Welcome back! In this week’s issue, we kick off 2021 by discussing opportunities for U.S. and Canadian collaboration on next-generation nuclear power. We note Canada’s national Small Modular Reactor Action Plan, bringing together key stakeholders to outline concrete actions for the development, demonstration and deployment of SMR technologies. We also draw attention to the latest domestic advanced nuclear developments including the newly passed Energy Act of 2020, the latest Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program awards, and the new Department of Energy Strategic Vision for U.S. nuclear science and technology.
Congress and Canada Intersect on Clean Energy
Despite a globe-wide shut down of economic and social activities in 2020, resulting in a plunge in greenhouse gasses of more than 10%, the year still tied for the warmest on record, further contributing to an ever-escalating temperature that has risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius over the past 120 plus years.

The need for a clean energy revolution across the technology spectrum is clear. And year-end actions in Canada and by the U.S. Congress responded to this challenge and provided important momentum to next-generation nuclear reactors and their contribution to global clean energy objectives.

The more dramatic of the developments came from the Congress in the form of the first major energy legislation that has been signed into law over a decade. It includes a number of clean energy components including actions on energy efficiency, renewable energy and storage, and nuclear energy.

The nuclear power provisions have a clear focus on the need to advance next-generation nuclear technologies. A significant focus of the legislation is the establishment of a program to support the availability of High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HA-LEU), which is a fuel on which many future reactors will depend but which is not widely available.

The legislation also updated the definition of advanced reactors, authorized the Department of Energy to move forward with the advanced reactor demonstration program, and provided funding for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR). The VTR is a new research reactor that is designed to support the irradiation testing of advanced reactor components.

There also was support for international collaboration on research, development, and demonstration, and the commercial application of nuclear technology. The goal is to support diplomatic, financing, nonproliferation, climate, and international economic objectives. It further endorsed the development of coordinated action plans.

Usefully, the legislation is peppered with commitments to nonproliferation and nuclear security.

For example, consultation with nonproliferation and nuclear security experts and officials is required for a HA-LEU report to be submitted by the Secretary of Energy to the Congress. The advanced reactor demonstration effort is instructed to prioritize designs that are “proliferation resistant” and to consult with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to integrate safeguards and security into the reactor designs. And fuel cycle research, including on fuel recycling, must be done in consultation with NNSA to integrate safeguards and security by design. These are sound requirements that are designed to build confidence in the security and value of American advanced nuclear technologies and support strong international standards.

The Canadian government also took significant action to advance small modular reactors (SMRs) before the close of last year. It’s new SMR Action Plan builds on the 2018 SMR Roadmap and responds to, and expands, the 53 recommendations made in that report.

Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources was clear that the country is committed to nuclear power as a core element of its dedication to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. He noted that SMRs would help “phase out coal and electrify carbon-intensive industries such as mining and petroleum extraction.” This technology also can contribute to the replacement of diesel fuel in remote locations and assist in expanding “safe nuclear technologies…around the world.”

The Canadian approach to next-generation nuclear power has been very inclusive and coordinated. The Action Plan engaged over 100 diverse stakeholder organizations in the process. This included representation from: government agencies; provinces, territories, and municipalities; Indigenous peoples; power utilities; civil society, academic, and research institution; industries and their associations; reactor vendors; and engineering, procurement, and construction companies. Each of these organizations contributed their perspectives on the value of SMRs and how to effectively move the process forward in Canada.

The actions of Canada and the U.S. at the end of 2020 make clear that there is real political momentum behind the next generation of nuclear power. The climbing global temperature won’t allow any zero-carbon technology to sit on the sidelines.

The new U.S. energy bill, incoming administration, and bilateral commitment to advanced reactor technology offer an opportunity for greater cooperation across the border. Canada has done an exemplary job of organizing its next-gen nuclear stakeholders into a coordinated coalition and the U.S. needs to learn how to tackle that objective. The U.S. energy legislation makes clear the need for intensive attention to nuclear nonproliferation and security in next-generation reactors and fuel cycle. These are issues on which the governments, industries, and civil society experts of both nations can collaborate on policy development.

The U.S. and Canada have traced their own national trajectories on next-generation nuclear power so far, but those arcs are now at the point of intersection. There will always be national prerogatives and commercial competition. And, while next-generation technology on an upward track, the policy development is lagging. There is a lot of work to be done in developing new nuclear guardrails. It is an opportunity for collaboration and the creation of standards that should be seized by both nations.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

In December 2020, the Canadian Government released its national Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Action Plan which lays out the framework and next steps for the development, demonstration, and deployment of SMR technologies. This action plan follows up on and responds to the recommendations identified in the 2018 SMR Roadmap nationwide study.  
Nuclear Collaborations
The UK and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) have come together to sign a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (NCA). Following--but separate from--the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement announced earlier that week, the NCA lays out a framework for the trade of nuclear materials, facilitates research and development programs, and enables the exchange of technical information.

Russia’s Rosatom has penned a deal with the Russian Republic of Sakha outlining plans for the construction of an SMR. The plant, expected to be completed by 2028, would supply electricity to remote communities in the Arctic region and a gold deposit development project. 
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that there were five nuclear reactor retirements and five reactors also being added to the grid in 2020. Global nuclear capacity continued to grow with a total net installed capacity at approximately 393 GW today.
By 2030, an estimated 29 GW of nuclear capacity could be taken offline in seven European nations. As its reactor fleet moves closer to retirement age, experts suggest that European utilities run the risk of replacing clean energy with greater fossil fuel generation. Following this news, the UK power grid has issued a warning noting a precariously tight electricity supply buffer required to stave off blackouts, as network operators scrambled to balance the grid with increasing reliance on intermittent renewables.

Japanese firm Hitachi has decided to shut down the £20 billion NPP construction project in Wales, scheduling its British energy subsidiary company to close by the end of March.

WeCARE--an alliance of low-carbon energy advocacy organizations--has written a letter to the EU Commission pushing for the EU’s Taxonomy for Sustainable Financing to include nuclear energy. The letter asks for a more favorable evaluation and explicit inclusion of nuclear energy in relevant EU documents. 

China's State Council has published a white paper titled ‘Energy in China's New Era’ reaffirming its commitment to "driving an energy revolution" despite its continued reliance on coal. The white paper notes the nation’s major clean energy achievements and its goal to expand domestic clean energy generation, including the safe development of nuclear power.

China has begun the construction of a Hualong One pressurized water reactor and its second CFR-600 sodium-cooled fast reactor. The nation has also started hot functional tests at its HTR-PM high-temperature gas-cooled demonstration reactor, projecting operations to begin later this year.

Danish company Seaborg Technologies has developed a Compact Molten Salt Reactor (CMSR) designed to fit on floating power barges that can produce hydrogen and high-temperature steam. Receiving a Feasibility Statement from the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Seaborg has reached the first milestone of the ABS regulatory approval process.

Russia’s next generation of floating NPPs is well underway as Rosatom began scoping out projects and working with potential customers. Based on the RITM pressurized water SMR, the updated model boasts a simpler design, increased power capacity by 30 MWe and would be able to operate for up to ten years without maintenance. 

Rosatom has decided to continue construction of the Center for Nuclear Research and Technologies in Bolivia despite political uncertainty in the nation. The project to build a nuclear research center was the result of an inter-governmental agreement signed by both nations in 2016.

South African utility Eskom has temporarily shut down Unit 1 at the Koeberg plant due to a steam generator leak. The shutdown, lasting until May, will cut approximately 900 MW of power from the grid.

South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to a nuclear phase-out policy under its newly unveiled ‘ninth basic plan on the electricity supply.’ The plan would curb nuclear power generation from 21 percent to 15.5 percent of its energy mix by 2034.

Japanese electricity prices have reached record high levels this winter as the nation grapples with the continued extreme cold and low supplies of liquefied natural gas. Experts suggest that the potential blackouts could push the government to restart the nuclear program, with just three reactors in operation today. 
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The Energy Act of 2020 passed in congress in the omnibus funding bill and was signed into law at the end of December. It is a bipartisan, bicameral energy package that authorizes over $35 billion in clean energy research, development and deployment activities, including $2.1 billion for advanced nuclear energy technology. Also included in the bill was $75 million for a national uranium reserve, following one of the recommendations from the Nuclear Fuel Working Group.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) has announced its Strategic Vision framework for U.S. nuclear science and technology. The document outlines the department’s plans to support the existing domestic reactor fleet, enable advanced reactor deployment, develop advanced nuclear fuel cycles and maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear energy technology.

NuScale and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) have announced the execution of initial agreements to facilitate the development and commercialization of NuScale’s SMR under the Carbon Free Power Project.

The DOE has announced $20 million in awards for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program’s (ARDP) final pathway: the Advanced Reactor Concepts-20 (ARC-20) Projects. The ARC-20 projects have targeted early-stage advanced reactor designs, selecting three US-based teams for assistance.

The DOE has published the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), analyzing potential “VTR alternatives and options for reactor fuel production on various environmental and community resources.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
A Russia-linked cyberattack, ongoing since March 2020, targeted U.S. government agencies (including the DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration), critical U.S. infrastructure, and private sector firms. Russian hackers breached via IT firm SolarWinds in a sprawling attack that gave the hackers access to up to 18,000 of the firm’s customers. President-elect Biden, following this news, called for innovation and modernization of the US’ cyberspace defense to address emerging threats from Russia and China.

The White House has unveiled an executive order on ‘Promoting Small Modular Reactors for National Defense and Space Exploration,’ providing directives for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to pursue the use of SMRs and micro-reactors in space and defense applications. The order also directs the DOE to ensure a viable domestic supply of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HA-LEU).

Iran has resumed enrichment of uranium to up to 20 percent at its Fordow nuclear facility, arguing that this step is fully in line with the 2015 nuclear deal.

Researchers at MIT and Exelon have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can be trained to design more optimal nuclear reactor core configurations, potentially saving a typical NPP an estimated $3 million a year.
Noteworthy Research
In a new report titled ‘Benefits of Energy Technology Innovation Part 1: Power Sector Modeling Results’ from the Resources for the Future (RFF), researchers examine five advanced energy technologies: carbon capture, advanced nuclear reactors, geothermal power, direct air capture, and energy storage. They find that reducing costs of these technologies could provide billions of dollars in net societal benefits and significant reductions in consumer electricity prices.
The Nuclear Conversation
Reuters, January 11, 2021

Neutron Bytes, January 10, 2021

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Portolan Global Inc., January 5, 2021

UGA Today, January 5, 2021

The Diplomat, January 4, 2021

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POWER Magazine, January 4, 2021

Interesting Engineering, January 1, 2021

The ASEAN Post, January 1, 2021

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OakRidger, December 18, 2020

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VICE News, December 15, 2020
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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