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The global nuclear power market is a geopolitical battleground

Competition with Russia and China is no longer a game of monopoly; It is a game of risk. And to capture a multibillion-dollar global civilian nuclear market, it is time we recognized that competition with authoritarian regimes is more than economic rivalry, it is fundamental to US national security.

Long before invading Ukraine, Russia weaponized civilian nuclear exports to tie countries into decades-old energy dependence, especially when it comes to fuel. About 40% of the world’s uranium fuel supply comes from Russian facilities. As Russian nuclear exports continue to grow by more than 20% since the start of the Ukrainian invasion, and China is following suit, the United States has a pressing need to secure the global civil nuclear supply chain for both our energy and national security interests. It is essential.

Given the geopolitical importance of nuclear commerce and our ongoing struggle against authoritarian influence, control of this market for Russia and China would jeopardize not only opportunities to secure wealth, jobs and sovereignty, but our values ​​and standards. will also jeopardize our ability to provide Safe and peaceful use of this important technology.

The United States is well positioned to bring American-made advanced nuclear technology to market, but it is not a fair fight. Russian and Chinese nuclear power companies are as much extensions of their respective governments as they are corporations, and as such, the highest levels of state will strategically direct their activities and support their efforts to win projects – and wars – abroad. do.

Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy conglomerate, has been involved in Moscow’s ongoing campaign of brutal subjugation, acting as a lifeline for Russian military units and sanctioned arms manufacturers. The state-backed unit was also involved in Russia’s occupation of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power station and military activities around the plant. And despite worldwide condemnation and outcry, global dependence on Russian nuclear reactors, equipment, fuel and services has only grown.

Rosatom’s business model is effective because it acts as an arm of the Russian government, which is echoed by China. No country is bound by economic cooperation and development export financing restrictions, and each brings government-backed financing to export deals. In some instances, these governments will simply control entire reactor projects and profit from electricity revenue over time, as in the case of Rosatom’s Akkuyu project in Turkey. Officials in Moscow and Beijing often aggressively court potential markets before any reactor deal and allegedly “sweeten” export bids with arms transfers and other government concessions.

Commerce is more than financial gain but a tool of geopolitical influence as civil nuclear export deals lock-in expanded energy and diplomatic relations. For our nuclear industry, it is not just competing against firms, but against nations.

Our geopolitical adversaries do not see nuclear commerce as a purely commercial endeavor, and we should not see what is at stake either.

The Biden administration has set the needle on federal nuclear energy programs, but given highly centralized, vertically integrated and state-sponsored competition, we urgently need nuclear energy policy and a strategic, whole-of-government approach to civil nuclear exports.

A secure and reliable domestic nuclear supply chain is an essential component of our energy security and must be integrated with our broader national security strategy. Third Way, a center-left think tank, has an idea where to start: Quickly appoint a nuclear energy policy director within the White House. This role can serve an important inter-agency coordination function and provide a strategic and coherent vision of federal support for US nuclear exports. Perhaps even more fundamentally, we must restore our domestic uranium fuel supply chain – the lifeblood of our nuclear power sector that is currently dependent on Russian supplies.

Federal programs exist to kickstart the creation of infrastructure for the production of low-enriched uranium and high-assay low-enriched uranium for advanced reactor types, which are needed to support both domestic deployment and export competitiveness. Firmly funding and rapidly implementing these programs should be the first step in any effort to reduce Russia’s massive stranglehold on the global nuclear fuel market.

This is a defining moment for how we think about energy, and how it shapes our geopolitics. Autocrats have learned that nuclear exports not only represent commercial value, but can also be used as a weapon of geopolitics.

As a result, making the transition to cleaner, more reliable energy sources has become a strategic imperative for the United States. If we can successfully manufacture and supply nuclear technologies to the world, we can modernize our military fleets, build relationships and enhance our collective energy security as part of a comprehensive integrated deterrence approach. By weaving energy security at the heart of our national security strategy, we can enhance our ability to deter and counter authoritarian aggression.

Elaine Luria will represent Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District from 2019-2023. While in Congress, he served as Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and as a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He is a Fellow at Georgetown University under the Institute of Politics and Public Service.

Josh Freed is senior vice president of climate and energy programs at Third Way, which is advocating for the United States to reach net-zero by 2050 as equitably as possible.


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