In this week’s issue, we discuss the challenges and harsh realities the U.S. and the international community face when addressing deep decarbonization aspirations. We also highlight the Virtual Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by the U.S. that brought together 40 world leaders to discuss and underscore the urgency of stronger climate commitment. Finally, we bring attention to the latest Czech decision to remove Rosatom from its list of potential bidders for the construction of the new unit at the Dukovany nuclear power plant.
Climate Revelry and Carbon Reduction Realities
Climate ambition is in bloom this Spring at the virtual climate summit. Global carbon reduction commitments are climbing. America again is leading.
Unfortunately, this well-worn form of international political performance masks the grinding realities of actually achieving the promised carbon cutbacks.
There is little doubt that no deep carbon reductions will occur without ambitious governmental commitments. But the issue is what happens when virtuous aspiration is exposed to corrosive realities like costs, politics, ingrained ideology, and tradeoffs.
Here is one small example of the ambition-reality challenge – a debate on the role of nuclear power in addressing climate change featuring two experts that both want to achieve zero-carbon.
Irrespective of one’s view of the value of nuclear energy, the reality is that it currently produces over 50% of the carbon-free electricity in the U.S. and 30% worldwide. It will be extremely difficult to replace the stable electricity output and the global carbon benefits if it is eliminated. So, objectively, the technology is part of the global climate solution set.
But the debate was not centered on these facts.
It quickly veered into the flaws of existing large-scale nuclear technology, from its beginning in uranium mining to spent fuel disposal. In between was discussion of the apprehensions created by cost, safety, and nonproliferation.
All these issues are real concerns, but they do not exist in isolation from the zero-carbon value. It doesn’t make much real-world sense to separate these two sides of the story to support arguments only in opposition to the technology. Especially in an environment where climate change is labeled as an “existential threat.”
The discussion then devolved into a debate on the benefits and flaws of next-generation nuclear power. Neither position was provable because there are tens of technologies, each with unique features, and virtually all are still conceptual.
However, the assertion that some types of U.S.-supported advanced reactors will be “breeder reactors” that “reprocess the fuel” and thereby create nuclear weapons proliferation dangers is premature and misleading.
The concern about the potential nuclear weapons proliferation proneness of advanced reactors is real and it needs to be effectively addressed. But the situation is complex because of the number of different designs.
The Global Nexus Initiative produced the foundational public report on the challenge of preventing proliferation from these reactors. Its bottom line was that they “will pose new challenges for the international non-proliferation and security regime…[but]…There is high confidence that these issues can be effectively resolved.”
The resolution of these issues will be through a combination of the IAEA, national governments and their laboratories, non-governmental experts, and the incorporation of features to limit proliferation potential by the reactor design community.
As the GNI analysis asserted, “There is high confidence that any of the advanced reactor concepts can be safeguarded to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation.” The methods to achieve this goal are in development.
How these new standards are created will matter for global proliferation prevention. The U.S. and other democratic states have been stalwart in ensuring that non-proliferation be built into the core of civil nuclear commerce, even when it has impeded their ability to make reactor sales. Authoritarian governments like Russia and China do not have comparable commitments.
However, it is difficult to assert your high standards when pitching them in from the sidelines of the global nuclear market. So, the U.S. will need to have competitive next-gen nuclear technologies in order to effectively defend its nuclear security values.
One final point from that nuclear-climate debate, the assertion was made that “it’s entirely possible to meet the energy needs of the United States with renewable energy alone...[and]…it’s really all about politics at this point.”
The renewables claim may be theoretically true but creating an energy monoculture is a bad idea for a country as large, diverse, and globally important as the U.S. An over-reliance on one energy source can create vulnerabilities.
Also, as the moderator of the discussion noted, “wind farms require 360 times the land area to produce the same amount of electricity as nuclear plants. Solar requires 75 times more space.” These facts will fuel political blow-back.
Climate ambition is in bloom this Spring, but a winter of hard implementation awaits. Avoiding spelling out specific actions and compromises at this summit will make it seem that there’s just more hot air being expelled at a time when greenhouse gasses are again defying gravity.
The nuclear-climate debate is just one example of the turbulent headwinds created when ambition meets reality. If even advocates of deep decarbonization cannot agree on the value of one of the world’s zero-carbon energy workhorses, that bodes ill for the ability to achieve the dramatic energy transformation that the summit’s new global carbon commitments will require.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

Kicking off the Virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, President Biden announced a new ambitious carbon reduction target as the nation looks to regain leadership and credibility in the international effort to address climate change. The new reduction target would set the U.S. on a path to achieve a 50-52 percent greenhouse gas reduction below its 2005 emissions levels by 2030.
Nuclear Collaborations
The U.S. and Japan have established a new partnership to combat climate change and stimulate green growth and recovery. This includes cooperation to support “innovation, development, and deployment” of clean energy technologies like advanced nuclear.

Zimbabwe has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Russia’s Rosatom to explore domestic nuclear power generation and the possible construction of a nuclear science and technology center. Rosatom also recently signed MoUs with Ethiopia to help “create positive public opinion on nuclear energy” and facilitate personnel development.

American and Sudanese regulatory officials met online recently to discuss and provide training on optimal safeguards and security practices for nuclear and radioactive sources. The two countries also identified areas for future cooperation.
Alberta has joined Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick in signing an MoU to support the development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs) in Canada. The four governments plan to finalize a joint strategic plan this spring.
Representatives from EDF’s Sizewell C nuclear power plant (NPP) project will join the UK Hydrogen Taskforce. Sizewell C officials are considering the production of green hydrogen via a Sizewell B–powered electrolyzer.
The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) has signed an MoU with South Korea’s Ajou University to spur “innovation, research and development” in the energy industry.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
Czech officials have decided to remove Rosatom from bidding for the Dukovany NPP tender after allegedly determining that Russia’s military intelligence service was behind the country’s 2014 Vrbetice ammunition blast.
A senior Russian official has stated that the shutdown of Iran’s Bushehr NPP is “impossible,” calling related reports “speculation.” Rosatom will continue with the next phase of construction to build the second and third units at the Bushehr plant.
China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has announced plans to begin building its first Hualong Two reactor by 2024. Construction of the reactor, which is an advanced model of the organization’s Hualong One design, is expected to take four years.
China allegedly approved the construction of five new reactors with a total installed capacity of 4.9 GW at a recent state council meeting. The units, which sources claim will be developed by CNNC, are believed to include four 1.2 GW VVER-1200 reactors (two each at the Tianwan and Xudapu NPPs) and a 125 MW ACP100 SMR demonstration project at the Changjiang NPP. Construction of all but one unit at the Tianwan and Xudapu NPPs is due to commence later this year and finish in 2026.
Fuel loading has begun for Unit 6 of the Tianwan NPP. The ACPR1000 reactor is expected to begin commercial operation by the end of 2021.
Estonia will form a working group (NEPIO) to assess the possible introduction and ideal structure of a domestic nuclear power program. The entity will present its conclusions and proposals to the government by September 2022.
Japan will offer up to $2.5 billion yen in grants per NPP to prefectures to help extend the 40-year life span of domestic reactors. The funds will be “made available” over five years.
EDF has been granted permission to operate Units 3 and 4 at Scotland’s Hunterston B NPP for around six months. The reactors, which were initially taken offline in 2018 due to core cracks, were allowed to run for periods in 2019 and 2020. EDF plans to start decommissioning the plant by January 2022.
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has become the first Canadian entity to produce Tristructural-Isotropic (TRISO) fuel. CNL’s Fully Ceramic Microencapsulated (FCM) fuel pellets are designed for use in the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC’s) proprietary Micro Modular Reactor (MMR).
Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) will work to improve its System-Modulated Modular Advanced Reactor (SMART) SMR, ideally obtaining a license for the new model by 2028.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The White House has released its Made in America Tax Plan, which includes provisions to replace fossil fuel subsidies with incentives for clean energy production. Specific proposals include a 10-year extension of the production and investment tax credits for clean energy generation and storage. 
The White House has submitted its $46.1 billion FY22 discretionary funding request, which includes $8 billion for investments in clean energy technologies like advanced nuclear. The Department of Energy (DOE) claims that this value is “at least” 27 percent higher than 2021 funding.
The DOE has awarded more than $5 million in scholarships and fellowships to individuals studying nuclear energy and engineering at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The awards are intended to help fund the “next generation of nuclear energy leaders.”
The DOE plans to operate its previously announced Microreactor Applications Research Validation & Evaluation (MARVEL) project within three years. The 100 kWt microreactor, which will be built inside the Idaho National Laboratory (INL’s) Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) facility, will have a lifespan of around two years and help researchers “test, develop, and demonstrate” innovative microreactor applications.
Power companies and corporate leaders are urging President Biden to set high emissions reduction targets. The former endorse policies that will ensure the industry cuts carbon emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while the latter support “planet-warming emissions” targets “at least” 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin has urged the White House to take action to help retain existing nuclear capacity. His letter emphasizes the necessity of nuclear power for achieving emissions reduction goals.
New York and other parties have agreed to drop their legal challenges over the sale of the Indian Point NPP upon establishment of a settlement. Holtec, the new owner, has agreed to put $400 million in a decommissioning trust fund for the next 10 years and negotiate continued payments to schools and municipalities.
A study commissioned by Illinois’ gubernatorial administration suggests the provision of around $350 million in ratepayer subsidies for the state’s struggling Dresden and Byron NPPs. Governor Pritzker is likely to include nuclear subsidies in his push for a clean energy legislative package this spring, but labor unions will allegedly advocate for levels four times that proposed in the study.
A bill in the Missouri House of Representatives allowing clean energy plants and facilities that meet a specific renewable-derived generation threshold to “charge for construction costs before beginning operation” has been perfected and will move forward in the legislative body. The bill hopes to help drive nuclear power generation.
Electricity derived from renewable and nuclear sources produced 55% of Minnesota’s electricity in 2020. Nuclear power comprised 21% of the total figure.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
An attack on Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility caused a blackout and may have destroyed thousands of centrifuges. As a retaliatory move, Iran has begun production of 60 percent enriched uranium, but has emphasized that this action is reversible upon lifting of American sanctions. Meanwhile, the IAEA has begun discussions with Iran regarding uranium traces found at undeclared locations, and negotiations to facilitate Iranian and American returns to the JCPOA are ongoing.
Japan has decided that it will start releasing treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi NPP into the Pacific Ocean in two years, beginning a process that may take around 40 years. While the IAEA supports the decision and has promised to help with environmental safety monitoring, China and South Korea have expressed major discontent over Japan’s decision. South Korea will explore options for international legal action and pursue other forms of multilateral diplomacy.
A South Korean consortium will carry out a government-backed project to develop an intelligent drone cop system for protection of facilities like NPPs against illegal drone activity. The KAERI (Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute)-fronted group will work on the 42 billion won (estimated) initiative for five years.
Czech scientists have developed a new device that produces heat from spent reactor fuel rods, known as the ‘Teplator.’ The researchers view the system as a “very cost-effective alternative to coal and gas-powered plants” and hope that it will be “up and running” domestically by 2028.
Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm has ruled out the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site, stating that the required “community agreement” has not been achieved.
Norwegian security agencies have expressed concerns regarding Pakistan’s “unhindered exploitation of dual-use [nuclear] technology” to “aid its nuclear programme.”
A British shipyard has finished building a new nuclear test rig that will help scientists at the National Nuclear Laboratory assess the potential role of modular construction in future reactor designs and re-establish the UK as a world leader in thermal hydraulics.
The U.S. has decided to expel Russian diplomats and impose sanctions on multiple entities as a response to the SolarWinds cyberattack. The breach affected multiple federal agencies, including the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
Legislation has been introduced in both chambers of the U.S. Congress that would include provisions ceasing “most US arms sales to Saudi Arabia” if the nation is found to have “received help in building” a non-IAEA-compliant nuclear fuel cycle facility.
Framatome has received funding for multiple projects as part of the French government’s ‘France Relance’ stimulus package. Recipient initiatives include the FAB-ATF project, which concerns manufacturing capacity for accident-tolerant fuel, and the ICAREx project, which aims to build virtual reality digital twins of new nuclear reactors. 
Noteworthy Research
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released its ‘Global Energy Review 2021.’ The organization asserts that global energy demand is expected to increase by 4.6 percent in 2021 and offset 2020 contraction, yielding a 4.8 percent increase in global energy-related CO2 emissions (the second-largest annual uptick in recorded history). The projected emissions levels are driven in part by an expected increase in coal demand by “60% more than all renewables combined.” On the other hand, nuclear power showed around a 4 percent decrease in electricity generation in 2020, the “largest decline since the aftermath of the Fukushima accident.” Output is expected to increase by 2 percent in 2021, allowing nuclear to remain the “largest single source of low-carbon generation” across advanced economies.
Preliminary results from the IMCSS Expert Group’s Climate Security Risk Perception Survey, which asks global climate security experts to assess the severity and impacts of climate security risks over the next twenty years, have been released. The experts believe that climate change poses a bigger threat to water, food, health, and biodiversity than militaries. In addition, climate security phenomena are expected to worsen, with natural phenomena representing the largest future security risks.
A new report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds that 2020 emissions levels in the power sector were 52 percent below business-as-usual (BAU) projections made in 2005, rendering the industry “halfway to zero emissions.” Nuclear energy, which comprised 20 percent of domestic electricity generation, helped contribute to this figure, with 2020 generation values only 5 percent below 2005 projections.
A new report from the Atlantic Council details how the U.S. can “lead global action on climate change” and protect economic and national security interests. Advanced nuclear is cited as a way the U.S. can boost its geo-economic competitiveness, namely through revitalization of its nuclear export market. The authors also note that retention of existing domestic nuclear capacity and new nuclear builds (especially advanced nuclear) would help promote a “green [economic] recovery,” and view nuclear as essential for decarbonization of the energy sector.
A report prepared for the governments of Ontario, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan examines the ‘Feasibility of Small Modular Reactor Development and Deployment in Canada’ and makes the “business case for SMR implementation in each of the three provinces.” The authoring power companies assert that SMRs could be an “economically competitive source of energy,” depending on factors like chosen technology, speed of commercialization, and natural gas and carbon pricing. The utilities identify three ‘streams’ of technology proposals and emphasize the necessity of appropriate and significant federal, provincial, and nuclear industry support for domestic SMR feasibility.
The e-Lise Foundation has published a white paper on ‘The role of the Dutch State in the business case for nuclear energy.’ The authors list thirteen actions the Dutch government should take to stimulate NPP construction, including cost analysis and mitigation efforts, increasing nuclear education for and discussions about waste storage among politicians, encouraging fossil fuel and biomass plant conversion and non-electric nuclear research, protecting against impacts of government volatility, and adjusting regulations, licensing frameworks, and initiatives to facilitate innovation, collaboration, and safety.
The Nuclear Conversation
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 20
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 20
RealClearEnergy, April 19
S&P Global Market Intelligence, April 19
Grist, April 19
Mirage News, April 17
SIPRI, April 16
Pakistan Today, April 16
World Nuclear News, April 16
American Nuclear Society, April 16
NJ Spotlight News, April 16
Nuclear Engineering International, April 15
World Nuclear News, April 15
American Nuclear Society, April 15
The Irish Times, April 15
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, April 14
World Nuclear News, April 14
Nuclear Engineering International, April 14
Mail & Guardian, April 14
Aju Business Daily, April 13
World Nuclear News, April 13
Argonne National Laboratory, April 12
Utility Dive, April 12
The New York Times, April 12
Interesting Engineering, April 12
World Nuclear News, April 12
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 12
Forbes, April 11
Prospect Magazine, April 10
The National Interest, April 10
Atlantic Council, April 9
Smart Energy International, April 9
The Yucatan Times, April 9
The Drive, April 9
Texas Tribune, April 8
The Jamestown Foundation, April 8
Nuclear Engineering International, April 7
S&P Global Market Intelligence, April 6
Reuters Events, April 6
Digital Trends, April 6
For more than two decades, 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.
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