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"Advanced" US Reactors: New Foreign Policy and Security Concerns

 Over the last few weeks, Defense and Enery officials have made a number of remarkable announcements promoting the export and overseas deployment of "advanced reactors"-- nuclear plants as small as several megawatts electrical (and up) that use new types of reactor fuels.

Overturning decades of U.S. policy not to encourage the separation of weapons-usable plutonium overseas, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for nuclear energy announced earlier this month the department's desire to send U.S. spent fuel to France, India, and Japan for reprocessing. This would be part of a larger effort to develop plutonium-based fuels for several proposed U.S. advanced reactor designs.

The Energy Department also wants to expand American uranium enrichment capacity to produce nearly 20% enriched fuels for other proposed reactor systems. Small versions of these reactors are intended for export. The Energy Department wants to develop these reactors and their fuel cycles with advanced nuclear nations (e.g., Japan, South Korea, India). The Department of Defense, meanwhile, let out contracts for a microreactor it hopes to begin testing 2023 for deployment at the very edge of battle at military theaters like Afghanistan. 
What foreign policy and security concerns do these advanced reactors raise? The short answer is plenty. For starters, they include the possible reopening of America's nuclear cooperative agreements with South Korea, India, and China and persuading other countries to let us insert military reactors on their soil.
All of this should raise eyebrows. Last week, Sharon Squasoni (of George Washington's Institue for International Science and Technology Policy) and I offered congressional staff a short brief, "'Advanced' US Reactors: New Foreign Policy-Security Concerns." The following are the Powerpoint slides, a suggested list of readings, and a brief memo on the Build Act, which the nuclear industry want to use to help finance U.S. advanced reactor exports.


May 28, 2020
HCFA Nuke Energy May 2020 (PDF) 4,762.32 KB

To view all slides presented, click here.

The following is a suggested reading list:

Selected Readings: US Advanced, Small, & Micro Reactor Programs
Chris Schneidmiller, “DoE Nuclear Energy Chief Reaffirms Interest in Reprocessing for US Spent Fuel,” Nuclear Exchange Monitor, May 15, 2020 chief-reaffirms-interest-foreign-reprocessing-u-s-spent-fuel/?printmode=1

Sonal Patel, “DOE Launches Program to Demonstrate Advanced Nuclear Reactors Within 5 Years,” Power Magazine, May 14, 2020 within-5-years/

Rebecca Beitsch, Trump’s Push to Use Global Aid for Nuclear Projects Alarms Development Groups,” The Hill, May, 6, 2020 projects-alarms

Jon Harper, “Safety Concerns Could Stymie Nuclear Reactor Plans,” National Defense Magazine, April 27, 2020 reactor-plans

Department of Energy, “Restoring America’s Competitive Nuclear Advantage: A Strategy to Assure U.S. National Security,” April 23, 2020 Nuclear%20Advantage-Blue%20version%5B1%5D.pdf

Aaron Mehta, “Pentagon to Award Mobile Nuclear Reactor Contracts This Week,” Defense News, Mar. 3, 2020 nuclear-reactor-contracts-this-week/

Sonal Patel, “Interest in DOE’s Versatile Test Reactor Heats Up,” Power Magazine, January 23, 2020

David Dalton, “Generation IV / US And Japan Must Lead The Way, Says Commerce Secretary,” Nucnet, Dec. 23, 2019 secretary-12-1-2019

Edwin Lyman, “The Pentagon wants to boldly go where no nuclear reactor has gone before. It won’t work,”The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 22, 2019 before-it-wont-work/

The Nuclear Energy Institute, “Roadmap for the Deployment of Micro-Reactors for U.S. Department of Defense Domestic Installations,” October 4, 2018 reactors-department-defense-201810.pdf

Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski, “Let’s Not Promote Other Countries’ ‘Military’ Reactors,” forthcoming


The following is the brief memo on the Build Act:

DFC-International Development Finance Corporation-An Overview

The Build Act of 2018 combined OPIC (which focused on equity investments) with the USAID Development Credit Authority, an agency that primarily guaranteed loans made by US financial institutions and companies in developing country’s foreign currencies. DFC Officially launched in October 2019.

FY 2021 Budget Request

The Trump Administration has asked for $800 million for the DFC. FY 2020 funded the agency at $150 million. The increase is seen as a new direction for US foreign aid. The President seeks to decrease the overall foreign aid budget by roughly $14 billion.
“The Budget provides $0.8 billion for the DFC to support private sector growth in less developed countries and to provide a transparent, high-quality alternative to predatory Chinese international lending in the Indo-Pacific and other strategic regions. The Budget allows the DFC to make equity investments, increasing its ability to invest in critical private sector projects. Using these tools, the DFC would complement and enhance U.S. strategic and foreign policy objectives in the developing world.”

The Board of Directors

Wilbur Ross, Mike Pompeo, John Barsa (Acting Admin of USAID), Brent Mcintosh (Undersec. for Int’l Affairs at Treasury), Irving Bailey II (35-year career in financial services), Christopher Vincze (He’s the current CEO of an energy-infrastructure conglomerate-TRC Companies Inc.)


1. Current GC Kevin Turner was previously GC of OPIC. Former Chief of Staff for Senator Luther Strange. $2 million was appropriated to the GC office in 2020 budget.
2. DFC is exempt from the Sunshine Act-OPIC was not exempt. Sunshine Act says that every portion of every meeting of a gov’t agency can be observed by the public. This is post-Watergate legislation. DFC is designed as a government entity where majority of leadership was appointed to lead other departments and agencies, thus the Trump Administration argues it isn’t an agency and therefore the Sunshine Act does not apply to it. (See board members above).

For Reference-DFC predecessor OPIC had a track record of success. “OPIC operates at zero net cost to the US taxpayer and returns a profit to the government every year. For 39 consecutive years, OPIC has generated money for the U.S. Treasury at no net cost to U.S. taxpayers and has contributed $3.7 billion towards deficit reduction in the last 10 years. For every dollar spent in administrative expenses, OPIC collects eight dollars.”


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