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Throughout 2018, the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center convened a “Task Force on US Nuclear Energy Leadership,” which comprised civilian and military experts in foreign policy, defense, and nuclear energy. Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) served as honorary co-chairs of the Task Force. This report, entitled “US Nuclear Energy Leadership: Innovation and the Strategic Global Challenge,” is the result of these efforts.
The Task Force found that a flourishing domestic nuclear energy sector is critical to US national security, both in the interconnections between military and civilian uses of nuclear energy, as well as in foreign policy. This report recommends maintaining and expanding the current nuclear fleet; creating a conducive regulatory environment for innovation and new technologies; and encouraging and facilitating nuclear energy exports.



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Five nuclear power vendors are competing for a sizeable sale in Saudi Arabia, with Westinghouse facing off against state-owned enterprises (SOEs) from France, South Korea, Russia, and China. A few decades ago, the US was the world leader in nuclear power technology. However, today the US needs to sell nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the export market in order to sustain domestic nuclear industrial capability and have a chance in future nuclear export opportunities.

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Many commentators noted the absence of any reference to climate change, clean energy, or the Green New Deal in President Trump’s State of the Union address on February 5th. In fact, the only mention that Trump made of energy at all was to praise the US for becoming “the number one producer oil and natural gas in the world,” and calling it a “revolution in American energy.” However, despite the president’s denial of climate change and the absence of any mention of clean energy in the State of the Union, the Trump Administration—with bipartisan support in Congress—has made significant strides in passing legislation to promote civilian nuclear power, a carbon-free source of energy.

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Nuclear power evokes a broad spectrum of responses around the world. While the United Arab Emirates is building a nuclear power plant and Saudi Arabia has announced its intention to do so, in Japan—where the memories of the Fukushima plant disaster of 2011 are still fresh—there is a reluctance to embrace nuclear power, while Germany is implementing a plan to take all of its nuclear reactors offline by 2022.


Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Al Hammadi and King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy Chief Atomic Energy Officer Maher Al Odan say their nations are pursuing nuclear power with the objective of diversifying their energy sources.

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For decades, the United States has been a global leader in nuclear energy, both in terms of domestic power generation and the formation of global nuclear policy. In his issue brief, US Nuclear-Power Leadership and the Chinese and Russian Challenge, Global Energy Center Senior Fellow Robert F. Ichord, Jr. examines the diverging developments in US nuclear power vis-à-vis its Chinese and Russian counterparts. He concludes that it constitutes a Chinese and Russian challenge to US nuclear power leadership, with significant geopolitical and security consequences.

Nuclear energy remains an important part of the US energy mix, accounting for 20 percent of electricity and 60 percent of carbon-free electricity. However, following years of underinvestment, US nuclear power is in decline. Meanwhile, China and Russia are ramping up investment both at home and abroad, most notably in states that are key players in current geopolitical issues, such as Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

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