During the World Climate Action Summit of the 28th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change going on now in Dubai, UAE—commonly known as “COP28”—a number of significant announcements have come out on accelerating the deployment of nuclear fission and fusion to combat climate change. In an announcement on December 1, 2023, the U.S. along with more than 20 other countries, called for the tripling of nuclear energy by 2050. On December 2, 2023, the U.S. government also announced the first international strategy for commercializing nuclear fusion, which U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry further spoke about at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum held in the green zone at COP28 on December 5, 2023.

The White House also issued a press release on the fission and fusion announcements, along with several other U.S. commitments.

The announcements follow a number of reports showing the world is falling behind on its climate change goals. Nuclear fission and fusion are expected to play a larger role than ever at COP28, with blog author Amy Roma at COP28 in Dubai speaking on multiple panels, including on panels discussing Decarbonizing Hard-to-Abate Sectors, Fusion Regulation, and Advancing Legal and Regulatory Principles for the Energy Transition.

Nuclear Fission Announcements

  • Tripling Nuclear Energy by 2050. On December 1, 2023, more than 20 countries from four continents signed the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy. The Declaration recognizes the key role of nuclear energy in achieving global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and keeping the 1.5-degree goal within reach. Core elements of the declaration include working together to advance a goal of tripling nuclear energy capacity globally by 2050 and inviting shareholders of international financial institutions to encourage the inclusion of nuclear energy in energy lending policies. Notably, the World Bank has declined to finance nuclear projects—out of line with many Export/Import banks and Development Finance Corps across the world.

Participating countries in the Declaration include the U.S., Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ghana, Hungary, Japan, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and United Kingdom. These countries declared that they also recognize the importance of promoting resilient supply chains and, where feasible, of extending the lifetimes of existing nuclear power plants. The signatories also "resolve to review progress towards these commitments on an annual basis on the margins of the COP" and "call on other countries to join this declaration".

  • Jump Start Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Deployments Around the World. In response to the significant global interest in deploying U.S. SMRs to support critical climate and energy security goals, the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM) and U.S. Department of State are outlining EXIM’s suite of financial tools to support SMR deployments and to help U.S. exporters remain competitive. According to EXIM’s new SMR Financing Toolkit, SMRs represent a substantial emerging export market for U.S. designed and manufactured energy technologies, and EXIM wants to help lead their deployment around the world. In addition to the robust financing commitments, this toolkit contains a copy of the resolutions that was approved by the EXIM Board of Directors on November 30, 2023 on the ways the institution will support SMR projects and the required project criteria. The Biden Administration has stressed the importance of international civil nuclear engagement, so enhancing the ability to leverage tools to support the development of competitive financing packages is a high priority. Notably, following the G7 Summit earlier this year, EXIM already issued letters of interest for billions of dollars to support SMR deployment, including letters pledging support for U.S. nuclear projects in Romania and Poland.
  • Advancing a Secure Nuclear Fuel Supply Chain. Building on the pledge announced in April 2023 at the G7 Summit, the U.S., Canada, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom announced that they will work to mobilize at least $4.2 billion in government-led investments to enhance their collective enrichment and conversion capacity over the next three years to ensure stability of the nuclear fuel supply chain. These investments will catalyze private sector finance to build out safe, secure, and reliable global nuclear energy supply chains.

Notably, the White House recently requested about $2.2B from Congress to secure the U.S. domestic fuel supply chain, with money intended “to provide supplemental funding to improve long-term, domestic enrichment capabilities for low-enriched uranium and high-assay low-enriched uranium,” according to a White House fact sheet issued October 25. A domestic fuel supply, including the production of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is White House priority.

The COP announcement and White House funding request follows two DOE draft Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from June 2023 to support the production of HALEU, which is needed to support many advanced reactor designs. Specifically, the two draft RFPs were for HALEU enrichment services and deconversion and storage. The official deconversion RFP was issued November 28, and the official enrichment RFP is expected to come out imminently. We provided more background on these opportunities in a previous blog.

Fusion Announcements

On December 2, 2023, the U.S. announced its participation in a Fusion Energy International Partnership Strategy to support the timely development, demonstration, and deployment of commercial fusion energy in strategic areas like research and development and harmonization of regulatory frameworks.

As the White House noted in its Press Release on the announcement, “[f]or more than 60 years, the international fusion research and development (R&D) community has enjoyed a strong collaborative tradition that has advanced the science and technology of fusion. International cooperation is critical for fusion energy to reach its potential as an abundant source of sustainable clean energy, potentially lifting more than a billion people out of energy poverty.”

The Biden Administration has been consistently supporting the fusion industry. In March 2022, the White House held a summit titled “Developing a Bold Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy,” which brought together fusion energy leaders in government, industry, and academia (including blog author Amy Roma, who spoke at this summit) to discuss strategies to accelerate the commercialization of fusion. We previous provided a summary on this event in a previous blog. The White House announced that it recognized fusion energy’s increasing technical readiness and strong market interest and included a direction to explore new international collaborations to accelerate the development of fusion energy.

As explained by the White House, private investments in fusion companies around the world is in the billions of dollars and continues to grow, reinforcing the need for global engagement to resolve research challenges and develop international supply chains and workforces. To address research challenges, develop international supply chains and workforces, and foster effective public-private partnerships, global engagement is crucial. Early international coordination on regulatory frameworks and policy implementation is essential to facilitate the timely market entry of commercial fusion.

For the new International Partnership Strategy, the U.S. identified the following five overarching goals where the U.S. invites international engagement and partnerships:

  • Identify and pursue opportunities for international cooperation or partnerships on fusion R&D, and enable access to or shared development of key infrastructure. International collaborations foster innovation and advance fusion science and supporting technologies. Accordingly, the U.S. plans to build on existing bilateral partnerships and multilateral projects, such as with ITER, while exploring new cooperative opportunities to accelerate commercial fusion goals, protect joint innovations, and impart equitable benefits to collaborators. Additionally, the U.S. intends to engage with global partners to help resolve remaining research challenges through collective action that include, to name a few:
    • Promoting cooperation and competition with strong intellectual property protections and enforcement for international bilateral, multilateral, and/or public-private partnerships;
    • Opening access or sharing development of costly experimental fusion and test facilities to address critical scientific and technological gaps while accelerating progress toward fusion demonstration and commercialization; and
    • Sharing data frameworks that leverage advanced data science which can also serve as key enabling infrastructure for advancing fusion science and technology.
  • Grow the future global marketplace. Realizing fusion as a global clean energy source depends on our ability to translate decades of investments in fusion R&D into deployed commercial technologies. Fusion developers intend to export fusion facilities globally, therefore global engagement is necessary to understand different commercial landscapes. The U.S. intends to work with global partners to facilitate fusion’s market entry across these different landscapes by:
    • Identifying supporting technologies, manufacturing capabilities, and infrastructure that are essential for fusion energy development including mapping current and anticipated global supply chains to identify and access high-value first markets;
    • Exploring common frameworks for benchmarks and standards;
    • Building engagements with relevant industry bodies, consortia, and non-governmental organizations that can help us understand and respond to commercial and community engagement needs; and
    • Enabling multinational companies to benefit and develop positive applications from key technologies developed outside their home country.
  • Coordinate on regulatory frameworks that create a secure environment for fusion energy. For fusion to be a global commercial industry, it must be possible for companies to export fusion technologies and fuel supplies. International coordination as individual nations develop their domestic fusion regulatory frameworks, is key--consistent with the highest standards of safety, security, and nonproliferation. The U.S. intends to promote early international coordination on regulatory frameworks and policy implementation to pave the way for timely commercial fusion deployment through:
  • Comparing experiences with key partner countries and international organizations to establish common positions on technical and policy issues to support the harmonization of fusion-regulatory and export-control frameworks;
  • Developing capacity building efforts to potential newcomers through workshops, webinars, technical consultancies, and site visits. Competencies may include security, safety, licensing, regulation, site selection and characterization expertise; workforce development; stakeholder engagement; and planning for waste management; and
  • Coordinating internationally on appropriate security and nonproliferation frameworks for fusion energy, commensurate with the prospect of large-scale, global, commercial deployment of a diverse set of fusion energy technologies.
  • Foster and strengthen a diverse and global workforce pipeline. Building a strong and diverse fusion technical workforce is required to accelerate fusion research, development, demonstration, and commercial deployment on an aggressive timescale. The U.S. intends to work with global partners on workforce needs by:
  • Building a strong and diverse fusion technical workforce is required to accelerate fusion research, development, demonstration, and commercial deployment on an aggressive timescale. And also by:
  • Sharing knowledge on best practices, educational resources, and methods to monitor and assess outcomes—at international conferences, workshops, and other venues—that can help countries build a strong fusion energy talent base;
  • Facilitating student and professional exchanges to enable mutual learning from different and complementary fusion ecosystems;
  • Building a diverse and inclusive fusion workforce to enable broad participation in this emerging field; and
  • Deploying modern training programs through public-private partnerships that support both short-term and long-term talent development.
  • Improve public education and engagement in fusion energy. As fusion is a new, complex technology still in the development phase, proactive public engagement will be essential to build public understanding, trust, and a social license for fusion development, demonstration, and deployment as a clean and abundant energy source. The U.S. intends to work with partner countries to share public engagement activities and identify best practices for discussing both the benefits and risks of fusion energy including:
  • Leveraging international bodies and multi-country meetings, such as the annual UN Climate Change Conference, ITER, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Energy Agency, and burgeoning grassroots activities as venues for positive public engagement and to frame fusion energy as a climate and energy security solution;
  • Engaging public and private stakeholders to build understanding of the unique benefits and risks of fusion technology; and
  • Engaging energy and environmental justice organizations around the world to advance inclusive innovation throughout the development process to ensure that fusion benefits all communities.