power plant scheduled to be commissioned in 2024.

Swedish lawmakers have submitted a bill to amend Sweden’s legislation on nuclear power. The proposed bill aims to remove the current law limiting the number of reactors in operation to ten, as well as allowing reactors to be built on new sites rather than just existing ones. Sweden’s current coalition government has adopted a positive stance towards nuclear energy.

Romania’s National Commission for Nuclear Activities Control (CNCAN) approved the Licensing Basis Document for the NuScale VOYGR-6 small modular reactor (SMR) power plant. Utility Nuclearelectrica stated that the approval represents a key milestone for the project, which will facilitate the implementation of the licensing process for all stages of the NuScale plant. NuScale Power and Nuclearelectrica signed a teaming agreement in 2021 to deploy the VOYGR-6 power plant in Romania by the end of the decade.

Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) announced that Posiva Oy’s used fuel disposal facility will not be completed this year due to the review of Posiva’s operating license application taking longer than expected. Radioactive waste management company Posiva Oy submitted its application in late 2021 for an operating license for its used fuel disposal facility, which would be the first of its kind in the world. The repository is expected to begin operations in the mid-2020s, with the license applying for a period from March 2024 to the end of 2070.

The IAEA completed an 18-day Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) mission at the Penly Nuclear Power Plant in France. The OSART team found that the Penly plant has demonstrated a commitment to operational safety, while also encouraging Électricité de France (EDF) to continue improvements in areas such as the implementation of maintenance work. There are two pressurized water reactors currently operating at Penly, with EDF planning to start preparatory work for new EPR2 reactors in mid-2024.

The power output of unit 3 at the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant in Slovakia has reached 100% as energy start-up tests continue. Plant operator Slovenské elektrárne announced that the plant has fulfilled the conditions to increase reactor output to 100% after completing power escalation tests in early September. Once at full output, each of the Mochovce plant’s four units will be able to provide 13% of Slovakia’s electricity needs.

The French government and Électricité de France (EDF) chief Luc Rémont are clashing over strategy and financing as the country gears up for its biggest reactor construction program in decades. In particular, EDF is seeking higher prices to bring in much-needed capital, while the state wants to contain energy costs as much as possible. The debate has led to discussions as to whether EDF executives can and should run the group as a normal company despite being state-owned.

In a meeting at the 67th IAEA General Conference, three more European regulators are set to join France’s Nuward small modular reactor (SMR) design joint early regulatory review after the pilot phase resulted in positive lessons for all sides. Renaud Crassous, president and CEO of Nuward, said that the process has been a positive one and that a lot had been learned regarding how each nation had built its national approach to implementing global principles. While the joint early review does not replace the licensing or approval process, it enables discussion between different countries’ regulators and the SMR designers in an effort to smooth the process as much as possible.

The reactor pressure vessel (RPV) for Turkey’s Akkuyu unit 3 has been completed in Russia. This brings the total number of RPVs supplied by Russia this year to 5, which is a record according to Rosatom. The Akkuyu plant is Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. It will consist of four Russian VVER-1200 reactors that will be constructed under a build-own-operate model. The plant is expected to meet approximately 10% of Turkey’s electricity needs with the goal that all four units are operational by the end of 2028.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The Department of Energy’s MARVEL microreactor prototype has begun tests to demonstrate the natural circulation that will be a critical part of the reactor’s heat removal system. The primary coolant apparatus test (PCAT) is a full-scale replica of the MARVEL microreactor at the Idaho National Laboratory. The MARVEL microreactor will be a liquid-metal cooled microreactor that is expected to produce 85 MW using small amounts of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the Biden administration hopes to create a commercial nuclear fusion facility within 10 years as part of the nation’s transition to clean energy. A successful nuclear fusion was first achieved by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory last December. Nuclear energy is an essential component of the Biden administration’s goal of achieving a carbon-free power sector by 2035.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is requesting comments on the regulatory basis for a proposed rule for light water reactor fuel designs featuring high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), and on draft guidance for the environmental evaluation of ATFs containing uranium enriched up to 8% U-235. The current LWR fuel licensing framework allows for fuels with more than 5% U-235, but using them could require several regulatory exemptions. Last month, the NRC authorized American Centrifuge Operating to begin phase 1 of its demonstration project under the Department of Energy.

The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) Initiative awarded two vouchers to NuScale Power and Metatomic Energy to support the development of their small modular reactor (SMR) and spent nuclear fuel conversion technologies. NuScale will work with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to assess the company’s VOYGR power plant’s heat augmentation system to determine the best ways of coupling their advanced SMRs with chemical plants. Metatomic will work with the Savannah River National Laboratory to begin demonstrating their new process to convert today’s commercial spent nuclear fuel into fuel for molten salt fast reactors.

Southern Company, TerraPower, and Core Power have started pumped-salt operations in the Integrated Effects Test (IET) facility at TerraPower’s laboratory in Washington state. The IET is a multi-loop test facility that will be used in the development of the Molten Chloride Fast Reactor. The project was initiated by Southern and TerraPower under the Department of Energy Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC-15) award, which promotes the design, construction, and operation of Generation-IV nuclear reactors.

Westinghouse Electric signed a contract to deliver advanced fuel to one of the largest boiling water reactor (BWR) utilities in the United States. The TRITON11 fuel assembly is Westinghouse’s optimized BWR fuel design which will be manufactured at the Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility for future deliveries. This marks the re-entry of Westinghouse into America’s BWR fuel market for the first time since 2016.

Southern Nuclear announced it has received authorization from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to use advanced fuel enriched up to 6% uranium-235 at Vogtle unit 2. This is the first time a U.S. commercial reactor has been authorized to use fuel with over 5% enrichment. The authorization means that the manufacture of four first-of-kind lead test assemblies of the next-generation Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF) can now begin, with Southern Nuclear envisaging loading the fuel into the reactor in 2025.

The Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas began work to develop small modular reactors (SMR) with the first meeting of the PUC’s Advanced Nuclear Reactor Working Group. The working group is planning to deliver a report on the topic to Governor Greg Abbott by the end of the year. The PUC working group will tackle a host of issues including workforce and supply chain development, the use of state and federal incentives to construct SMRs, and how advanced nuclear resources will compete in wholesale markets managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) awarded design contracts to advance technologies for nuclear powered space vehicles. The AFRL project is known as Joint Emergent Technology Supplying On-orbit Nuclear Power. The goal of the project is to advance nuclear fission technology to produce small power reactors for space vehicles.

The director of the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office (LPO), Jigar Shah, stated that nuclear power plants using low-cost electricity to make hydrogen from water could play a role in the United States’ energy transition. However, Shah did not specify what kind of projects joining nuclear and hydrogen that the LPO might consider. Since 2001, the LPO has approved about $1.5 billion for hydrogen projects, with about $30 billion worth of U.S. hydrogen projects currently in the advanced stage which could reach a final investment decision later this year.

Crowley and BWX Technologies (BWXT) signed an agreement to develop a ship concept that has the potential to generate nuclear power. The ship would supply small-scale nuclear energy to shoreside locations, providing power to military bases, backup utility grids, and other situations. The vessel concept combines Crowley’s logistics and marine capabilities with BWXT’s nuclear expertise.
Noteworthy Research
The IAEA released the preprint for its “Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power” report. The document addresses the applicability of the Agency’s Milestone Approach for small and medium-sized modular reactors. The report notes that it is expected that some of the IAEA infrastructure can be downscaled because of the lower power output of advanced modular reactors and their related risks. On the other hand, the draft report also stated that new reactor technology may require the development of new approaches depending on the SMR design and type of fuel.

The Nuclear Innovation Alliance published a report examining how nuclear energy can be used to repower coal-fired energy facilities. It presents the key concepts, opportunities, and challenges associated with this energy transition, and provides readers with a comprehensive understanding of this subject matter. The document aims to foster informed decision-making, strategic planning, and meaningful discussions that contribute to coal repowering efforts.

The International Energy Agency updated its 2021 Net Zero Roadmap, stating that the role of nuclear power has been elevated given recent global policy support. In its updated net-zero emissions scenario, nuclear power capacity saw an increase of 104 GWe up to 916 GWe from 812 GWe in the 2021 report. This increase would see global nuclear capacity more than doubling from the 417GW in 2022. The IEA notes that in order to achieve this goal by 2050, an average of 26GW of new nuclear capacity would have to be brought online annually, requiring an average annual investment of over $100 billion.

In a new joint report from the World Nuclear Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the Canadian Nuclear Association, the organizations propose regulatory steps that can be taken to minimize both time and cost for large-scale deployment of a fleet of standardized reactor designs acceptable in multiple countries around the world. The report had three key recommendations and contained a model that focuses on increasing cooperation between key stakeholders as working with large groups of stakeholders makes alignment of requirements increasingly difficult. The report concludes that there needs to be an innovative approach and that additional resources above and beyond what each national regulator already needs will be required to meet the targets for new nuclear power by 2050.
The Nuclear Conversation
News items and summaries compiled by:

Patrick Kendall, Program Manager, Partnership for Global Security

Michael Sway, 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.