A Strategic Policy Framework for Advancing U.S. Civilian Nuclear Power as a National Security Imperative
(This is an excerpt from my paper that will be published in The Electricity Journal. A pre-publication version is posted at this link. A couple of figures are also included below.
“The scope of the civilian nuclear power issue is global, but will require domestic U.S. policy decisions based on prudence, wisdom, sound judgement and foresight grounded in the realities of the world as it is and the geopolitics that govern the world as it is. As such, this is a geopolitically complex policy issue, not just an energy issue and not just a market issue. Therefore, the U.S. response should be globally comprehensive and strategic and not left to U.S. market forces alone—the national security implications simply are too great.”
While the debate will continue as to the role of nuclear power in the U.S. energy portfolio and how that role should be determined, the argument presented in this paper is that the national security implications of nuclear science, engineering and technology, and nuclear energy itself, are inexorable geopolitical realities of today’s global society. As such, not only should nuclear power be central to U.S. energy policy, U.S. primacy in the full cycle of civilian nuclear power should be established as an objective of U.S. national security strategy. However, national security is a non-monetized benefit of civilian nuclear power, therefore the role and ultimate fate of nuclear power must be a strategic policy decision and not simply a market outcome since markets alone cannot detect these non-monetized benefits.
The policy framework presented here leverages U.S. industrial innovation in the nuclear power sector along with strategic U.S. diplomacy in an effort to align U.S. energy policy with the global reality that nuclear technology is being deployed and leveraged as a geopolitical tool by competing nations. While nations such as China and Russia are regularly referenced in this paper with respect to their nuclear ambitions, the national security threat isn’t limited to China and Russia expanding their civilian nuclear capacity or that they’re developing advanced nuclear technologies. The threat is that the U.S. is lagging these competing powers in the single most energy dense dual-purpose energy resource on Earth and, in the process, creating the risk of America becoming marginalized in the stewardship of the global nuclear cycle. Therefore, with respect to nuclear science, engineering and technology, the institutional knowledge gap between the U.S. and some nations is widening.
Moreover, U.S. engagement in emerging economies by way of nuclear power has much to offer in the way of reliable, low-carbon electricity for economic development. But, perhaps more importantly, it establishes a U.S. geopolitical presence in these regions while sustaining U.S. influence and stewardship in the global nuclear fuel cycle and supply chain.
In the end, the issue remains: How does the U.S. maintain energy security and reliability within its power grid, reduce the threat of global climate change, counter the national security risks of rising global powers seeking to assume America’s leadership role in nuclear science, engineering and technology, and ultimately conclude in a world free of nuclear weapons? The scope of this question is global, but will require domestic U.S. policy decisions based on prudence, wisdom, sound judgement and foresight grounded in the realities of the world as it is and the geopolitics that govern the world as it is. As such, this is a geopolitically complex policy issue, not just an energy issue and not just a market issue. Therefore, the U.S. response should be globally comprehensive and strategic and not left to U.S. market forces alone—the national security implications simply are too great.
Figure 2. Nuclear reactors in operation, under construction, planned or proposed in the U.S., China, Russia and India. [Data Source: World Nuclear Association]
Figure 3. Trajectory of nuclear generation and nuclear capacity in the U.S. and China through 2056. (Data sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration and World Nuclear Association)