In this issue, we highlight civil nuclear developments in China, Russia, and France as they consider their future investment and export policies. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Democratic Party presidential candidates debate the role of nuclear in the country’s energy mix, and both government and private actors advance the importance of proper oversight on America’s nuclear capacity. Finally, we note a recent report from China reflecting their approach to maintaining nuclear security.  
Nuclear, Climate, and the Next Election
The debate over the role of nuclear power in addressing climate change is heating up like the atmosphere. But it's amounting to a lot of hot air because it is not clear that America’s foremost presidential aspirants and allied leaders fully understand the essential connection between these issues.

At a CNN Town Hall on climate change, 10 Democratic party candidates agreed that we are facing a crisis. But they split on whether nuclear power should have a role in combating a warming planet. Their views ranged from phasing out existing plants to increasing federal spending for next generation technologies. Generally, however, most were uneasy with the question and vague on the facts.

On the other side of the aisle, the current administration is thinking deeply about the role of nuclear power in the 21st century. It is trying to strengthen American exports, recognizes the geopolitical implications of nuclear power, and has created a working group of senior government officials to assess issues related to U.S. competitiveness in the nuclear fuel cycle. But, it does not believe that climate change is an existential threat, a crisis, or even an issue worth tackling. So, there is a major disconnect between the issues that need to be knitted together and, as a result, its policy framework is inadequate.

It’s hard to argue with the fact that coal and natural gas account for 98% of carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. electric power sector, which accounts for about one-third of total emissions from the country. Carbon-free electricity sources account for about 35% of U.S. electricity generation. Within that percentage, currently operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. account for about 56% of the carbon-free electric generation, renewables 22% and hydro power 21%.

Renewables will continue to grow, increasing their percentage of carbon-free power. But it is a long road to a zero-carbon world and doing it with renewables alone is likely to make it considerably tougher. Then there is the reality that the U.S. is only part of the carbon problem and the decisions of China, India , and many developing economy nations are going to have important impacts on how greenhouse gasses grow, or don’t, in this century.

Missing from the CNN debate, and any of the candidate’s responses, was the third key issue in the nuclear-climate connection – global security. It is the nexus of these three key issues that represent the complete policy framework for considering the future of nuclear power and its implications.

If nuclear power is going to continue to contribute to limiting global carbon emissions, then it has to be protected against cyber, proliferation, and terrorist threats. If the future is smaller, remotely deployed reactors in developing economy countries, then the international community will require strong assurances that these reactors are being protected and operated consistent with high standards. The export of existing or next generation nuclear power plants is one front in the big power battle between the U.S., China, and Russia for geopolitical influence. The winner of this competition matters, as it very likely will have significant influence over the evolution of the nuclear governance system in this century – for better or worse.

The 2020 presidential election in the U.S. is an important watershed. But leadership contests are also occurring in key allied nations. There seems to be rolling prime ministers in the U.K. Canadian elections will occur this Fall. Japan is going to the polls in 2021. And South Korea and France will choose their leadership in 2022. Each of these nations has a critical role in global nuclear technology development, commerce, and geopolitics. At the moment, there is not strong consensus among them on the role of nuclear power in the coming decades.

Leadership from the U.S. is likely going to be required to bring these key countries together. But that will be difficult if there is not agreement on the right policy framework for how to position nuclear power as a global asset that promotes carbon reduction, innovation, and global security. Those seeking to lead the U.S. need to understand and act on this critical global issue intersection and work to bring allied nations along. Unfortunately, at the moment, they don’t seem to be able to connect the dots.

Ken Luongo, Partnership for Global Security

“Nuclear innovation is essential in the 21 st  century, a period of powerful technological evolution and intensifying global competition. The challenges posed by climate change and to global nuclear security must be addressed in a strong and effective manner. Advanced reactors are an important response to both of these critical issues.”
Nuclear Collaboration
The UAE’s Barakah One Company and South Korea’s Electric Power Corporation have recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to explore opportunities in new nuclear energy markets. The signing represents a consolidation of ties between the two companies and an opportunity for the UAE to gain technical and operational expertise.    
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
China has recently condemned the United States for placing some of its nuclear firms on a trade blacklist. In an escalation of the ongoing trade war, the U.S. has accused these firms of using American nuclear technology and material for military purposes. However, Chinese firms insist that they are unaffected and will continue to pursue further cooperation with countries like France and the United Kingdom. 

China, seeking to diversify its economic and energy partnerships, is in talks with France’s Areva to construct a nuclear fuel processing plant. According to China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration head Liu Hua, negotiations are “almost concluded.”  

In a bid to expand its influence in Africa, Russia has been campaigning to sell its nuclear technology to the continent. Rosatom has signed billions of dollars of deals with African countries. Such initiatives have not come without criticism, however, with activists accusing the projects of failing to benefit ordinary people and of facilitating poor governance practices.  

Russia’s Rosatom has recently been awarded a license to construct the second of four planned nuclear reactors in Turkey. This news comes amid reports of safety and environmental setbacks confronting the construction of the Akkuyu power plant. 

South Korea has recently started the commercial operation of its new Shin-Kori 4 reactor. This event comes at a time when the East Asian country is determining its energy mix: building more nuclear reactors abroad while seeking to rely less on them domestically.  

France has decided to drop plans to build a prototype sodium-cooled nuclear reactor after years of research and spending hundreds of millions of euros. Although potential exists in sodium nuclear reactors, there are serious safety concerns using sodium instead of water as a reactor coolant.  

Électricité de France (EDF) has come under increased pressure after its shares recently fell by 7.1 percent. Additionally, its current nuclear project in Flamanville has been plagued by ever-expanding costs and delays in completion. 

Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has announced that the kingdom plans to enrich uranium for civil nuclear energy purposes. This has sparked fear among arms control activists and some regional watchdogs that Iran and Saudi Arabia could enrich uranium to military-grade levels and thus potentially develop nuclear weapons.  
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
Energy policy has been a prevalent and recurring topic amongst the Democratic presidential candidates, who are divided on nuclear. According to Vox’s David Roberts, the nuclear debate should not revolve around the zero-sum approach of being pro- or anti-nuclear.  

This past July, the White House released a “Memorandum on the Effect of Uranium Exports on the National Security and Establishment of the United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group.” This memorandum establishes a working group to examine the state of domestic nuclear fuel production and provide recommendations within 90 days.  

The Nuclear Energy Institute has recently urged the White House to pursue proactive policies guaranteeing that the U.S. has the uranium enrichment capacity to satisfy both defense and energy needs. However, some experts question the need to expand the U.S.’ nuclear capacities and argue that current levels are sufficient to last for several decades.  

U.S. nuclear scientists have been working quietly but efficiently in developing affordable but safe new advanced nuclear reactor models. One of the models is the Scalable Liquid Metal-cooled small Modular reactor (SLIMM), which presents tangible benefits, including its cheap cost and inability to melt down.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies 
The nuclear industry is witnessing a shift from producing analog-based nuclear reactors to digital-based ones. This is evident by Purdue University’s project, Purdue University Reactor Number One (PUR-1). The digital reactor could open new possibilities with artificial intelligence, not possible with analog systems.

Students from Texas A&M University’s School of Engineering recently participated in Aggie Invent, a 48-hour intensive design experience. They competed in teams, with the goal of “designing a sensor that can be easily hidden in devices placed in plain sight to detect nuclear or chemical material.” 
Noteworthy Research
A report was recently prepared for the European Commission Technical Export Group that assesses the sustainability of nuclear energy as an investment. It provides evidence that clearly shows that nuclear energy does not cause significant harm to the EU’s sustainability objectives, such as climate change mitigation. 

China has recently issued a white paper outlining its approach to nuclear security. The underlying theme of the document is that China is a responsible nuclear energy producer and is taking all measures to ensure that it plays its role in maintaining a safe environment for nuclear energy.  
The Nuclear Conversation
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