U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Special Online Briefing
The Brussels Hub
MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us today for the virtual press briefing. We’re very honored to be joined by Diane Farrell, the Deputy Under Secretary for International Trade in the Department of Commerce, and Ann Ganzer, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation at the Department of State.
With that, let’s get started. Under Secretary Farrell, Assistant Secretary Ganzer, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to both of you for opening remarks.
MS FARRELL: Okay. Well, good afternoon to folks who are here in Europe, good morning to some who may find themselves in the U.S., and good evening for others who may be scattered around the world. I am delighted to be able to have an opportunity to speak with you this afternoon along with my partner, Ann Ganzer, from the U.S. Department of State. I am based in Washington, D.C., and am here specifically in order to work with our transatlantic partners with regard to nuclear energy, with a focus on small modular reactors.
The timing, of course, is very fortuitous for two reasons, especially, of course, being here in Brussels. Number one is the issue of energy security. As we have seen play out over the last few months, the fact that the Russian war on Ukraine – completely unnecessary and unjust, and one of deep concern to our allies and friends – has demonstrated that when the Russians take an aggressive action, they will use oil and gas exports as a retaliatory weapon. And we have certainly had an opportunity to hear a number of instances and stories as we talk to our European counterparts, especially as we look to solutions. And when we talk about solutions, we’re really talking about diversifying portfolios. We’re talking about resilience not just in the near term, the medium term, as well as the long term.
At the same time, of course, we are coming off of the successful COP27 event in Sharm el-Sheikh, where we have clearly seen as a global population the absolute imperative that we deal with issues of climate and climate change and address the issues that are currently occurring at a much faster rate, frankly, than any of us had hoped, and as scientists are making sure that we understand that governments have to act, that people have to understand the absolute importance of bringing our CO2 emissions down and addressing climate challenges.
So it’s against this backdrop, as I mentioned, of course – diversity of reliance when it comes to use of energy sources is absolutely an imperative. We are very excited about small modular reactors because United States companies have been at the forefront of innovation in this area, and to have an opportunity to work with our partners to educate them on the technology, to celebrate some of the advancements that have occurred over the last few years, has been a very encouraging aspect of the discussions that we’ve had.
And we also do want to acknowledge that where we have likeminded partners, where we believe in open markets, where we believe in rewards for innovation, where we respect innovation from the standpoint of intellectual property and intellectual property protection, we do look at our competitors, specifically Russia but also China, when we talk about our ability to advance. And by the way, not just our own interests, our own parochial interests or even our allied interests; we’re again talking about from a global perspective how this kind of innovation, this kind of leadership both from our EU partners as well as from the United States is absolutely an imperative.
So I will leave it there. I’m more than happy to get a little bit more granular with some of the activities that I’ve been participating in this week, but I do want to give my colleague, Ann Ganzer, an opportunity to also give a quick summary, and then we’re happy to discuss and take your questions.
MS GANZER: Well, thank you, Diane, and thank you to the hub for the invitation to participate in this call. I’m thrilled to be here with an esteemed colleague like Diane Farrell to talk to you all today.
The U.S. Government’s efforts to advance nuclear energy innovation, which the Biden administration considers a critical part of the climate solution, is why we’re here today. Nuclear energy innovation plays and will increasingly play an essential role in supporting global energy security needs, combating climate change, creating jobs, but to me most important, under the highest standards of nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation, which includes IAEA safeguards. And the United States and our European partners have worked for decades to strengthen and uphold these norms. Energy security is national security, and that’s why it’s important to us.
Small modular reactors that Diane already mentioned are next-generation nuclear technologies. They offer lower costs, advanced safety features, and are appealing because of their smaller footprint, their smaller land area. So they can be situated closer to where the energy needs are, easily integrating into the energy grid while maintaining those very high standards of safety, security, and safeguards.
The United States is working with Romania to launch the first SMR project in Eastern Europe. This partnership with Romania will allow U.S. ingenuity on nuclear advancement to be brought to a critical part of Europe, and possibly two years earlier than elsewhere. U.S. efforts and U.S. work on SMRs serve as a counterpoint in demonstrating U.S. credibility and responsibility for civil nuclear energy. It shows that we are a responsible nuclear energy supplier, contrasted with Russia’s dangerous and reckless actions with civil nuclear facilities in Ukraine, in Chernobyl and at the Exclusion Zone, but also at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
To support these global efforts and capture the benefits of nuclear power, President Biden announced a program at the 2021 Leaders Summit on Climate, Foundational Infrastructure for the Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology, or FIRST. Yeah, with that mouthful of a name, we all call it FIRST.
FIRST provides capacity-building support to nearly 20 partner countries, and with more than $21 million in funding we have trained 1,500 nuclear experts and officials and had more than 100 capacity-building engagements to date. This is important. You don’t just flip a switch to turn on a nuclear reactor. You need people who can license, who can regulate, who can operate safely.
In recent weeks and months, we’ve made several announcements about our growing support for our partners in civil nuclear energy development. In June, at the G7 Leaders Summit, President Biden announced $14 million to support an SMR project in Romania, as I already mentioned. At the November IAEA Nuclear Power Ministerial, the United States joined with Japan and Ghana to announce a strategic partnership to support Ghana’s goal of being the first mover in Africa for SMR deployment and possibly becoming a regional hub.
And most recently at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, the United States announced two additional clean energy projects. We joined with Ukraine to announce a pilot project to demonstrate the production of clean hydrogen and ammonia using safe and secure SMRs and cutting-edge electrolysis technologies in Ukraine. And we launched Project Phoenix, a new initiative to accelerate Europe’s transition away from coal-fired plants to SMRs while retaining local jobs through workforce training. Project Phoenix will provide U.S. support for countries in Central and Eastern Europe. An initial program will focus on replacing retired or soon-to-be-retired coal plants with new nuclear energy generation capacity from SMRs.
Through these efforts, the United States is reaffirming our commitment to supporting nuclear energy innovation. The advanced technologies will support much-needed energy security, spur clean global energy transitions in a smart, cost-effective and secure way, and will advance national and international security and non-proliferation goals.
It’s important to understand that our efforts to transition to clean energy cannot be done alone. We must build transatlantic and transpacific partnerships if we are to maintain those high global standards I mentioned and that we have built over decades. We need to find ways for our suppliers to work with those from likeminded states to bring the benefits of nuclear energy to bear on climate, on the energy independence of our friends and allies, and, as I said, to us for national and international security.
And I also look forward to your questions. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thanks very much to both of you for those opening remarks. We will now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing. I will note that the panel will not be addressing any questions related to the IRA. We would point you in the direction of their recently released EU-U.S. TTC statement.
The floor is open, and we have one hand raised. Alex Raufoglu, you have the mic.
QUESTION: Yes. John, thank you so much for doing this. Let me start with the news of the day. May I get your reaction to a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson’s comment today that – which has actually dashed any hopes Moscow could give up control over Zaporizhzhia Power Plant, days after IAEA said a deal is – deal to safeguard the site is almost there? The foreign minister claims that it’s their territory. Of course, it’s a wrong narrative. I just want to see if the U.S. Government has any strategy on that moving forward.
And secondly, as we’re in the ninth month of the war, the conventional wisdom is that the reason why Russia’s use – potential use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine, which will cement Putin as a pariah, is not off the table is that because the West is still pursuing some sort of strategic ambiguity policy on this. So we are not clear about what we are going to do in that scenario. May I get your comment on that as well, please? Thank you so much.
MS GANZER: Well, honestly, that question sounds like it would come to me and International Security and Nonproliferation. I have to be honest, I arrived here in Brussels this morning, I was on a plane overnight, and I’ve been in meetings pretty much since I arrived, so I have not seen the statement. I can’t really comment on it. I do want to say that the United States firmly believes the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant belongs to Ukraine, as does the energy produced there. We support the IAEA and Director General Grossi’s efforts to protect that plant. We are very concerned about the saber-rattling, the nuclear saber-rattling. The use of a nuclear weapon would just be beyond the pale. And I think we have been pretty clear about that. So I’m not quite sure what you want us to say except that the use of any kind of nuclear weapon would be completely unacceptable to the United States.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go on to one of the pre-submitted questions from Lara Jakes from The New York Times: “NATO’s secretary general has acknowledged defense industry concerns that the EU climate regulations may have hampered weapons production in this time of war. Are there similar regulations that could restrict the American defense industry, and more broadly, how should governments try to balance war-time needs with global security needs?”
MS GANZER: That’s a very good question, but I think you’ve got the wrong panelists for that one. To be honest, I did work in defense trade something like 15 years ago, but I’ve been working in International Security and Nonproliferation for a long time now, and I just don’t have any insight into answering that question. I would recommend that be directed to those in Washington. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Next question is also pre-submitted, from Dimitri Soultogiannis from the Star Channel, Greece: “Does the U.S. see Greece as a potential energy hub for southeast Mediterranean region?”
MS FARRELL: It’s an interesting question. As we have been building out our SMR program, we have been somewhat limited in the partnerships that we’ve had to date. But interestingly, we are now graduating to the second phase, because we’ve seen where progress has been made since 2020 when we actually began what is called the SMR PPP, public-private partnership or program.
So it’s a great question; it’s one that we’ll have to follow up on. But we are right now in a period of transition where we are looking to expand on the basis of the successes that we’ve had to date. So I thank you very much for the question, and it’s a good one for us to follow up on.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Next question is from Phil Chaffee. It’s actually – there are two parts to it. He states: “We’re starting to see several European SMR vendors such as Rolls-Royce in the UK or EDF with its NUWARD in France catch up with their U.S. competitors. Why wouldn’t European nuclear developers go with nearer vendors? What can the U.S. SMR vendors offer that their European competitors cannot?”
And in addition, he states: “Are there various SMR initiatives with Ukraine dependent on the war ending, or do you envision going forward with them while fighting continues?”
MS FARRELL: Well, I’m happy to take the first part of that question. The answer is we’re working – this really is a joint effort between the United States and our EU partners. And so at the events that I’ve been attending over the last few days, we actually have a total of 50 companies who are participating – about half from the EU, and half from the United States. There – it’s been a very collaborative discussion. It – this is clearly a market, when we start talking about small modular reactors, that has the ability to grow exponentially. And again, our interest of course in working with likeminded partners makes this an opportunity for great collaboration.
So it’s not that we are attempting to be exclusive of other competitors. We also, frankly, respect open markets and understand the importance and the value of competition. And so there is no intention of closing out anyone from the ability to help this sector to grow and to thrive and to continue to develop.
Second half, I would really have to defer – yeah.
MS GANZER: Well, the second – we did announce a pilot project to demonstrate production of clean hydrogen and ammonia using secure and safe SMR and cutting-edge electrolysis technologies in Ukraine. This was literally just announced. We are starting to talk with the Ukrainians and put pen to paper. On any project like this, of course, you start with discussions and studies, and there’s no reason why we can’t start that right now. Obviously, the conduct of the war will have an impact on how far we can get with this project, but we definitely support Ukraine and are willing to work with them to the extent that they are able on this project. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Thank you, both. Going to Darko Obradović, who submitted a question. He states: “Is it possible that Serbia can participate in the U.S. energy transition effort instead of being a client of or essentially taking Chinese loans that are Belt and Road-related for coal power plants?”
MS FARRELL: Well, that’s a great question, and I think it expands beyond all that we’re – that I’m doing this week. But it gets at the heart of the matter, which is, as I mentioned at the top, it’s incredibly important that countries have a diverse energy portfolio. It’s also incredibly important that countries have trusted partners. And so when we talk about Belt and Road Initiative, when we talk about, as mentioned earlier, with regard to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine but also toward those of us who see the fallacy of Russia’s arguments and are absolutely appalled by their current actions, it’s very important that we provide an opportunity for any entity.
Again, we’re talking about climate change. We’re – fundamentally, we’re talking about a global shift in the way energy is delivered in order to ensure that we can address our climate change goals and the crisis that could be further precipitated if we don’t take this seriously. So I think it’s very fair to say that we’re open to all discussions with anyone who is interested in working with us in a true and transparent partnership.
And what we offer, of course, is the safety, the security, the reliability of products that are made between ourselves and our European partners when it comes to something as absolutely critical as energy and something that is as great an opportunity, a real groundbreaking opportunity, when we talk about small modular reactors specifically.
MS GANZER: I would just add that we are talking to a host of countries who have approached us to talk about their energy needs, their concerns about energy reliance on Russia or on other countries for that matter. I gave you a list of projects because those are the countries where we have both announced publicly what we are working on, but we are working with a host of countries, but until there’s actually a done deal none of this would be announced. So I can’t comment on any specific country. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Thank you both. Ricard just submitted a question noting that President Macron was in Washington recently and that he was also expected to discuss civil nuclear cooperation. Can you elaborate on this discussion?
MS GANZER: They did have a discussion. I, honestly, am not sure how much has been made public and would point you to the White House for discussions between Macron and the President. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. I will just remind our guests that the floor is open if they’d like to ask a question live. We do have a couple more questions that have been submitted. From Momchil Indjov of Club Z Media in Bulgaria, a question to Ms. Ganzer: “Your Excellency, does the U.S. fear that there could be more attacks against critical energy infrastructure in Europe after the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines? If so, what could be the most threatened installations?”
MS GANZER: Well, I think it is pretty obvious that Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been the biggest target of attacks. We’ve been very concerned about Russian missiles and UAVs destroying civil electricity infrastructure across the country, disabling equipment that provides power, heat, water, communications to the people of Ukraine. These attacks are unacceptable. They represent a shameful continuation of Russia’s already brutal, unjustifiable war against Ukraine, particularly against the Ukrainian people.
In addition, Russia’s attacks have been cutting off external power to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. This is really important. It forces reactors at the plants to go into an emergency shutdown. Reliable offsite power is essential to the safe operation of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, of any power plant in general. And without that offsite power to cool nuclear fuels, this could lead to a nuclear accident. This is important and these attacks must stop.
Beyond that, clearly energy infrastructure elsewhere could also be a target. But I’m not going to give people ideas and suggest places where it would be good to hit them. But clearly what we are seeing in Ukraine shows that we need to protect our energy infrastructure. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We have a follow-up question from Phil Chaffee. “To what extent do you expect the U.S. DFC to offer real financing support and equity finance to help export U.S. SMRs?”
MS FARRELL: That is a great question and very much appreciated. As part of the discussions that I’ve been having both with prospective countries who are interested in partnering with our companies as it relates to bringing – either creating a more diverse nuclear portfolio, updating their current infrastructure, or looking at the flexibility and the agility of SMRs, financing has come up a great deal. And I happen to have also served on the board of directors for the U.S. Export–Import Bank of the United States and had the opportunity to provide some support for financing for nuclear power plants.
This is definitely an area that is a focus and a priority for the Government of the United States. And we will work with any and all prospective project initiators to come up with as attractive a financing opportunity as there is. I do want to say – and this is very important – when we talk about U.S. goods and services, we are always talking about quality and reliability. And in this case, when we’re talking about energy delivery, we’re also talking about safety. And so we have to be very sure and very careful to say that you have to look past the easy money, so to speak, or the easy answer. The questioner just a few moments ago talked about Belt and Road. I have only to refer you to any number of Belt and Road projects over the last few years, where countries have found themselves in one kind of a trap or another because of easy money or other easy reasons for a collaboration with the Chinese.
So our message really has to be, yes, we want to help to work with financing. That may be at the private level; it may also be at the public sector level with governments and partnerships. But we also really want to underscore the importance, the value, the life-cycle value of U.S. products. And again, I can’t think of an industry that you want to feel more confident in than when we start talking about civil nuclear and the idea of these new technologies.
The other thing I do want to make sure that I mention is we had a very successful U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council meeting yesterday chaired by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and, of course, Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well. They issued a joint statement, and there are two areas that I just wanted to focus on very briefly.
One is what’s known now as the Transatlantic Initiative for Sustainable Trade to help achieve a green and sustainable future, and the other is the Talent for Growth Task Force – issues that are absolutely an imperative as we all look at our developed economies and we look at our aging populations, we look at our aging infrastructure. It’s very important that we take a fresh look when we talk about the idea of a green and sustainable future, and it’s equally as important – and we’ve learned this particularly in the nuclear industry – that we are educating and training the next generation of individuals who are going to make their careers in this industry specifically.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We have one last quick question from Yordan Barzakov from Bulgaria. He notes that, “Bulgaria is one of the first countries affected by the suspension of natural gas supplies from Gazprom. The U.S. Government seems to have tried to help our country get supplies from U.S. suppliers. Will this policy continue and how important is Bulgaria to the U.S. in the conditions of a shortage of natural gas supplies in Europe?”
MS GANZER: Do you want to say anything about – natural gas isn’t my —
MS FARRELL: Okay. Well, first of all, thank you for asking the question because it is important to highlight. I think it’s yet another very strong illustration of the partnership that we feel towards our EU partners that the United States actually, in answer to the call, has doubled LNG exports to the EU and its member states this year compared to last year. And of course we respect Bulgaria, and we understand – I’ve just sat next to the Bulgarian delegate at a Department of Energy roundtable that we had earlier this afternoon.
We have – so far this year, we have more than – we’ve provided more than two-thirds of U.S. LNG to Europe specifically. Clearly, the President has been – our President Biden has been very committed to strengthening not just the energy partnership but recognizing the challenges that Europe faces as such an important and trusted partner and such a significant percentage of the global GDP between the United States and Europe, that that commitment remains. I, of course, cannot speak for the President, but I can say that there is great interest in continuing to alleviate the unnecessary and unjust pressures that are being placed on the European Union at this moment in time by Russia.
Anything you want to add?
MS GANZER: Well, just I would also note that we have been working with Bulgaria on nuclear power as well, on diversifying fuel supplies, and on potentially building additional reactors to help Bulgaria with its power supplies. In fact, just before COVID, one of the last trips I made was to Bulgaria to talk about these issues with the Bulgarian Government. Bulgaria is a close friend of the United States, and we are working with Bulgaria to address its energy needs across the board.
MODERATOR: Thank you both for that. Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today. Thank you all for your questions, and thank you, Deputy Under Secretary Farrell and Assistant PDAS Ganzer, for joining us. Before we close the call, I’d like to see if either of you have any final remarks for the group?
MS FARRELL: I guess what I would just like to say is that I have – I – as always, I have a very positive outlook. I truly believe that we have the ability as trusted partners to really make a difference when we talk about the future. And I think the other thing to remember is that while we talk about the technologies, while we talk about the sort of global political impacts of what’s happening right now, I happen to have been watching a – I was watching one of the news outlets this morning as I was getting ready for my meetings, and what really struck me was, it was a simple piece. It happened – in this case it happened to be a reporting out of Germany about families who felt very strongly that they wanted to continue to attend a particular festival of lights as we’re in the holiday season right now.
And the question the reporter posed was, is this really a good use of energy right now because – against this backdrop of what’s happening and what we’re anticipating in terms of the challenges as the winter months are approaching? And I think it’s very important to remember – and the response, by the way, from the citizen that was interviewed was (inaudible) tonight and this – since she was a grandmother, this is very important to my grandchildren. We want to continue this tradition. We want them to feel optimistic about the future. We want them to see the beauty of their lives – here in this case it happened to be Germany – but that we don’t want to give these things up.
And what really moved me about that was the sincerity of – and I guess the reminder of the responsibility that we have as officials, as partners and as officials representing our respective nations, that we don’t let these people down, that we do continue to work collaboratively to find solutions, that we do ultimately prove that living in free and open societies is what provides the greatest quality of life, that provides the greatest potential and opportunity for generations to come. So I know it’s a small story, but it was one that was very compelling that really helped to sort of ground my thinking as we were getting into some of these greater, more sophisticated details as we do on a daily basis.
And this is really what it’s all about. It’s about making sure that families feel that sense of a positive future as they see the generations coming. And I think it also reminds us that we have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to address global climate change. We have a responsibility to solve problems as they are presented to us, whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s lessons learned from the economic – global economic downturn, or whether it’s something as making sure that what we might consider to be somewhat of a small example is really the quality of life that we are seeking to preserve – and better than just preserve, seeking to enhance and ensure a very bright future.
MS GANZER: I would heartily agree with that, that what we are doing is all about leaving a better world for our children and our grandchildren. That it is important to address climate change. That it is important to ensure our security by ensuring energy independence. And just the last thought to leave with you is that we cannot do this alone. Partnerships are important, and we need to work transatlantic, which is why we are here, as well as with others around the world. But we are here this week for transatlantic cooperation to ensure that future for all of us.
MS FARRELL: And to be very technical about it, we’re calling it Transatlantic Energy Week.
MS GANZER: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Those are great points to end on. Thank you both, and thank you both for taking the time to do this with us today. Shortly we will send an audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub – one word – @state.gov. Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing in the future. This ends today’s briefing.