The nuclear governance system is facing an unprecedented challenge as traditional nuclear suppliers that have built the backbone of the safety, security and nonproliferation regime face new competition to provide technology to emerging nations. This is according to an April 19 policy report released by the Global Nexus Initiative (GNI), a unique project that combines experts from the nuclear industry and leading energy, climate change and nuclear security advocacy organizations.
The locus of new nuclear plant construction has shifted to fast-growing nations in Asia and the Middle East, the report notes, and traditional suppliers, including the U.S., France and Japan, are giving way to Russia and China, which have the most active nuclear production lines, the capacity to increase manufacturing and the state financing to support it. China alone has 21 reactors under construction and another 40 planned; Russia has seven under construction and another 25 planned. South Korea, a key U.S. ally and another emerging global nuclear supplier, has three reactors under construction and is building four new reactors abroad in the United Arab Emirates.
Neither Russia nor China have been leaders in the nuclear governance area and many nations with emerging economies and ambitious nuclear power development plans face challenges in effectively governing the plants and materials they seek.
"Control of the nuclear energy market translates into the power to set the governance agenda," said Kenneth Luongo, president of the Partnership for Global Security (PGS), a nonpartisan think-tank offering innovative solutions to global nuclear security challenges. "We cannot afford a race to the bottom in pursuit of market share in this vital area. The growth of non-U.S. and non-European nuclear reactor suppliers is a significant concern as it may impact the global leadership needed to drive forward the improvements required for the system to remain effective."
The current nuclear governance system encompasses the critically important nuclear safety, security and safeguards regimes and essential issues related to environmental impacts. It covers a wide range of national regulations and laws, international agreements and guidance, and facility operations and practices.
"Strong global governance is essential if the promise of nuclear power is to be achieved," said Everett Redmond, NEI's senior technical advisor for new reactor and advanced technology. "The nuclear industry recognizes this and stands ready to work with governments, international organizations and the NGO community to ensure that nuclear power can meet the growing need for clean energy with the highest standards of safety and security."
The report, "Evolving Nuclear Governance for a New Era," offers several recommendations for strengthening nuclear governance, among which are:
- Strengthen the nuclear security regime by moving toward common standards, greater transparency, expanded peer reviews and consideration of an international agreement
- Maintain the strong influence of current nuclear suppliers in the U.S., Japan and Europe to ensure that existing nuclear governance norms are maintained and not compromised
- Recognize the impact of nuclear supply relationships on the political and strategic objectives of recipient and supplier nations and the attendant impact on their ability to shape the nuclear governance system.
GNI is a joint project of the Nuclear Energy Institute and PGS. This is the third policy memo GNI has released since its inception in 2015.
GNI's fourth and final report will be released May 2 at a press conference at the National Press Club with a simultaneous webcast. The memo will present recommendations on the role of nuclear power in meeting the challenges of energy production, climate change and global security.