In this week’s issue, we discuss the immediate need for the U.S. leadership to produce a comprehensive clean energy strategy and demonstrate to the public a consistent and credible response required to prepare for a massive energy overhaul. We also spotlight a new report from the Nuclear Innovation Alliance providing an overview of the state of advanced nuclear technologies under development in the U.S. and Canada. Finally, we cover civil nuclear cooperation news occurring in conjunction with Ukraine’s recent state visit to Washington.
Please Provide a Comprehensive Carbon Plan
Everyone understands that time is quickly closing in on the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow in November, and that the U.S. needs to show leadership and bold carbon reduction commitments. But it desperately needs to demonstrate that it can realistically implement these promises.
The U.S. Department of Energy recently released a new blueprint to drive America from 3% to 45% reliance on solar power for electricity by 2050. This objective is admirable, ambitious, and popular. Its implementation will be very difficult.
And solar power is just one piece of the clean energy mosaic. There, unfortunately, is no similar comprehensive strategy for the vital but lesser loved technologies of carbon capture and next-generation nuclear power.
Carbon capture is necessary if natural gas remains a core fuel. Nuclear energy is currently responsible for over 50% of the country’s zero-carbon electricity emissions. But plants are aging and retirements looming before 2050.
There also are questions about the roadmap for the Biden administration’s March commitment to deploy 30 GW of offshore wind power by 2030, and the expansion of that share to 110 GW by 2050.
At the moment, the largest offshore wind farm is the U.K.’s Hornsea 1 project which has a capacity of about 1.2 GW. With planned additions it will expand by another 3 GW. How the U.S. will achieve almost eight times the total Hornsea project output in nine years is very unclear.
Similarly uncertain is how the administration will reach its goal that half of all cars sold by 2030 be electric vehicles to reduce transportation emissions. There are questions about whether the U.S. can install enough charging stations for these cars, a real concern because the top priority of potential EV purchasers is “range anxiety.”
An underplayed reality is that while all of the Biden administration’s carbon reduction plans are important and necessary, they will create unprecedented disruptions to the existing energy system at a time when the American population is divided and unsettled.
As a story on the solar power blueprint noted, “It would require a vast transformation in technology, the energy industry, and the way people live.”
In the U.S. the implementation of the clean energy evolution begins with the Congress providing the trillions of dollars that are required for the massive transformation. In the deeply divided nation that is now the United States, that funding is not guaranteed.
Also, the Congress is a provider of finance and oversight, not implementation. That weighty responsibility will fall on the executive branch. And it is not evident that all of America is prepared for a massive energy overhaul driven from Washington.
Public trust in the U.S. government is currently at 24%. And the inconsistency of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has further undermined confidence in the competence of officials and subject matter experts.
What’s true for the U.S. also is valid for many other industrialized nations. Politics, electricity prices, economic impact, power reliability, and institutional distrust are all serious concerns surrounding the clean energy transition.
Wind and solar are important parts of the clean energy policy of all industrialized nations, but turbines and panels generally have a lifespan of 25 years, necessitating additional investments and replacement. Much of that supply chain runs through China. And the intermittency and power storage limits of renewables are, at the moment, technological Achilles heels.
It is interesting to see a turn-around in the carbon reduction thinking of a highly industrialized nations like South Korea and Japan.
The current Korean president came to power in 2017 promising to decrease reliance on nuclear energy. But it provides over 50% of the nation’s zero-carbon electricity.
The Korean renewable energy plan is heavily focused on offshore wind power, but it is under political attack from fishing and other concerns. Its terrain is not well suited to solar power. So, facing reality, the government has pivoted to support small nuclear reactors as an element of its carbon reduction strategy.
Japan, deeply anti-nuclear after the Fukushima accident, also is embracing smaller, advanced nuclear power plants as a carbon reduction solution, in part because it faces similar challenges to South Korea.
The Glasgow COP is going to generate both glossy pronouncements about carbon reduction commitments and "code red" commands to solve the climate crisis. But this summit level rhetorical regurgitation has resulted in incremental progress at best on implementation. There needs to be a realistic carbon plan, not additional aspiration.
That means that while a comprehensive strategy for solar energy in the U.S. is very welcome, similar plans are needed for the other key elements of the carbon neutrality battleplan. At least in America, these need to be knitted into a comprehensive carbon strategy and implementation plan that doesn’t hide the ugly realities of the energy transition and ensures tangible progress. The pressure on clean energy commitments is mounting as global temperatures rise and the best way to respond to the heat is to perform not posture.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security

The Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) has released a new report intended to help the public and stakeholders “understand the promise” of advanced nuclear reactor technologies under development in the U.S. and Canada. 
Nuclear Collaborations
Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom and Westinghouse have agreed to jointly complete Unit 4 at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant (NPP) as part of a “pilot project” and facilitate the construction of four new AP1000 reactors at existing Ukrainian NPPs. Energoatom also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with NuScale Power to explore deployment of the latter’s small modular reactor (SMR) design in Ukraine, and the nation reportedly intends to build a nuclear fuel production plant with U.S. support. The aforementioned plans were revealed in conjunction with Ukraine’s state visit to Washington, which produced a joint statement from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine endorsing enhanced cooperation in areas such as nuclear energy.
The billionaire heads of Polish companies Synthos SA and Cyfrowy Polsat SA, Michal Solowow and Zygmunt Solorz, have announced plans to construct four to six 300 MW Synthos-provided reactors at the latter’s lignite-fired power plant in Patnow.
Atomflot, a subsidiary of Rosatom, has signed a “preliminary agreement” to supply power to the Baimskaya mine in eastern Chukotka via two floating RITM-200M SMR plants. In similar news, Rosatom has also signed an agreement with the Minister of the Russian Federation for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic and the head of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) to consider construction of an RITM-200N land-based SMR plant in the North Yakutsk Arctic Zone.
South Korea’s Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction will help X-energy develop its Xe-100 SMR under a new engineering service agreement. The deal, which Doosan Heavy hopes will help “diversify its SMR business,” will entail “performing a study for optimum design and conducting mock-up tests for critical manufacturing processes.”
In a joint statement produced during the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s visit to Japan, the U.S. and Japan reiterated commitments under the U.S.-Japan Climate Partnership to increase cooperation on innovation in areas such as advanced nuclear power.
Under a new contract with the European Space Agency, Belgium’s Tractebel (in conjunction with SKC-CEN and France’s Orano) will analyze Europe’s capability to “develop its own supply chain of plutonium 238” for use in space exploration. In similar news, the U.S.’ X-energy will join General Atomics to develop key fuel fabrication processes for a U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program. The project “aims to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion…system above low Earth orbit in 2025.”
The DOE has agreed to help Norway downblend its high-enriched uranium (HEU), which would make Norway the 34th (plus Taiwan) HEU-free nation. The DOE plans to deploy its Mobile Melt-Consolidate System after Norway conducts “small-scale downblending activities,” which are set to begin in 2022.
Morocco and Hungary have signed a MoU to cooperate in nuclear industry training and education, with a focus on developing “basic and applied research, nuclear science and technology, and the legal framework for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”
Nuclear Policy, Governance, and Geopolitics
Unit 2 of the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah NPP has been started up and will be connected to the grid in the coming months. The achievement comes less than five months after Unit 1 began commercial operations, and has allegedly put the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) “almost halfway to achieving…[its] goal of supplying up to a quarter of…[the UAE’s] electricity needs.”
South Africa’s National Energy Regulator (NERSA) has backed the energy minister’s plan to add 2.5 GW of new nuclear capacity to the national grid sometime after 2030. Rosatom, which was a “leading candidate” to secure the nation’s previous 9.6 GW nuclear expansion project, has stated that it “remains an interested vendor” for the new program.
The Executive Director of Nuclear Power Ghana (NPG), the owner and operator of Ghana’s first proposed NPP, has indicated that the country intends to begin nuclear energy production by 2030. The official claimed that NPG has already completed the first phase of the three-stage project and plans to finish phase two (the last one prior to construction) between 2024 and 2025.
In his state-of-the-nation address, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered the government and the Samruk Kazyna National Wealth Fund to “study the possibility of developing a safe and environmentally-friendly [domestic] nuclear power industry” within a year. Tokayev went on to express further interest in nuclear power development at the 2021 Eastern Economic Forum in Russia, stating that Kazakhstan “needs a nuclear power plant.” News of the government’s plan has already yielded protests.
State-owned utility Vattenfall AB has indicated that restarting four reactors at the Ringhals and Forsmark NPPs after maintenance in 2024 and 2025 is “not foreseeable at the moment,” citing uncertainties from the Swedish government’s recent choice to delay a decision on a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel.
German and Austrian asset managers have written a letter to the European Commission encouraging the organization to exclude nuclear energy from its sustainable finance taxonomy, emphasizing the energy source’s incompatibility with sustainability objectives. The perspective expressed in the document aligns with German popular views, as a recent survey conducted by research group Forsa found that an “overwhelming majority” of Germans do not see nuclear power as a sustainable investment.
The Abu Dhabi Department of Energy has issued a regulatory policy for the future sale of solar and nuclear clean energy certificates, which will “certify the purchase of a specific amount of [clean] electricity” and can be traded as credits after the energy source is fed into the grid.
Domestic Civil Nuclear Developments
The White House’s first R&D priorities memorandum for the FY2023 budget encourages investments in R&D, demonstration, and deployment to support the future operation of clean energy technologies such as advanced nuclear power.
A coalition of power companies and labor unions has filed a joint petition with the New York Public Services Commission (PSC) calling for the establishment of a new program or tier under the state’s clean energy standard to encourage private-sector investment in non-renewable zero-emission dispatchable energy systems. The PSC has said that it will “carefully review the petition and see how it fits into the broader goals” of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which mandates the creation of a zero-emitting electrical demand system by 2040.
Entergy Corp stated that it has received approvals from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to restart its Waterford 3 NPP in Louisiana, which went offline on August 29 due to Hurricane Ida. The company has indicated that the unit will reach full power “soon,” and offsite power was restored on August 31. The storm also caused property damage to outlying structures at Waterford 3 and River Bend, another of the organization’s NPPs.
More than 240 groups have signed a letter opposing nuclear plant subsidies in Congress’ infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills. The organizations argue that the bailouts would perpetuate climate, environmental, and economic injustice, and the money would be “better spent” on renewable energy, efficiency, storage, and grid modernization.
A clean energy package including nearly $700 million in subsidies for the state’s ailing nuclear power sector has cleared the Illinois Senate. Exelon still plans to close its Byron NPP on September 13 unless the legislation, which has faced objections from Governor J.B. Pritzker concerning a lack of pre-closure emissions reduction requirements for the Prairie State coal-fired plant, is enacted beforehand.
The Independent Regulatory Review Commission has passed Governor Tom Wolf’s carbon plan, removing the last regulatory obstacle for Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of states with carbon pricing policies. Wolf hopes that his plan, which has motivated the owner of the Beaver Valley NPP to keep the facility open, will take effect in 2022.
Nuclear Security and Emerging Technologies
A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is in Japan to launch a multi-year review of the Fukushima Daiichi NPP’s planned release of treated water, a process scheduled to start in 2023. The organization recently indicated that it is unsure if decommissioning of the plant can finish by the expected date of 2051, as there is insufficient information about fuel debris from the three damaged reactors. In other plant news, the operator has discovered damaged filters in at least 10 of 25 sites.
Per Japanese officials, hackers that gained unauthorized access to Fujitsu Ltd.’s information-sharing tool connected with government records earlier this year sought data about topics such as domestic NPP infrastructure. Seven government ministries and agencies have claimed that their data in the system was breached, but Fujitsu has indicated that it is “not aware of leaks of any confidential in-house information” about such entities. Fujitsu’s investigation is still ongoing.
A new report from the IAEA claims that Iran increased its stockpile of uranium enriched up to 20 percent by about a third over the last three months and has continued to restrict the organization’s monitoring efforts. In addition, a separate IAEA report alleges that the nation has still “not provided the necessary explanations” concerning uranium particles found at undeclared sites.
Chinese government scientists expect to begin testing an experimental thorium-based molten salt reactor (MSR) as early as this month, per a statement from the Gansu provincial administration. The first-of-a-kind (FOAK) 2 MW prototype, which does not require water cooling, is reportedly part of a broader plan to construct a series of 100 MW MSRs.
Italy has begun a national series of consultative meetings to analyze technical aspects of a planned national radioactive waste repository and technological park project with interested parties. A list of 67 potential sites was published in January.
Officials have discovered additional pressure tubes with hydrogen concentrations over regulatory limits at Ontario’s Bruce Nuclear Generating Station. The tubes are located in Units 3 and 6, which are not currently operating.
Noteworthy Research
The World Nuclear Association has released its 2020 ‘World Nuclear Performance Report,’ which highlights the global nuclear fleet’s “resilience and flexibility” amid pandemic-related changes in electricity demand. At the end of 2020, there were 441 operable reactors with a combined capacity of 392 GWe, and the year saw five units come online and six units shut down. The average global capacity factor in 2020 was 80.3 percent.
A new report from the World Nuclear Association has projected that uranium fuel requirements will increase by around 80 percent up to 2040 in the Reference Scenario, which assumes 2.6 percent annual nuclear capacity growth. According to the organization, the industry must at least double its development pipeline of new projects by 2040 to avoid potential supply disruptions.
A new report from the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) asserts that, as an asset class, nuclear energy “has the potential to report well against a wide range” of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) data collection and accounting metrics. The authors claim that this should allow nuclear energy to be considered an investable asset class, giving industry stakeholders access to climate finance.
The Nuclear Conversation
ANS NuclearNewswire, September 8, September 7
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 7
TODAY, September 6
Eurasia Review, September 6
Neutron Bytes, September 6
CleanTechnica, September 5
The Telegraph, September 5
StopFake, September 3
The Engineer, September 3
Times of San Diego, September 3
World Nuclear News, September 3
The Washington Times, September 2
POLITICO Europe, September 2
NucNet, September 2
Nikkei Asia, September 2
Nuclear Engineering International, September 2
Space Daily, September 1
Morgan Lewis, September 1
Morning Consult, August 30
The Asahi Shimbun, August 30
Utility Dive, August 30
Interesting Engineering, August 29
Cumbria Crack, August 28
The Hill, August 28
The Guardian, August 28
5280, August 27
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 27
The New York Times, August 26
The New Nuclear Watch Institute, August 25
Forbes, August 25
Reuters Events, August 24
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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