Twenty-First-Century US Nuclear Power: A National Security Imperative

Twenty-First-Century US Nuclear Power: A National Security Imperative

David K. Gattie and Joshua N. K. Massey
Link to circulation copy of paper accepted for publication in Strategic Studies Quarterly

Abstract: America’s twentieth-century policy on the peaceful uses of nuclear power was original US strategic thinking. It was a policy founded on a rules-based liberal international order shaped by personal experiences and aligned with comprehensive, long-term national security objectives. However, in the twenty-first century, the US is embroiled in a national discussion as to whether it should advance its civilian nuclear power enterprise or abandon it altogether. This disposition conflicts with America’s original nuclear power policy and does not align with twenty-first-century realities. Nuclear power generation is not merely a domestic energy issue subject to popular opinion or the volatility of energy markets. Competing powers are leveraging civilian nuclear collaborations to meet strategic geopolitical objectives. If America retreats from the civilian nuclear field, revisionist powers will become the global leaders in nuclear science, nuclear engineering, and nuclear technology in the twenty-first-century with adverse implications for US national security. Thus, the civilian nuclear power enterprise should be included as a strategic sector within the US national security industrial base and deliberated as a foreign policy issue within a global alliance.

…ilyh…

US House Climate Plan Needs Global and National Security Context

US House Climate Plan Needs Global and National Security Context

(Full Op-ed  in The Hill)

“Given the complex challenges of the 21st century, it is time for U.S. policymakers to consider that the fate of America’s nuclear power enterprise is being decided in the wrong space — it needs to be decided as a national security issue, not as if nuclear is just another energy commodity.”

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis recently released its action plan. Entitled, “Solving the Climate Crisis, A Congressional Roadmap for Ambitious Climate Action,” the plan appropriately characterizes climate change as an existential threat and calls for action on shoring up U.S. infrastructure against the impacts of a changing climate.

However, it lacks the context to impact climate change at the global scale. It also fails to account for the national security implications of fundamentally reorienting the U.S. energy technology industrial base at a time when America is engaged in a long-term competition with revisionist powers pursuing superiority in dual-use technologies such as nuclear power.

America’s nuclear power enterprise is at a strategic crossroads where 21st century challenges of grid reliability, energy security, climate change and great power competition have converged. Before enacting policy that potentially marginalizes nuclear power, U.S. policymakers should ask themselves some questions:

Will policymakers in China and Russia subject their respective energy technology industrial bases to an all-in effort to reduce carbon emissions and solve the climate crisis? Will Russia jeopardize the global status of its state-owned nuclear power enterprise in favor of renewable energy? Will the Chinese Communist Party tell its Belt and Road partners across Eurasia that China won’t engage in nuclear power development until it has solved its nuclear waste issue? If the U.S. doesn’t advance its nuclear power enterprise, will Russia and China follow that lead or compete for the vacancy?

Link to Full Op-ed

…ilyh…

21st Century US Nuclear Power: A National Security Imperative

21st Century US Nuclear Power: A National Security Imperative

(Link to Pre-publication Accepted Version of Paper)

At the 2018 ISSS-IS conference at Purdue University, my colleague, Josh Massey, and I presented a paper on the challenges facing 21st century US nuclear power policy, particularly in the global context. In December 2019, I testified before the US House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change where I included in my testimony the national security implications of US nuclear power (Link to testimony here). Recently, Josh and I authored a paper where we go into greater detail on these issues and offer recommendations for a long-term US nuclear power policy strategy. This is a pre-publication version of that paper, which was recently accepted for publication in the Fall 2020 edition of Strategic Studies Quarterly and will be available online August 26, 2020.

Abstract: America’s 20th century policy on the peaceful uses of nuclear power was original US strategic thinking. It was a policy founded on a rules-based liberal international order shaped by personal experiences and aligned with comprehensive, long-term national security objectives. However, in the 21st century, the US stands at a crossroads, embroiled in a national discussion as to whether it should advance its civilian nuclear power enterprise or abandon it altogether. This disposition conflicts with America’s original nuclear power policy and does not align with 21st century realities. Nuclear power generation is not merely a domestic energy issue subject to popular opinion or the volatility of energy markets. Competing powers are leveraging civilian nuclear collaborations to meet strategic geopolitical objectives.  If America retreats from the civilian nuclear field, revisionist powers will become the global leaders in nuclear science, engineering, and technology in the 21st century with adverse implications for US national security. Thus, the civilian nuclear power enterprise should be included as a strategic sector within the US national security industrial base and deliberated as a foreign policy issue within a global alliance.

 

…ilyh…

A Strategic View of US Nuclear Power Policy

A Strategic View of US Nuclear Power Policy

Recently, I had the opportunity to give a presentation in a workshop hosted by the Global America Business Institute (GABI). GABI’s mission is “to advance awareness and proficiency in global affairs with a focus on international energy policy issues and US-Korea energy policy agenda”, which aligns with my collaborations at the University of Georgia with the Center for International Trade and Security (where I serve as a Senior Fellow) and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government’s South Korea Program.

My talk, which is about thirty minutes and is followed up with thirty minutes of Q&A, covers US energy policy, in general, but focuses on the national security implications of US nuclear power policy. I provide some historical background to early development of the first principles of America’s nuclear power policy and emphasize that US nuclear power policy was originally crafted as an extension of US foreign policy to meet national security objectives. However, US nuclear power is currently debated predominantly as an energy commodity. As such, I contend in this talk that US civilian nuclear power policy and strategy should be realigned to meet foreign policy and national security objectives, and I propose three core actions to do so. Central to my points are that the US needs to conduct a whole-of-government “Nuclear Industrial Base Review” of its civilian nuclear enterprise in order to evaluate risks and make recommendations for strengthening, reorganizing and reconstituting the US nuclear sector’s domestic and global manufacturing supply chain to meet 21st century challenges, with a view toward partnering with our allies–i.e., the UK, South Korea, Japan, Canada, France, Australia.

The summary point is: the US must develop a strategic approach to its civilian nuclear power enterprise given energy security, climate change and great power competition of the 21st century–all of which coalesce into 21st century national security challenges unlike any the US has ever faced.

The presentation is here, and a draft of the companion paper that is currently under peer-review is here.

…ilyh…

 

Southern Company Commits to Net-Zero Carbon by 2050

Southern Company Commits to Net-Zero Carbon by 2050

At its annual stockholder meeting last week, Southern Co. announced its goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is an aggressive goal from one of the largest electricity producers in the U.S. and the largest wholesale provider in the Southeast.

There’s been quite a stir in the wake of this announcement with several articles discussing the implications. I’ve been following some of the social media comments on this over the past week, and it’s interesting to see groups pat each other on the back for their efforts to put pressure on Southern Co. to make this commitment. However, Southern Co. wouldn’t be in the position to set this goal had it not been for three key factors.

First, its calculated, conservative approach to incorporating renewables, particularly solar PV, into its energy portfolio. Second, fracking technology unlocked vast resources of domestic natural gas, allowing the utility to offset coal-fired power with combined cycle natural gas, which emits half the CO2 per MWhr of electricity generated while ensuring reliability. Third, nuclear power–in particular, the construction of Units 3&4 at Plant Vogtle. I may be speaking out of school, but it’s my guess that if those two reactors were not under construction and about to be put into service for the next sixty years, Southern Company’s low-carbon goal would be much less aggressive. And, ironically, some of the very groups applauding Southern Company’s commitment, were against the construction of those very reactors.

Nuclear, natural gas, carbon capture and storage, renewables, afforestation–It remains to be seen how Southern Company will reach this goal while maintaining gird reliability, which is their bottom line, and keeping rates low, which is a key objective. Nonetheless, they’re to be commended for being so bold.

However, I think they’ll need more nuclear capacity to pull it off–and, given the progress we’re making in advanced nuclear reactor development, that would be welcome news.

…ilyh…

21st Century US Nuclear Power Policy: Standing at a Strategic Crossroads

21st Century US Nuclear Power Policy: Standing at a Strategic Crossroads

(Link to In-Review Version of Paper)

At the 2018 ISSS-IS conference at Purdue University, my colleague, Josh Massey, and I presented a paper on the challenges facing 21st century US nuclear power policy, particularly in the global context. In December 2019, I testified before the US House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change where I included in my testimony the national security implications of US nuclear power (Link to testimony here). Recently, we authored a paper where we go into greater detail on these issues and offer recommendations for a long-term US nuclear power policy strategy. This is a draft of that paper, which is currently in review.

Abstract: America’s 20th century policy on the peaceful uses of nuclear power is a US original in strategic thinking. A policy founded on principles that were informed and shaped by personal experiences and aligned with comprehensive, long-term national security objectives for a yet-to-be-established liberal international order for ending great power wars. However, in the 21st century, the US stands at a crossroads, embroiled in a national discussion as to whether it should advance its civilian nuclear power enterprise or abandon it altogether. This disposition conflicts with America’s first principles of nuclear power policy and does not align with 21st century realities that competing powers are leveraging civilian nuclear collaborations to meet strategic geopolitical objectives.  In this article we argue that America’s civilian nuclear power enterprise should be included as a strategic sector within the US national security industrial base and deliberated as a foreign policy issue not merely as a domestic energy policy issue subject to popular opinion or the volatility of energy markets. Otherwise, if America retreats from the civilian nuclear field, revisionist powers will occupy in the 21st century the position America occupied in the 20th century—that position being, the global leader in nuclear science, engineering and technology.

A Brief on Georgia’s Total Electric Power Sector

Georgia’s Total Electric Power Sector

Since 1990, CO2 emissions (mtons) and CO2 intensity (mtons/MWhr) associated with Georgia’s total electric power sector have decreased while overall generation increased. For the most part, this can be attributed to the transition from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power generation. However, there’s a limit to this transition and Georgia’s capacity to sustain this decline in CO2 and CO2 intensity. This highlights the importance of Vogtle Units 3&4, which will bring online over 2,200 MW of zero-carbon power generation and prove invaluable as the coal-to-natural gas transition reaches its natural floor.

Zero-carbon baseload power—Vogtle 3&4 will provide Georgia with a solid foundation on which to expand solar PV and continue the state’s progress toward a reliable, low-carbon energy future.

 

U.S. Nuclear Power: America’s Brand Is at Risk

U.S. Nuclear Power: America’s Brand Is at Risk

(Full Op-ed in Morning Consult)

America’s leadership and stewardship in the global nuclear ecosystem has been central in sustaining the liberal international order that has prevented great power competition from devolving into global war for the past 75 years. However, if America abandons its nuclear enterprise, the question must be asked: “Can the liberal international order be sustained with an illiberal, authoritarian power such as China or Russia having displaced America as the global leader in nuclear science, engineering and technology?”

America’s nuclear brand is tarnished and is at risk of being competed out of existence by state-owned Chinese and Russian brands. It’s a risk that can be avoided through a recommitment to America’s original nuclear power policy principles that were grounded in international engagement, collaboration and partnership.

…ilyh…

Where to Focus U.S. Climate Policy

Where to Focus U.S. Climate Policy

These are a couple of figures from a presentation I gave this week at the Energy Policy Research Conference in Boise, Idaho. They illustrate that zeroing out all U.S. CO2 emissions from global emissions would reset 2018 global emissions to 2006 levels, yet the trend would continue upward. Meaning, if climate change was a concern in 2006 with U.S. emissions included, then climate change would be a concern today if U.S. emissions were completely removed.
This isn’t intended to relieve the U.S. from taking action. Rather, it recommends that the greatest impact the U.S. can have on global carbon emissions is to engage and collaborate with emerging economies on the deployment of low- and zero-carbon energy technologies in support of their growing economic needs. One, in particular, is the Asia-Pacific region, which accounted for 89.9% of CO2 increase since 2000.
This is why I recommend, ad nauseam, that we’ll need an infusion of nuclear power in the U.S. and throughout the world to reorient this trend.
Climate change is global, and if all the U.S. does is develop climate policies based on trickle-down renewable energy integration, those policies will not insulate the U.S. from the impacts of a global issue that is increasing on the other side of the world.
…ilyh…

Coal: Fading in the U.S., But Not in the World

Coal: Fading in the U.S., But Not in the World

The recent NY Times article entitled, “As Coal Fades in the U.S., Natural Gas Becomes the Climate Battleground”, extends the ongoing debate around U.S. coal, natural gas and renewables under the rubric of climate change.

There’s little argument that coal consumption in the U.S. is declining as the U.S. electric power sector continues shifting from coal to inexpensive natural gas. While this shift, along with penetration of renewables, has resulted in decreased CO2 emissions from the U.S. power sector, some, as noted in the NY Times article, contend that the U.S. should be offsetting coal with renewables rather than natural gas—again, due to concerns about climate change. Rather than arguing against the belief in a 100% renewable energy portfolio, it’s worth noting the reality that the U.S. simply isn’t a climate island and cannot isolate itself from what’s happening in the rest of the world—particularly emerging markets where coal consumption continues to increase. While belief systems have a valuable place in our society, that place isn’t in the U.S. power grid.

The two graphs below, one with China and India included as emerging markets and the other with China and India excluded, illustrate that increases in coal consumption in emerging markets offset decreases in coal consumption in the U.S.

The point being that there’s a floor to the U.S. decline in coal consumption and, if coal consumption and CO2 emissions are the global issue, then global attention must turn toward decreasing coal consumption in emerging markets. Coal is in fact fading in the U.S., but it’s coming into full relief in emerging regions looking to stand up their economies on reliable energy resources. However, to do so, those countries need an alternative that’s both reliable and low- or zero-carbon.

And the zero-carbon alternative is nuclear.

…ilyh…