It is an honor to be invited to speak to you all about this important topic within the realm of peaceful uses for nuclear energy. I know attendees of this conference are thinking critically about the connection between nuclear nonproliferation and civil nuclear power. One of my several missions as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the Department of State is advancing civil nuclear cooperation using responsibly sourced fuel for clean energy to address growing energy needs, under the highest standards of nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation.
I am optimistic in our ability to safely and responsibly deploy civil nuclear energy technologies to answer the dual imperatives of combatting the climate crisis and meeting energy security and access goals. This decade presents us with a critical juncture on both these fronts. I am delighted to take this opportunity to share my thoughts on the opportunities and challenges for small modular reactors – or SMRs – to be part of our response.
Scientists have been warning us for decades of the risks we face by not acting on climate change. The world is already seeing the impacts of climate change, threatening lives and livelihoods. President Biden and Secretary Blinken have both made climate a priority for the administration and are leveraging a whole-of-government effort.
We must achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 if we are to limit temperature increase to below 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid severe climate disruptions. Getting there will require us all to make use of a wide range of clean energy technologies, to create an energy mix that meets our needs while meeting our emissions targets. This is an incredible economic opportunity and I want to take a moment and dig into the role of nuclear energy.
Nuclear energy is clean energy. Nuclear provides clean, firm baseload power that can replace carbon-intensive sources. Through 2019, nuclear power reduced global emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 gigatonnes – almost two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions. The International Energy Agency noted we need to double nuclear capacity by 2050 to achieve net-zero emissions and that “building sustainable and clean energy systems will be harder, riskier, and more expensive without nuclear.”
The United States pioneered peaceful uses of nuclear power around the world and remains the world’s largest producer of nuclear energy. It accounts for 20 percent of our electricity mix and more than half of our carbon-free power. We are working domestically to extend the life of existing nuclear power plants and build new ones, while simultaneously working to deploy new nuclear technologies, including SMRs.
Small modular reactors as part of the clean energy solution offer unique advantages. They will be able to provide 24/7 reliable power, complementing other clean energy sources, and have flexible siting where the energy is required near the end-user. This will increase energy access and drive decarbonization across a range of industries to meet climate goals. In addition, SMRs require very little land area and can be sized to meet a country’s energy needs and scaled as needed.
SMRs can play a critical role in decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors beyond electricity, such as industrial process heat, clean hydrogen production, and water desalination. Furthermore, SMRs are uniquely suited to replace coal plants while utilizing existing workforces, equipment, and grid connections without the need to acquire more land space and build out additional transmission lines. Importantly, SMRs have advanced safety features and are designed to withstand extreme weather and seismic events – they are safe “by design”.
Because SMRs are such an important part of our energy future, at the 2021 Leaders’ Summit on Climate, President Biden launched the Foundational Infrastructure for the Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology – or FIRST – program, one of the United States’ key efforts to promote innovation, bring clean technologies to scale, and build unprecedented global cooperation to confront the climate crisis, under the highest standards of safety, security, and nonproliferation.
As the world works towards a clean energy transition and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, and actions to weaponize its energy resources have made clear the dangers of depending on an unreliable supplier for our energy needs. We continue to work with allies and partners to mitigate the global energy market and commodity shocks caused by Russia’s war.
The United States condemns Russia’s attempts to use its energy resources as a tool of geopolitical coercion. This moment underscores the need to diversify suppliers and accelerate the energy transition and makes more urgent the imperative of demonstrating advanced U.S. nuclear technology. Diversification is key. That’s why the G7 have said made clear that we will work to reduce our own dependence on Russia for nuclear energy equipment and supplies and will support our partners as they seek nuclear energy diversification. The United States is actively supporting Ukraine’s medium- and long-term energy security, in part through cooperation on SMRs in the region. Last year at COP27, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Ukrainian Minister of Energy Galuschenko [Hal-LU-chenko] announced cooperation for demonstration of commercial-scale production of clean hydrogen and clean ammonia from safe and secure SMRs and cutting-edge electrolysis technologies.
Building on existing capacity-building cooperation launched under the FIRST program with a multinational public-private consortium, the project seeks to support Ukraine’s energy security goals, enable decarbonization of hard-to-abate sectors through clean hydrogen deployment, and improve long-term food security through clean ammonia-produced fertilizers. Further, it demonstrates Ukraine’s innovative clean energy leadership through advanced technologies. This work is well under way at the Argonne National Laboratory.
The global landscape of civil nuclear energy technologies is changing. Russia and the PRC are aggressively working to dominate the global civil nuclear market. The majority of planned reactors come from those two countries. Other advanced economies have lost their leadership in the civil nuclear market, threatening our shared strategic and security interests. Increasing Russian and PRC dominance would weaken global safety, security, and nonproliferation standards. In contrast, the United States upholds its high nonproliferation standards through commercial trade. I’ll speak more to this later, but making significant transfers of nuclear material and equipment, including reactors, to other countries requires a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement. We view trade as a tool to enhance global security, not diminish it.
Further, both Russia and the PRC seek access to nuclear markets as a means of exerting long-term political influence that threatens our mutual strategic and security interests. They recognize the strategic benefits that can be gained through civil nuclear cooperation, fueling their desire and efforts to dominate the market. With or without the United States, over 30 emerging countries are moving forward on nuclear power. Even countries that currently use civil nuclear power are building, or planning to build, new plants.
Diversifying energy sources and suppliers allows us to provide clean and affordable energy to underpin our economic growth. Ceding the civil nuclear market would also be a lost economic opportunity. The Department of Commerce estimates the global market to be valued between $500 billion to $740 billion over the next ten years.
The Department of State is active in advancing our clean tech competitiveness. We do this in strong partnership with the Departments of Energy and Commerce, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, US Trade and Development Agency, U.S. Export – Import Bank, International Development Finance Corporation, and others across the interagency.
A recent highlight of our efforts was the announcement by President Biden at the G7 Leaders Summit in Japan outlining concrete steps to implement the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), which, by 2027, will mobilize $600 billion in infrastructure investments around the world. The announcement included public-private support from the United States, Republic of Korea, Japan, and United Arab Emirates for Romania’s SMR project. This support will be of up to $275 million, including a Letter of Interest from U.S Export-Import Bank (EXIM) for up to $99 million from the EXIM Engineering Multiplier Program. In addition, EXIM and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) issued Letters of Interest for potential support of up to $3 billion and $1 billion, respectively.
This is but one example of how like-minded partners can support the needed early work to deploy new nuclear technologies in a safe and secure manner.
Civil Nuclear Partnerships
Whether deepening existing cooperation or supporting nuclear newcomer countries through capacity building, the United State is fortunate to have strong partnerships with likeminded allies on civil nuclear energy. The Department of State negotiates and concludes diplomatic instruments, including 123 agreements – the legally binding agreements including high nonproliferation standards that we sign with countries before significant nuclear material and equipment exports, as well as other intergovernmental agreements, and nuclear cooperation memoranda of understanding.
It is through these international instruments that we strengthen our bilateral relationships, enhance our security – as well as that of our allies and partners, create connections between U.S. industry and partner countries, and lay the groundwork for future civil nuclear cooperation. Nuclear energy cooperation fosters relationships among the public and private sectors that can last from 50 to 100 years, and it is important for countries to select reliable partners. We are proud to further our national security through civil nuclear partnerships.
At COP26, I presented a $25 million “Nuclear Futures Package” of support to access clean nuclear energy. In this package of programs and activities, the United States is working with partners worldwide on nuclear energy projects to address the climate crisis and drive growth for communities in a safe and secure manner. For example, this package included the Poland Front End Engineering and Design study for the large reactor project awarded to U.S. companies Westinghouse and Bechtel – a project in which State Department was a major contributor.
In May, we delivered on another commitment from that package with the launch of the E2 Center at Politehnica University in Bucharest, Romania. This control room simulator will educate and train the next generation of nuclear engineers to operate advanced civil nuclear reactor technologies while establishing Romania as a regional educational and training hub for the next stage of civil nuclear deployments across Romania and Europe.
Workforce development is of great importance to ensure the next generation has the requisite skills to support the growing civil nuclear energy needs. Universities and other educational centers play a critical role in supporting a robust and diverse workforce and localization.
We have world class innovators who are developing technologies that address long-standing concerns and present real opportunities for meeting today’s energy and climate crises. In all of these efforts, however, communication is key. Not just communication between governments but communication among all stake-holders – industry, NGOs, and, most importantly, the general public. Active misinformation and disinformation about nuclear energy and climate change all too often turns some stakeholders against progress, and we must do more to counter these disinformation campaigns if we are to be successful.
We believe that engaging early with countries through capacity building programs is key to proactively shaping nuclear programs to prioritize the highest standards of safety, security, and nonproliferation. It also enhances the possibility of cooperation with the United States or other democratic suppliers.
I mentioned our FIRST program – building on more than 60 years of U.S. innovation and expertise in nuclear energy, FIRST provides capacity-building support to partner countries as they develop their civil nuclear energy programs. FIRST provides training to and engagement with our foreign partners on topics such as SMR technology selection, licensing and safety regulations, financing, workforce development, project localization, stakeholder outreach, nuclear security and nonproliferation, and spent fuel management.
FIRST provides this capacity building support in a manner consistent with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Milestones Approach for implementing a responsible nuclear power program. FIRST is a multi-agency U.S. government initiative, led by the State Department, that draws expertise from a wide range of experts throughout the U.S. interagency, national laboratories, industry, NGOs, and universities.
We currently provide FIRST capacity building support to nearly 20 partner countries with more than $21 million in funding announced, more than 1,500 nuclear experts and officials engaged, and over 100 capacity building events to date, including in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central Europe. We are grateful to our contributing partners the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Canada.
Countries are recognizing the opportunity SMRs present for energy security and environmental reasons. At the State Department we are on the receiving end of countries sharing their interest about how to use new nuclear technologies to secure their energy independence and decarbonize.
Building upon the promise of SMRs, at COP27, Special Envoy Kerry launched a new initiative, Project Phoenix, which will accelerate the transition of coal-fired plants in Europe to SMRs that will utilize existing infrastructure and retain local jobs. Project Phoenix will provide direct U.S. support for coal-to-SMR feasibility studies and related activities in support of energy security goals. Coal to nuclear transitions will revitalize local economies while decarbonizing and increasing energy security. We were thrilled to receive a large number of exceptional applications from eligible countries and look forward to our official launch this Fall and hope to expand it to meet the demand.
We are at a critical juncture for both climate change and energy security. We need to ensure global energy access and security in a way that responsibly sources nuclear fuel and meets global decarbonization needs. Scientific innovations have provided us with technology solutions that can enable a transition to ever cleaner energy. We have the ability to develop and implement policies to responsibly deploy SMRs to meet the moment. But in doing so, we will not, and must not, compromise on upholding the highest safety, security, and nonproliferation standards.
Indeed, responsible deployment is neither in competition nor conflict with these goals. It is through this lens that we will continue to responsibly deploy clean, reliable nuclear energy technologies. I am excited about the promise of these emerging and more flexible technologies and their potential to support net-zero by 2050, create jobs, stimulate economies, while supporting our energy security and nonproliferation goals and achieving progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for affordable and clean energy.
I would like to again thank both the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Education and Research Center and the Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control for the invitation to speak. It’s time to get to work. I look forward to continuing this conversation and working together to meet the moment on climate and energy security.