In this week’s issue, we discuss the bipartisan nature of civil nuclear power and the politically feasible pathways for decarbonizing economies around the world. We also note a white paper from the United Kingdom which identifies nuclear power as a vital source of clean energy. Finally, we draw attention to $30 million in new funding from the Department of Energy for Risk Reduction for Future Demonstration projects aimed at designing and developing safe and affordable reactor technologies over the next decade-and-a-half.

As our last newsletter of the year, we wish all of our friends and followers a safe and happy holiday, and we look forward to engaging with you in 2021!
 The Consensus Politics of Nuclear Power
The COVID crisis is further fueling a climate emergency according to the United Nations Secretary General because G20 nations are spending considerably more stimulus funding on fossil energy than low-carbon projects.
The disconnect between political ambition and reality in the climate fight is not new, but the inability to get green in this crisis does not bode well for the success of the new round of national decarbonization pledges that were announced on the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement at the virtual Climate Ambition Summit.
Political posturing aside, the reality is that the decarbonization task is colossal and promises to be massively disruptive to a global population already pushed well beyond its comfort zone by COVID.
The scale of the challenge in achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, just in the U.S., is detailed in a new Princeton University analysis. It determines that there are “technologically and economically plausible energy-system pathways” for the U.S. to meet this ambitious goal.
However, it requires “at least $2.5 trillion in additional capital investment” from government and the private sector over the next decade. The major investment decisions would need to begin immediately and ramp up through a decade-long clean energy transition.
This seems like a tough political lift in an environment where the U.S. Congress can barely agree on a sub-trillion dollar package to buttress the COVID-cratered economy.
It also anticipates the achievement of “social license” from a broad range of American citizens for the massive expansion of renewable energy, transmission lines, electric vehicles, and electric home heating. This at a time when the country is in transition, after the 2020 election, from a period of intense partisan tribalism to hostile “political sectarianism.”
One tripwire for pushback to this energy revolution is that the exponential expansion of renewable energy possibly will require unsustainable amounts of territory, both onshore and offshore. This, potentially, is a more significant challenge for renewables than their intermittency and energy storage limitations.
One of the eight key priorities of the academic study that potentially can generate broad political and social support is the creation of “real options” for energy technology innovation. This includes hydrogen production as well as “clean, firm electricity resources” like natural gas with carbon capture, biopower plants, and advanced nuclear power. These technologies can support renewables and assist in mitigating their challenges.
At a recent Global Nexus Initiative webinar, there was consensus among experts from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. that the politics of nuclear energy have significantly changed for the better over the past 5 years and that the support largely was driven by climate concerns.
All three countries have identified nuclear power as an essential component of their zero-carbon objectives and one that can enhance the value of renewable energy sources.
A new U.K. energy white paper noted that rising global temperatures are “an existential threat to the planet” and proceeded to flesh out the country’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. Among those key elements is the role of large-scale nuclear power, small modular reactors (SMRs), and advanced modular reactors (AMRs). This includes the goal of bringing “at least one large-scale nuclear project to the point of final investment decision” in the next few years and the creation of a roughly $500 million Advanced Nuclear Fund to support innovation.
Canada recently released its climate plan which includes almost $400 million for “clean energy technologies in the electricity sector” including investment in SMRs. In the near future, the Canadian government will launch its SMR Action Plan that identifies the next steps needed to “develop and deploy this technology”. The provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan are supportive of this SMR work.
In the U.S., existing and future nuclear energy has emerged as a rare issue of bipartisan agreement. As the Congress struggles to complete its end-of-year government funding bill, there is the possibility that it may include comprehensive energy legislation. This would include authorization for $6 billion in nuclear energy R&D over the next 5 years as well as funds that will allow the siloed offices at the Department of Energy (DoE) to work together toward an integrated clean energy approach.
The U.N. Secretary General is not wrong to ring the alarm about the hollow promises to reign in global temperatures. The challenge is real, and it needs to be kept at the top of the global priority list. But the reason so many clean energy pledges go unfulfilled is because the transition that is required is wrenching and politically fraught. It is very uncertain whether a COVID-sapped and increasingly sectarian population will accept the significant new sacrifices required to support a highly disruptive clean energy transition.
Perhaps surprisingly, given its history, nuclear power is a clean energy technology that now has support on both sides of the political aisle in America and among its key allies. It can strengthen the value of renewable energy while reducing its need for an expansive footprint. It also can produce hydrogen, an important carbon-free fuel of the future. That is a climate-benefit combination that may be politically actionable and difficult to beat.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

The U.K. has released its long-awaited energy White Paper, ‘Powering Our Net Zero Future’, which identifies nuclear power as a source of clean energy and a vital component in the country’s target of increasing its clean electricity generation by four-fold. Nuclear power currently supplies approximately 16 per cent of the U.K’s electricity, but may account for a much higher portion in the coming decades as the government seeks to minimize its carbon emissions.
Nuclear Collaborations
The U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM) and Poland’s Ministry of Climate and Environment have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), agreeing to explore potential EXIM financing and business development opportunities. This MOU will support strategic energy projects and programs including Poland’s Nuclear Power Program.
The U.S. and Slovenia have signed a MOU for cooperation in the civil nuclear energy sector, expanding their bilateral ties to focus on improved energy security and joint development.
The Idaho National Laboratory has partnered with Xcel Energy to develop a system that will utilize nuclear energy for clean energy production, as the first such program designed to pair a commercial electricity generator with high-temperature steam electrolysis technology.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The European Union has agreed to an EU-wide goal of cutting net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by the year 2030, bringing the bloc in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement and edging towards the EU’s goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. 

75 countries, businesses, sectors and cities have presented new ambitious climate commitments at the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, bringing the goals of the Paris Agreement closer to fruition. Co-convened by the UN, U.K. and France, the Summit took place on the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement and updated its existing commitments. 

The U.K. government has agreed to restart talks with French energy company EDF over its plans to build the £20 billion Sizewell C nuclear power plant (NPP) in Suffolk, with the government open to taking a direct financial stake in the project. With relations between China and the U.K. strained, China is reportedly considering pulling out of the project. China General Nuclear Power (CGN), which currently holds a 20 per cent stake in the plant, is estimated to have invested hundreds of millions into the development stage.

French President Emmanual Macron says that nuclear power will be a key energy source for France in the coming years, despite the country’s recent moves to reduce the number of operating nuclear reactors. While France will cut its reliance on nuclear energy from 75 to 50 per cent by 2030, Macron noted the promise of advanced reactors and signalled broad support for the nuclear industry moving forward. 
The Canadian government has released a climate brief that explains their plans for clean energy, as the country seeks to almost triple its production of non-carbon-emitting power by 2050. 

The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Barakah Unit 1 nuclear reactor has reached 100% power generation for the first time, generating 1,400 MW of electricity. The unit is now the single largest power generator in the UAE and is expected to begin commercial operations early in 2021.

Indonesia’s Minister of Research and Technology, Bambang PS Brodjonegoro, asserts that the Southeast Asian country needs almost 3,000 personnel in its nuclear sector to realize its goal of developing a nuclear energy program. 
A nuclear reactor at Finland’s Olkiluoto NPP was shut down recently after heightened radiation levels were recorded into the unit, the country’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority reported last week. The authority also announced that there was no radioactive release into the environment, indicating that the event was a rare occurrence.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
A bipartisan energy bill, which includes a suite of clean energy innovation measures, may be included in the year-end omnibus appropriations bill. Announced on the Senate floor earlier this week, the bill will include provisions to support advanced nuclear technologies.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $30 million in funding for Risk Reduction for Future Demonstration projects, one of three programs under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). The awards are cost-shared partnerships with industry, and will seek to design and develop safe and affordable reactor technologies over the next decade-and-a-half. 

President-Elect Joe Biden has nominated former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to head the DOE, a key nomination in Biden’s strategy to transition the U.S. from fossil fuels. Granholm is expected to play a significant role in advancing battery storage technologies, as well as promoting electricity generation from renewables and nuclear power. 
An updated analysis by NuScale has found that its small modular reactor (SMR) is capable of providing nearly 50 tonnes of hydrogen per day, after announcing a 25 per cent increase in power generation capacity. NuScale estimates that the hydrogen produced is expected to be highly cost competitive while delivering a reliable supply of hydrogen production.
GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 SMR has gained approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), edging the reactor closer towards market deployment. The NRC issued a final safety evaluation report submitted by GE Hitachi in early December, with hopes that the SMR will become operational before the end of the decade.
Kairos Power has announced its plans to deploy a fluoride salt-cooled high temperature test reactor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in its quest to introduce cost competitive advanced reactor technology to the U.S. market. The plan is subject to approval from state and local officials, as well as the completion of due diligence.
Terry Gauthier, a Republican state senator from Helena, Montana, will ask during the upcoming legislative session for the development of a study assessing the merits of SMR in Montana. The senator believes that the reactors could provide clean energy and tap into existing infrastructure throughout Montana.
Energy company Southern Co announced that it has received its first nuclear shipment for Unit 3 of its Vogtle NPP as the unit undergoes construction. The unit, which will house an AP1000 reactor, is now 96% completed, according to Southern Co, and is expected to undergo hot testing in the coming months.
Community leaders, residents and elected officials in Illinois have joined forces to create the Byron Station Response Committee, which is working to prevent the closure of the Byron NPP. Following the announcement of the plant’s closure by Exelon in August 2020, the group commissioned a study that shows the plant’s closure would strip $97.5 million from the local economy and lose thousands of well-paying jobs.
The U.S. government has announced its National Space Policy, which calls for the U.S. to develop and deploy space nuclear power propulsion (SNPP) systems for “scientific, national security, and commercial objectives.” The document calls upon NASA’s administrator and the Secretary of Defense to oversee the project, as well as calling for the Secretaries of Energy and Homeland Security to provide support for the project.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
The DOE has made plans to develop the U.S.' own nuclear fusion power plant, outlining a broad roadmap towards deploying an experimental reactor on par with France’s International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). The project will be spearheaded by the DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) department.
The DOE has announced that it will provide up to $12 million for new research into nuclear issues, focusing on the collection of specific data points needed to bolster isotope production and non-proliferation efforts.
Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are working to replace the commonly used uranium dioxide with an alternative, more sustainable substance to power nuclear reactors. The research is centered on the use of the safer actinide nitride fuels, which have a high energy density and thermal conductivity.
Noteworthy Research
A joint study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Nuclear Energy Agency, ‘Projected Costs of Generating Electricity: 2020 Edition’, assesses the costs of low-carbon energy sources as compared to conventional fossil fuels. The report finds that the levelized costs of electricity generation are becoming ever cheaper than those of fossil fuels, with nuclear energy projected to have even lower costs in the near future.

Princeton University has released a new report, ‘Net-Zero America: Potential Pathways, Infrastructure and Impacts’, which finds that the U.S. could reach net-zero emissions of greenhouse gasses by 2050 using existing technologies and at costs aligned with historical spending on energy.

On the Role of Nuclear Power in the Development of a European Hydrogen Economy’ is a new study by the New Nuclear Watch Institute that draws attention to the significant potential for nuclear-produced hydrogen.
The Nuclear Conversation
Fitch Ratings, December 15

Morning Consult, December 14

Petroleum Economist, December 14
Idaho State Journal, December 14

Fox News, December 11

Magic Valley, December 10
American Nuclear Society, December 10 

The Atlantic Council, December 9

American Nuclear Society, December 9

Financial News Arena, December 8

The News International, December 8

Medium, December 8

E&E News, December 7, December 7
The Japan Times, December 6
E&E News, December 3

Axios, December 3

ESI Africa, December 3
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