In this week’s issue, we examine the opportunity that has arisen for democratic nuclear supplier nations to overcome Russia’s dominance in the nuclear energy export market, keep China from replacing Russia, and strengthen cooperation among the Western countries. We spotlight PGS President Ken Luongo’s recent appointment to the Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council. Finally, we highlight key nuclear technology, security, and geopolitical developments, reports, and analyses.
Streamlining the Strategy for Nuclear Exports
As the world meets this week in Vienna to review the global nuclear landscape, the grim reality of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and Putin's nuclear weapons threats will dominate the discussion.
But lurking behind the headlines at the annual IAEA General Conference is the growing importance of nuclear energy as a response to global zero-carbon and energy security demands. Unfortunately, an effective strategy for how to meet this moment is missing.
The U.S. epitomizes the disconnect. It is investing billions in new nuclear technology programs designed to develop and demonstrate next-generation reactors and fuels. But its technology enthusiasm has swamped needed attention to the parallel policy superstructure that can develop and support the international market for these new reactors.
Unfortunately, at almost two years into its term, beset with major international challenges, and facing a tough mid-term election landscape, it is unlikely that the Biden administration will be able to produce an effective nuclear export strategy beyond sustaining current underperforming approaches.
However, it could strengthen its position on nuclear exports by pursuing a streamlined strategy with three simple objectives:
·         Keep Russia down
·         Keep China out
·         Keep democratic suppliers strong
None of these objectives will be easy, but embracing them sends an important signal to nuclear technology purchasers, potential partners, and geopolitical competitors.
Keeping Russia down as a global nuclear exporter has been the unachievable goal of multiple American administrations. Russia has been the world’s dominant nuclear supplier for years and there seemingly was no leverage to dislodge it. However, Russia’s inexcusable actions in Ukraine have slowed its global nuclear steamroller. 
Its attacks at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor complex and other nuclear facilities, the growing international outrage over these and other atrocities in Ukraine, and the deep wounding of Russia’s credentials as a responsible civil nuclear nation, have caused some nations to end nuclear contracts and seek alternatives to Russian fuel supplies.
This opens the opportunity for democratic nations to fill the gap. But they will have to keep China from replacing Russia.
One of Russia’s most significant advantages in the global nuclear market has been its generous state-financed offerings, which make it easier for nations to afford expensive reactors and related infrastructure. But even if Russia is knocked off of its nuclear export throne, similar financial incentives are available from China.
China has the most ambitious plans of any nation for nuclear build-out at home. That sustains robust supply chains and provides valuable construction and operational experience.
This domestic dominance has not yet translated to China’s ability to widely export reactor technologies abroad. Its market penetration has been limited to Pakistan and it is working on a joint plan with Argentina. Its nuclear export ambitions also have been stymied in Britain and Central and Eastern Europe.
But the Middle East remains a potential market for China. Saudi Arabia is once again moving forward with its reactor plans, and China has been invited to bid on the project, while the U.S. has been excluded from this recent tender. China-Saudi nuclear cooperation in the explosive Middle East is a troubling prospect.
China has another advantage. It has created a global web of infrastructure and energy dependency throughout the developing economy world through the Belt and Road Initiative. BRI has been a concern for western nations for a decade. And a number of BRI nations are well-suited for deployment of smaller, next-gen nuclear reactors that China and a number of other nations are developing.
However, the global economic slowdown seems to be causing China to rethink this massive lending program.
If China pulls back from its overextended financing abroad, and Russia is maneuvered to the sidelines of nuclear export as a result of Ukraine, then the path should open for democratic nation nuclear suppliers to reestablish their once dominant position in the global market, to which they could provide both large and small plants.
But instead of developing the necessary plan for how to collaborate to fulfill the nascent nuclear needs of the world, key democratic nation exporters are feuding with one another.
The most glaring example is the U.S. and South Korea. Their major nuclear companies are engaged in a three-year-long dispute over reactor component intellectual property rights. The fight is frozen but has spilled over and restricted research collaboration at the scientific level, hampering innovation at a critical juncture.
This is not an esoteric issue. It is central to democratic nations’ nuclear export competitiveness.
The U.S. and South Korea have partnered on important nuclear reactor projects, including most recently in the UAE. They have symbiotic technological capabilities and supply chains. The large reactor markets in Eastern and Central Europe and the Middle East are potentially too big for either nation to service alone. And the small modular and advanced reactor market is potentially expansive. So, working together makes sense.
Yet, despite a Biden-Yoon presidential summit in Seoul earlier this year and Vice President Harris’ visit to Korea this week, no discernible progress on the IP dispute has been made. That hints at a lack of prioritization by the administration at a time when opportunity is knocking.
There also has been little evidence of strategy collaborations with other key democratic supplier nations, including France, Japan, Canada, and the U.K. This is a serious lapse at a critical time and the Vienna meeting was an ideal environment in which to have these discussions.
Coming into the Vienna meeting, the U.S. underscored that, “our collective climate security and energy security will grow alongside innovation and expansion of civil nuclear power.” It also offered hope that, “for those countries held hostage by Russian fossil fuels right now, nuclear power – freed of Russian supply chains – is part of the solution to sever that dependence.”
While these rhetorical goals are strong and clear, the current strategy to achieve them is anything but that. It is at this nexus where talk turns to action that the U.S. nuclear export commitment is melting down.
To change the nuclear export strategy from mediocre to meaningful, the U.S. and its allies should focus on three streamlined and essential objectives. Combined, they can power resurgent Western nuclear technology exports, high nuclear governance standards, and expansive clean energy. That’s what Western governments have been asking for and the time to act is now.
Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

Nuclear Matters has introduced Partnership for Global Security president Ken Luongo as the newest member of the Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council. Luongo joins the Nuclear Matters coalition to help support the nexus nuclear energy, global security, and climate change. Nuclear Matters noted that Luongo will, “help inform the public and policymakers about the importance of reliable carbon-free energy for the energy landscape and of valuing nuclear energy as integral for safety, the climate, and the economy.” Luongo joins former U.S. Congressman Tom Graves, former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, and more than a dozen fellow industry leaders on the Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council.
The Impact of the Ukraine Invasion on Nuclear Affairs and Exports
While the European Union is considering fresh sanctions against Russia for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, several diplomats stated that nuclear energy production and products are unlikely to be part of the next package of sanctions. This is despite Poland and the three Baltic countries working on a joint proposal for new sanctions that would target Russia’s nuclear industry. The European Commission organized meetings with top diplomats to listen to the proposals of EU member states before drafting the next package of measures against Moscow, which is expected to be presented soon.
According to Ukrainian officials, a powerful Russian missile exploded less than 900 feet from the reactors of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant. While the blast forced a shutdown of one of the plant’s hydraulic units, there was no damage to essential safety equipment, and the plant remains fully operational. Ukraine is still investigating the extent of the damage and the type of missile that exploded, with Ukraine’s southern military command stating that preliminary information pointed to a Russian Iskander cruise missile.
IAEA Chief Rafael Mariano Grossi said that he is not abandoning a plan to create a protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant despite Russia’s new mobilization of troops and the disputed independence referendums in Russian-occupied regions. Grossi held separate talks with Russian and Ukrainian officials to negotiate the technical parameters of a protection zone, with a demilitarized zone being the ultimate objective.
The IAEA’s Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on Russia to cease all actions against the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The resolution deplores Russia’s persistent violent actions against nuclear facilities in Ukraine and calls for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukrainian nuclear power plants. The resolution passed with 26 votes in favor, 7 abstentions, and only Russia and China voting against it.
After nearly a week offline, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant resumed receiving electricity from the country’s power grid on September 17. The restoration came after engineers finished repairing a high-voltage line that had been damaged by shelling. Before it was fixed, the plant had been relying on three backup power lines to power the equipment to cool spent fuel rods. Ukraine turned off the final reactor at the plant on September 11 as a safety measure after determining that keeping it going as fighting continued nearby could lead to a nuclear accident.
Nuclear Collaborations
Westinghouse Electric Company has signed a service agreement with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to bring its eVinci microreactor closer to commercialization. The agreement initiates a Vendor Design Review (VDR), which is a pre-licensing technical assessment of the eVinci microreactor design. Westinghouse will execute both Phases 1 and 2 of the VDR as a combined program.
The Philippines announced it is looking at possible investments from U.S. companies on setting up small modular nuclear power plants in the country. Trade and Industry Secretary Alfredo Pascual stated that President Bongbong Marcos had met with at least three companies that can provide modular nuclear power plants, with one of them confirmed to be NuScale Power. President Marcos has previously expressed his interest in adopting nuclear energy, and the government is currently expediting the crafting of a regulatory framework to govern development of nuclear energy and reactors.
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss gas shipments and the construction of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, which is currently being built by Russian nuclear agency Rosatom. Szijjarto also announced that Hungary received another shipment of nuclear fuel from Russia for the Paks plant. Szijjarto will also meet with Rosatom’s chief executive to discuss the next milestones of the nuclear plant project.
Months after the announcement that China will build and finance an $8 billion nuclear power plant in Argentina, the deal is currently hung up over Argentina’s demand that its engineers be permitted to manufacture the reactor fuel domestically. Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission president Adriana Serquis stated that they are working to establish the best conditions in order to transfer the knowledge for making the fuel. If China approves, Argentina would become the first nation licensed to make fuel for China’s Hualong One reactor model.
Amidst the ongoing construction of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, Turkish President Recep Erdogan said Turkey and Russia had reached a deal resolving a dispute over the plant and reinstating Turkish contractor IC Ictas. Last month, Russian nuclear agency Rosatom terminated its contract with IC Ictas over what it called “numerous violations”. Rosatom is currently working with Turkey on building the Akkuyu nuclear plant.
The Estonian company Fermi Energia announced that it will accept tenders from three small modular reactor (SMR) developers: GE Hitachi, NuScale, and Rolls-Royce. The company said bids with comprehensive technical documentation needed to estimate the construction cost are expected by December, and the technology selection will be made in February 2023. Fermi Energia is exploring the possibility of deploying SMRs in Estonia, launching a feasibility study on the suitability of SMRs for Estonia’s climate goals back in 2019.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The French government is drafting legislation to streamline the bureaucratic process around nuclear power projects, aiming to start construction of its first next-generation EPR2 reactor before May 2027. France’s nuclear fleet has recently come under scrutiny with a wave of repairs at power stations forcing a record number of reactors offline. President Emmanuel Macron has put nuclear power at the center of France’s drive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, with plans to build at least six new reactors.
For the second consecutive year, the IAEA has revised its annual projections of the potential growth of nuclear power during the coming decades. In the 42nd edition of the Energy, Electricity, and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050, the IAEA has increased its highest case scenario for global nuclear generation capacity to 873 gigawatts of electricity (GWe) by 2050, more than double the current generation capacity of 390 GWe. The annual outlook identifies climate change mitigation and energy security as key drivers of decisions to continue or expand the use of nuclear power.
Following the German government’s decision to extend two nuclear power plants through the winter, the ruling coalition remains divided about the future of Germany’s nuclear facilities. While Economy Minister Robert Habeck expects for Germany to extend the lifespans of the two power plants even further to avoid possible outages, Environment Minister Steffi Lemke ruled out extending the lifespan of the two plants beyond the upcoming winter. Additionally, the executive committee of the Free Democrats (FDP), who are part of the ruling coalition, voiced its support for extending the lifespans of all three power plants currently in operation as well as bringing three plants that were recently shut down back online.
According to a recent analysis presented to an international group of experts, the cost of decommissioning the United Kingdom’s nuclear waste could rise up to £260 billion. Professor Stephen Thomas’ analysis found that decommissioning nuclear waste at the Sellafield nuclear waste repository will cost more than twice the previous cost of £110 billion. According to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the cleanup of past nuclear waste will take more than 100 years, with its latest annual report stating that £149 billion was needed to pay for cleaning up the Sellafield nuclear waste repository.
The United Arab Emirates’ Barakah nuclear power plant switched on the third reactor unit after receiving an operating license last June. According to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, the reactor is expected to be connected to the national electrical grid in the coming weeks. Once completed, the four units of the Barakah plant will produce enough electricity to cover 25% of the country’s energy needs.
Belgium will cease operations at the Doel 3 nuclear reactor after 40 years of activity. Doel 3 will be disconnected from the electricity grid according to Belgium’s nuclear phase-out law, making Doel 3 the first reactor to be shut down in the country. Outside of Doel 3, Belgium has prolonged the 1st and 2nd units’ lifetime at the Doel nuclear power plant, as well as planning to extend the life of Doel 4 for another 10 years.
Public support in Japan for a nuclear kickstart has hit 60% for the first time since the Fukushima reactor meltdown in 2011. Japan is currently expediting the restart of seven idle reactors that have already met new safety standards, aiming to avert a repeat of this year’s power crunch. Ten of Japan’s remaining 33 idle reactors have restarted since 2011, another 7 are set to fire up in 2023, with an additional 8 to 10 reactors under review for restart before 2030.
The South Korean government unveiled a draft on the country’s green taxonomy which includes nuclear energy. The revision includes classifying the research and development of nuclear energy technology such as small modular reactors (SMR) and accident tolerant fuels (ATF) as green economic activities. The revision also includes nuclear energy plant construction and operation as transitional economic activities.
Following a recent fire at the Romans-sur-Isere uranium enrichment plant in France, France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) said it found no traces of nuclear radiation. ASN added that it deactivated its emergency center in the evening as the fire had been brought under control, and more extensive checks will be carried out by a special research team.
Canadian electricity provider SaskPower has selected two locations as potential sites for a small modular reactor (SMR) in Saskatchewan. The two sites selected for the construction of a $5 billion SMR are Esteban and Elbow. SaskPower hopes to pick a single site by 2023, with a decision to build the SMR coming in 2029.
The IAEA conducted its first ever Site and External Events Design (SEED) mission to look into site selection for an SMR in Romania. The IAEA review assessed how Romania conducted the process for the site selection of an SMR against IAEA safety standards, taking into account potential impacts to a site from external events and potential impacts to the population from low-probability accidents at the site. The team provided recommendations to support the optimization of the site selection process and to minimize the risk that following phases will identify.
Chinese researchers are trying to create a “mega-lab” that will generate nuclear fusion power, known as the Z-FFR. The reactor is due to be built by 2025 in Chengdu, producing power as soon as 2028 before becoming commercially operational by 2035. Once operational, the machine would generate 50 million amps of electricity, about twice as much as the Z Pulsed Power Facility in New Mexico.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
Amidst the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration is redoubling efforts to end U.S. dependence on Russian enriched uranium. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the White House is prioritizing the development of a domestic uranium-enrichment capacity and a fuel-manufacturing plan to be ready by 2025. Russia supplies almost a quarter of the fuel for the United States’ nuclear reactors, while the United States only has one operating commercial enrichment facility located in New Mexico.
The Biden administration requested $35 million to be included in the short-term government funding bill to assist Ukraine’s nuclear security. The additional funds will be used to support procurement and maintenance of additional sensors, data assessment and analysis, and to supply the Ukrainian National Guard with protective equipment for its nuclear power plants. The $35 million represents a small piece of the $12.3 billion in assistance to Ukraine included in the stopgap funding bill, the bulk of which will be directed toward military and economic assistance.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) announced $50 million will go toward private nuclear fusion companies in public-private partnerships. The $50 million will help companies pursuing nuclear fusion to prepare detailed plans, as well as give these companies greater credibility in the global nuclear fusion market. The U.S. government has put significant federal money into nuclear fusion science research, currently investing about $700 million annually into fusion research.
In partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency Energy, the U.S. Air Force released a request for a proposal for the Eielson Air Force Base Micro-Reactor Pilot Program. The Micro-Reactor Pilot Program was launched in response to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requirement to construct and operate a micro-reactor by the end of 2025. Once complete, the micro-reactor will ensure energy resilience for the Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.
Crews at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) nuclear waste repository met to improve safety standards shared between the two facilities. This meeting comes after issues with three shipments of transuranic nuclear waste this year triggered a state investigation. Following these incidents, WIPP officials said the repository has not received any shipments from INL for the past three weeks.
After a decade in limbo, the Nevada state government is pressing U.S. nuclear regulators to kill a proposal that would entomb radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain. The Yucca Mountain site, located 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was chosen in 1987 to store nuclear waste, and the U.S. government spent an estimated $15 billion drilling a test tunnel and determining whether 77,000 tons of nuclear waste could remain buried at the site. However, plans for the repository were stalled in 2010 when the Obama administration cut off funding for the project.
Argonne National Laboratory has teamed up with Constellation Energy Corp. to develop carbon-free generation technologies, including a project focusing on hydrogen production from nuclear power plants. The new Cooperative Research and Development Agreement will see Argonne and Constellation work together to evaluate trends in the country’s energy system and develop technologies for more efficient and carbon-free power generation.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) announced $16 million in funding to provide resources to communities interested in learning more about consent-based siting, management of spent nuclear fuel, and interim facility siting considerations. The DoE plans to fund as many as 8 awardees over a period of 18 to 24 months. Award recipients will advance mutual learning within a community, provide ease of access to information, and foster open discussions about nuclear energy and the management of spent fuel.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
The IAEA has launched a global initiative aimed at boosting the role of new and emerging technologies in the decommissioning of nuclear facilities. The initiative aims to provide information on the new and emerging digital tools and technologies used in data management, planning, licensing, and implementation of decommissioning. Some of the new technologies used in the decommissioning process include AI, automation, and digitalization.
Noteworthy Research
According to a new report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), nuclear energy plays a significant role in scenarios which will achieve carbon neutrality. The report builds on the input from international experts and data scientists to identify a range of technologies and policy solutions for the region to attain carbon neutrality by 2050. For nuclear power, the report’s “carbon neutrality innovation” scenario includes large-scale reactor designs and new small modular reactors, as well as additional services such as hydrogen production.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released a white paper titled, “Licensing and Regulating Fusion Energy Systems”. The NRC states that there is no clear legal path to bringing a commercial fusion plant online with the current regulatory regime. The paper lays out various options to commissioners for regulating nuclear fusion energy devices, with the option to regulate fusion devices under byproduct material facilities standards presented as the preferable choice. The NRC is currently studying these possibilities before it is required to issue its regulations by the end of 2027.
The Nuclear Conversation
News items and summaries compiled by:

Patrick Kendall, Program Manager, Partnership for Global Security

Yeseul Woo, 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.