In this week’s issue, we discuss the need to develop a multilateral nuclear policy framework in Asia in order to combat climate change and the rising influence of China as a civil nuclear power. We also spotlight a recent report from the Atlantic Council that assesses Japan’s declining nuclear energy program and its impacts on climate goals. Finally, we draw attention to a Senate bill, aimed at improving the U.S.' domestic nuclear energy capabilities, that will receive a vote on the Senate floor. 
Managing the Nuclear-Climate Nexus in Asia
Another desperate SOS on the ravages of climate change was fired off by the United Nations Secretary General this week. He warned that the world is flirting with “suicide” because of its continued dependence on fossil fuels and noted that the survival of humanity was “impossible” without leadership from the U.S.
No matter how committed to a zero-carbon future the incoming administration in Washington may be, it’s a very tall order for any one country to save all of humanity. It will need significant assistance from allies. But those partners, particularly in Asia, are not helping much with the heavy lifting that is required. 
The U.S. along with its top two Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, account for about 20% of the world’s total CO2 emissions. But that is almost a third less than the more than 10 gigatons produced by China alone.
The Biden administration has made a commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Japan similarly has promised carbon neutrality by that date, as has South Korea.
The disconnect that has emerged among these nations is over how they will meet these commitments. All three are all in on wind and solar power. But only the U.S. plan has a commitment to supporting future nuclear power. That makes sense since existing nuclear plants in the U.S. provide nearly 55% of America’s carbon-free electricity.
Japan and South Korea also are highly dependent on nuclear power for their carbon-free electricity generation but both nations are in a nuclear swoon precipitated by the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Interestingly, Japan and Korea, along with China, are the world’s largest financers of overseas coal plants. 
A new report on the climate and geopolitical implications of Japan’s deepening disconnect from nuclear power, makes clear that the result has been a dramatically increased dependence on dirtier fuels. While nuclear energy once accounted for 30% of Japan’s electricity generation, it now provides less than 8%. The shortfall has been replaced by imported coal and gas. Serious questions have been raised about how Japan’s industrial giants will be powered under the 2050 zero-carbon objective and whether it can be met without renewed nuclear power.
Similarly, South Korea is dependent on nuclear power for 30% of its electricity mix while another 65% is provided by coal and natural gas, with the remaining 5% coming from renewables and hydro power. But the current Korean government plans to “exit the era of nuclear power” despite the likelihood that it will not be able to sufficiently scale its renewable energy production on the timescale to which it has committed.
Compounding the climate concerns about a nuclear divorce in Japan and South Korea is the geopolitical and global security implications of their decreased commitment.  
Japan has been a significant force in global nuclear technology R&D and export for decades. South Korea is the only U.S.-aligned nation to build an operating nuclear plant in the Middle East, a volatile region primed for nuclear power’s expansion. The nuclear industries in both Asian countries are not eager to cede their international involvement in nuclear commerce to competitors including Russia and particularly China.
And the U.S. should not sit by idly and let this happen. For one thing, there is a growing consensus that China is the number one national security threat and it must be aggressively countered. Based on the behavior of China and Russia in the growing global energy and technology competition, allowing either of these authoritarian governments to control international nuclear commerce in this century will be a major mistake that may not be reversible.
There are two potential new developments under consideration by the incoming administration that could help with both the geopolitical and climate dimensions of this challenge.
One is consideration of an Asia Czar, or several small tsars, in the White House that would coordinate responses to challenges from China. That could help bring needed unity to a complex and fragmented policy.
This coordination also should include intensive cooperation with European allies. The European Union already has signaled its openness to a new strategic alliance with the U.S. to counter China’s “growing international assertiveness.” And NATO also may expand its focus to China.
The other element is Biden’s plan for a Summit for Democracy to “renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world.” This gathering is built on the concept of the Obama-era Nuclear Security Summits. It would benefit from retaining a nuclear component and seeking to build a consensus among the participants on the importance of preserving deep democratic nation involvement in the global nuclear market. This is essential to ensure strong global nuclear nonproliferation and security as well as support zero-carbon.
The climate change challenge is not getting any easier and concerns about China continue to grow. These intersecting climate and geopolitical imperatives can begin to reframe the global discussion on the role of nuclear power in this century and that could develop into a consensus under a democracy summit agenda. That process could provide the opportunity for American allies in Asia to rethink their negative nuclear calculations. And that recalculation is vitally important because we can’t allow carbon or China to make the world unlivable.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

Japan’s Nuclear Reactor Fleet: The Geopolitical and Climate Implications of Accelerated Decommissioning’ is a new report from the Atlantic Council that takes a detailed look at Japan’s civil nuclear program nearly a decade on from the Fukushima disaster. In it, Dr. Phyllis Yoshida contends that the unintended consequences of the 2011 crisis have led to an increased dependence on carbon-emitting energy sources that ultimately undermine its ambitious climate goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Nuclear Collaborations
The European Commission has approved an intergovernmental agreement between the U.S. and Romania for civil nuclear cooperation, granting a green light to begin building Units 4 and 5 at Romania’s Cernadova nuclear power plant (NPP). Construction of the two reactors is estimated to cost $8 billion, with a separate memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with U.S. bank EXIM for a $7 billion financing loan.
Vattenfall, a Swedish utility company, and Estonia’s Fermi Energia have agreed to extend cooperation on small modular reactor (SMR) assessments, signing a letter-of-intent that will deepen studies in assessing the maturity of SMR technology and potential deployment in Estonia.
A MOU between the U.S. and India on nuclear energy cooperation has been extended by a decade, reaffirming commitment to continued cooperation on nuclear security and nonproliferation initiatives under the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership.
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The commitment of the U.K. to large-scale NPPs is uncertain following the release of its green energy plan last month, which set aside £500 million for SMR projects but offered few details on supporting large reactors.
The European Commission (EC) has announced that hydrogen produced by nuclear energy will be considered as “low-carbon”, marking a promising turn in the Commission’s plan to decarbonize industry, transport, power generation and buildings through the use of hydrogen. The recent ‘EU Hydrogen Strategy’ commits the EC to supporting the installation of 6 GW of renewable hydrogen by 2024, and at least 40 GW by 2030.
The head of France’s EDF has called upon the EC to consider nuclear power as a clean energy source in a bid to have nuclear energy financed under the regional Green Deal low-carbon policy.
Hungary is expecting to receive a construction license for its Paks 2 NPP in early 2021, with the minister responsible for the project stating that the Covid-19 pandemic had not impacted the planning phase. Paks 2 will host two VVER-1200 pressurized water reactors, supplied by Russia.
Russia’s newest nuclear-powered icebreaker, the Arktika, has completed its first operational voyage, travelling across the Russian Arctic through the Northern Sea Route. Russia is expecting to construct two additional nuclear-powered icebreakers by 2022.
China’s Hualong One nuclear reactor has been connected to the grid for the first time ever, marking a new era of advanced Chinese homegrown nuclear technology. The HPR1000 unit was connected to China’s Fuqing NPP, which will host an additional Hualong One reactor by 2022.
Canadian utility, Ontario Power Generation (OPG), has announced its ambitious Climate Change Plan which establishes its commitment to being a net-zero-carbon company by 2040. Spending decades to reduce its carbon footprint, OPG also has made progress towards its plans to site a SMR at its Darlington NPP as early as 2028.
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has committed to investing almost $1 billion into Chalk River Laboratories over the next 5 to 10 years focusing on infrastructure renewal and providing a positive signal for Canada’s SMR program.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
President-elect Joe Biden has named former Secretary of State John Kerry as his ‘climate czar’, responsible for leading the administration’s efforts in combatting climate change. Embedded within the National Security Council, Kerry will play a key role in implementing Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, which calls for reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
A bipartisan bill designed to spur development of next-generation nuclear power, introduced by Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), will head to the Senate floor for a vote after clearing the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The bill would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review its permitting process and incentivize advanced nuclear development.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has announced a new initiative aimed at identifying opportunities and barriers to the commercialization of next-generation nuclear technology in the fight against climate change. A selected committee will publish their findings in a study, ‘Laying the Foundation for New and Advanced Nuclear Reactors in the United States’ in 2022. 
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good has announced that nuclear power is “foundational” to the company’s zero-carbon operations into the future, while also praising the energy source for its reliability and prospects of becoming cheap.
New York City’s Indian Point NPP has been approved for sale by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), paving the way for a decommissioning process that is expected to be completed by late 2033. Holtec Decommissioning International purchased the plant despite petitions from state and local officials and will demolish the plant at a projected cost of $2.3 billion.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s BWRX-300 SMR design has reached a new licensing milestone as the NRC has issued a Final Safety Evaluation Report for the first of several licensing topical reports.
NextEra Energy, the operator of Wisconsin’s only remaining NPP, has submitted an application to the NRC to extend the license for the Point Beach plant by 30 years. The request has been touted as a means to help achieve Wisconsin’s goal of carbon-free electricity by 2050 and would push the total lifespan of the plant to 80 years.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
BWX Technologies announced last month that it had successfully manufactured nickel-based super alloys and refractory-metal-based alloys for use in nuclear reaction through the use of 3D printing technology. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) played a key role in the additive manufacturing breakthrough, with both companies hoping that the technology can help to speed up the development of advanced nuclear reactors.
Noteworthy Research
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has released a study that identifies the key reasons for cost overruns in the civil nuclear sector in the U.S., pointing towards innovative engineering strategies as a means of making production cheaper. ‘Sources of Cost Overrun in Nuclear Power Plant Construction Call for a New Approach to Engineering Design' also found that building subsequent plants based on existing design costs more, not less, than building the initial plant.
The Nuclear Conversation
Energy Post, December 2
Forbes, December 1
The Hill, November 28
Neutron Bytes, November 26
Environment Journal, November 25
Power Magazine, November 25
Forbes, November 24
Reuters, November 24
Earth Institute, Columbia University, November 23
Washington Examiner, November 19
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 18
SciTechDaily, November 18
World Nuclear News, November 12
Josh Gorman in the Financial Post, November 10
 World Nuclear News, November 10
Save On Energy, September 25
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