Strengthening Nuclear Energy Cooperation between the United States and its Allies

Lead PI: Matthew Bowen

Unit Affiliation: Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP)

July 2020 - Ongoing
Global ; United States
Project Type: Research Outreach

DESCRIPTION: This paper, part of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s nuclear power program, examines part of what may be required for the United States to regain momentum in the nuclear power industry after an erosion of domestic capabilities stemming from a long hiatus in new reactor orders. The paper discusses the historical importance of nuclear cooperation between the United States and allies, some of the challenges that the US and some allied nuclear energy programs are facing, and how cooperation could be reinvigorated to the benefit of the United States and its allies.

In short, the paper finds:

Advanced reactor development and demonstration are both expensive endeavors: each can cost over a billion dollars. Greater cooperation between the United States and allies such as Canada, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom would enable more sources of investment and help keep development costs low by utilizing existing facilities and capabilities.

Laws dating back to 1954, however, have created barriers to foreign investment in domestic nuclear reactors—even among the country’s closest allies. These laws inhibit efforts for nuclear energy cooperation in areas that are becoming critical in the modern economy, particularly investment in new US reactor projects and preserving existing reactors. The international nuclear energy marketplace has changed dramatically since these provisions were created, making these legacy restrictions increasingly problematic.

In 1999, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) proposed amending parts of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to enable the NRC to more effectively manage modern corporate structures and a globalized supply chain. This proposal, not since enacted, would help to facilitate greater cooperation on advanced reactor demonstration between the United States and its allies.

Also, current international programs in the US Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy are not structured to facilitate greater cooperation between the United States and its allies on advanced reactor demonstration. Either reorienting existing programs or establishing new ones with this aim would increase the likelihood of successful demonstration of advanced reactors.