In this new issue brief, “US Nuclear-Power Leadership and the Chinese and Russian Challenge,” Global Energy Center Senior Fellow Robert F. Ichord looks at the strategic significance of nuclear power, arguing “US global leadership and engagement in nuclear power are vital to US national security and foreign-policy interests.”
The Issue: While nuclear power represents a key source of reliable, emissions-free, baseload power, contributes to a diverse energy portfolio, and represents a key area of technological leadership, the United States traditional international leadership role is being severely challenged, especially by China and Russia.
Why the United States Needs to Think Strategically About Nuclear:
- The Global Nuclear Market: Despite the dramatic changes in electric power economics with the development of more efficient and lower-cost gas and renewables, there remains significant interest in nuclear power around the world, and Russia and China are looking to tap these markets. While domestic development in the United States remains stalled, China and Russia are developing their domestic nuclear industries, building and commercializing new reactors, working toward complete fuel cycles, and financing their nuclear companies’ exports as a way of expanding their political and economic presence in key countries.
- The Race for Technological Leadership: While the United States struggles to license new technologies and expand beyond light water reactors, China is becoming a test bed for advanced nuclear development. Chinese companies are actively working on new large as well as small modular reactor designs, and both China and Russia are almost ready to put into commercial operation, ahead of the United States. the first third-generation reactor systems.
- Upholding Nuclear Safety and Nonproliferation: The US has served as architect, implementer, and guarantor of the current framework for nuclear safety and non-proliferation. A world in which China and Russia, rather than the United States, are the leading purveyors of nuclear technology could be one in which safety and non-proliferation standards are severely weakened.
The Bottom Line:
“US global nuclear engagement is critical—not only because it supports military needs and advances commercial interests, but also because it brings with it a culture that promotes safety, security of nuclear materials, and nonproliferation.”