In this week’s issue, we discuss the United States’ inertia in developing a policy framework to address the dangerous convergence of climate change, nuclear energy, and China’s rise. We also note a Stimson Center white paper that analyzes the evolving nuclear security landscape to propose policy amendments for the IAEA Nuclear Security Recommendations. Finally, we draw attention to the recent approval of NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR) design by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, marking the first SMR design approval in U.S. history. 
The Perilous Convergence of Climate, China, and Continued Complacency
The nexus of climate change, nuclear energy, and the global security challenge from China are rapidly converging issues that require a new policy playbook. Rather than confronting this reality, the world seems to be in a COVID-induced coma, relying on traditional issue stovepipes to develop responses that are blithely blind to the important intersection of these collective, critical concerns.
It is impossible to ignore the historic wildfires now ravaging America’s West Coast, the unprecedented blanket of smoke they have produced, and the resulting negative impact on renewable energy generation. This smokey swathe has significantly reduced the generation capacity from California’s solar farms which has fed rolling electricity blackouts and turned major cities dayglow orange. This dystopian sequence is occurring in a state that ranks as the equivalent of the world’s fifth largest economy.
Denying that climate change is a contributor to this disaster or defending an over-reliance on renewable energy as the only clean energy answer are equally inexcusable responses to this tragic reality.
Still, resistance to the development of all zero-carbon power sources is persistent, particularly when it entails the potential contribution from nuclear power.
This bias endures despite the fact that a new Senate Democratic special committee report and a special subcommittee of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (composed of financial, corporate, and non-governmental members) have reached extremely similar conclusions about the economic impact of climate change.
The Senate committee leads its report by starkly stating, “[t]he climate crisis threatens our lives and livelihoods.” The CFTC group assesses that, “[c]limate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy.”
It is, therefore, difficult to fathom the financial concern that is the go-to argument from nuclear opponents when the stakes are so high and scale so skewed. At issue is sustaining and expanding over $20 trillion in U.S. GDP, currently the largest economy in the world, versus the hundreds of millions the U.S. is investing in next-generation nuclear technologies.
A nuclear subsidy may be considered a crime against the U.S. taxpayer by some, but the government underwrites a range of energy technologies. And the amount pales in comparison to the crime against humanity that would be the collapse of the U.S. and developing nation economies because of a continued climate battering. These new reactors can replace carbon producing fossil fuels and cleanly power developing nations, many of which have small, distributed electric grids and are facing unprecedented climate ravages.
In fact, the Senate special committee determined that, “[t]he clean energy transition in the electric sector will not proceed rapidly enough without the aid of substantial government investment” including for nuclear advancement.
This situation has geopolitical implications as well. America’s main emerging rival, China, would like nothing more than to help hobble the U.S. economy, assume the global GDP crown, and dominate next generation technology. As a new book notes, China’s leaders believe that for it “to win, America must lose.”
The U.S.-China struggle also impacts global security and the future of nuclear proliferation.
A new analysis identifies that one of seven trends that will shape the future of proliferation is the declining “ability of the United States to use civil nuclear energy sales and assistance to advance nonproliferation objectives.” That erosion impacts the “U.S. ability to write the rules of the game” and cedes important technological, energy, and geopolitical territory to China and Russia, “which provide nuclear assistance on more competitive terms – and with fewer nonproliferation strings attached.”
Allowing Russia and China to write the 21st century’s nuclear norms will be a monumental mistake because it could facilitate the creation of new nuclear weapons states. But it may be unavoidable if these nations are able to corner the next-gen nuclear market because the U.S. and its allies cannot produce and effectively market small nuclear power plants. The cost of this outcome will dwarf any government investment in the development and demonstration of the technology.
The convergence of climate change, China, and nuclear security presents a new force of nature. Responding to this nexus requires new thinking, expertise, and investment. But inertia is impeding the development of a new policy playbook, and if that continues much longer it will be extremely perilous.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

The Stimson Center has released a white paper reviewing the nuclear security changes suggested in the 2011 IAEA Nuclear Security Recommendations, analyzing the changed security landscape that has emerged since its release, including emerging threats, and proposing recommendations for the next version of the document.
Nuclear Collaborations
The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) is engaging with a number of countries to strengthen their nuclear programs, according to DoE officials Rita Baranwal and Ted Garrish. The talks are aimed at emerging economies like Kenya and Ghana, with the DoE looking to enhance U.S. influence in nuclear newcomer regions.
A group of leading Canadian nuclear corporations have announced an inter-provincial partnership aimed at developing small modular reactors (SMRs) for use in Saskatchewan. The initiative aims to launch a research center that will focus on the feasibility of SMRs in the province, and follows a public showing of support for the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies by the Saskatchewan Premier last month.
The Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) has entered into contract negotiations with a next-generation nuclear coalition to design and construct a Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) that will support research and development for innovative nuclear technologies. The coalition led by Bechtel National Inc. (BNI), TerraPower and GE Hitachi, will seek to provide a test reactor for fast neutron technology and fuel development.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The nuclear industry Europe is seeking to amend new European Union rules which exclude them from being defined as “green” energy sources. The EU’s Sustainable Finance Taxonomy will be released later this year, and has far-reaching ramifications for funding, public opinion and overall support for Europe’s nuclear industry.
Korean officials are pushing to secure a $6.7 billion order for the Czech Republic’s new Dukovany nuclear power plant (NPP), citing its strong nuclear history and the potential for increased bilateral relations. Sung Yun-mo, the Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy spoke with Czech officials in late August: “We hope that the nuclear power plant project, which will continue for the next 100 years, will be an opportunity to greatly expand the scope of cooperation.”
Two reactors at France’s northern Chooz NPP have been shut down following an intense drought that has limited the reactors’ water supply. The shutdown poses no safety risk to the public, according to the plant’s managers, and is expected to be short-lived.
The site of the semi-constructed Rooppur NPP in Bangladesh is facing severe environmental danger as over a quarter of Bangladesh is lashed by intense flooding. The plant, expected to be completed by 2024, is situated next to the ever-expanding Padma River, which has almost doubled in size in recent months and threatened to damage critical infrastructure at the plant.
Argentina looks set to become the next country involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as the country’s economy struggles under the weight of external debt. The South American nation has already constructed a CANDU-6 pressurized water reactor with help from China, and the two have agreed to begin construction of a Hualong-One reactor later this year.
Poland’s government has approved an updated nuclear energy strategy in a bid to accelerate the development of nuclear power in the country. Poland currently generates most of its electricity from coal power plants and is seeking to reduce carbon emissions to meet requirements set by the European Union.
The United Kingdom is seeking to reduce nuclear power costs by as much as 30% by 2030, following the release of a new report aimed at boosting the UK’s nuclear industry.
The license to construct Egypt’s planned El-Dabaa NPP may not be issued until late 2021, according to a leading nuclear figure in Egypt’s reactor market. The Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority (RNRRA) received the permit application in March 2019, but delays have seen the Russian-built plant put on hold.
China has approved the construction of two new nuclear power projects, according to state media. The Unit 2 of the Hainan Chanjiang plant, and Unit 1 of the Zhejiang San’ao plant are expected to be constructed by 2025.
Fuel loading has begun at Unit 5 of China’s Fuqing NPP, the first with an indigenous-designed Hualong One reactor. The reactor is expected to begin generating electricity by late 2020, with Unit 6 likely following in 2021.
Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission has expressed concerns over a shortage of nuclear energy experts, calling for government intervention to bolster education in the industry. A 2019 report suggested that Japan model their nuclear education and training model on the U.S. and U.K., having waned significantly since the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The recently released Democratic Party platform has officially thrown its support behind nuclear energy for the first time since 1972. The platform advocates a “technology-neutral” approach to energy that includes “all zero-carbon technologies”, including both existing and advanced nuclear projects.
NuScale has become the first U.S.-based company to gain approval for its SMR design from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The landmark approval marks the final stage of the technical and safety reviews of the design, which will now require a license to build and operate before deployment. The deployment of the reactor, however, has been pushed back from 2026 to 2029, due to setbacks.
In a blow to the deployment of next-generation nuclear technologies in the U.S., the City Council of Lehi, Utah, has voted unanimously to withdraw from a new nuclear power project, citing excessive costs. The project, led by NuScale, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and the DoE, is expected to be fully operational and providing energy to 34 municipalities across three states by 2030.
Texan Congressman Bill Flores (R-Texas) has called for the U.S. to become carbon neutral by 2040 through major investments in clean energy systems, including civil nuclear power. The Republican lawmaker emphasized the need for next-generation and small modular reactors, claiming, “those are key to having this carbon neutral future.”
Moody’s Investor Service has announced that credit risks associated with climate change for NPP operators in the U.S. will continue to rise over the next two decades. The extent of credit risk will be dependent upon plant operators’ ability to mitigate climate factors that influence fuel handling, power and steam generation, maintenance, safety systems and waste processing.
Illinois’ Exelon Power has threatened to shut down two of its NPPs – Morris and Byron – over a political funding feud. The company says more state funding is needed for the plants to remain operable and is using the hundreds of jobs provided by the plants as leverage to secure the investment.
The DoE and NASA will seek proposals for the development of a nuclear power system that can support NASA’s ongoing exploration of Mars, with the request for proposals poised for later this year. The project will also seek to develop a 10 KW nuclear fission power system for the moon by 2027.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
A new effort by the Department of Defense (DoD), named the Recourse Competition, Environmental Security, and Stability (RECESS) program, will focus on the emerging security threats posed by climate change and other environmental hazards. The move reflects a growing interest in the climate-security nexus, despite efforts by Secretary of State James Mattis to deprioritize the issue.
Bill Gates’ TerraPower is expecting to store electricity generated from its advanced nuclear reactors, supplementing power grids that rely on renewable energy sources. The storage is expected to be part of a newly announced project aimed at developing 345-megawatt, sodium-cooled reactors.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has labelled Saudi Arabia a serious “risk”, following reports that a secret uranium processing plant is being built with help from China. Pompeo named Saudi Arabia as part of a list of threatening regimes: “We’re trying to take down risk of proliferation all across the world, whether that’s in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or North Korea, or Russia.”
A recent fire at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility was “caused by sabotage”, according to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). The incident reflects concerns from the U.S. DoD about the safety of Iranian nuclear infrastructure, and comes amidst suggestions that Iran is illegally enriching uranium.
The DoE will provide up to $21 million in support of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to accelerate the development of nuclear fusion. Funding recipients have not yet been announced.
Noteworthy Research
A recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, ‘Toward A More Proliferated World?’, explores the contemporary state of global geopolitics that will influence the future proliferation of nuclear weapons. The report recommends that the U.S. establish a regional forum with its partners to address proliferation concerns in the Middle East, amongst other policy proposals.
The Case for Climate Action: Building a Clean Economy for the American People’ is a new report released by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis that advocates for the dual-use of renewable energy and advanced nuclear technologies for decarbonization.
The Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility has released a new report outlining the barriers faced by Utah’s Associated Municipal Power Systems in its bid to construct SMRs. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ focuses chiefly on NuScale’s SMR design, and outlines construction costs, consumer costs, and waste disposal as key issues for SMR deployment.
China is expected to surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest generator of nuclear energy by 2030 as the Asian powerhouse continues to invest heavily in civil nuclear technologies, according to the World Nuclear Association. China’s upward nuclear trajectory coincides with a decades of limited funding in the U.S., with many of its reactors planned to retire in coming years.
The World Nuclear Association has released its World Nuclear Performance Report for 2020, showing an increase in nuclear energy production for the seventh consecutive year in 2019. A total of 442 operable reactors around the world, thanks largely to increased operating capacity, produced 2,657 TWh of electricity.
The Nuclear Conversation
Inverse, September 5

The National Interest, September 4, September 3

Oil Price, September 1

Atlantic Council, September 1

Bloomberg, August 31

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 31

The Orange County Register, August 30

Center for Climate and Security, August 26

Calgary Herald, August 26

Third Way, August 25

RealClear Energy, August 24

New York Post, August 24

IAEA, August 24
Oil Price, August 24

The Cold Lake Sun, August 24

Oil Price, August 23

Department of Energy, August 21

Scientific American, August 20

Nuclear Energy Institute, August 20

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