The Shifting Geopolitics of Nuclear Energy

Russian Federation and China Flags in puzzleIn his October address of the U.S.-Japan Roundtable, Mr. Nakahara, Director of the Office for International Nuclear Energy Cooperation at METI, presented the argument that the global nuclear market is shifting dramatically. He called to attention the increased role that China and Russia are taking in the sphere, and expressed concern that the nuclear world has paid too little attention to the potential implications of such developments.

A new in-depth piece published on Real Clear Energy effectively unpacks this situation, as author William Tucker analyzes this dramatic shift in the geopolitics of nuclear energy. He assesses the situation in three simple steps.

First, Tucker presents the growing influence of China in Western nuclear projects, from Bill Gates’ Traveling Wave Reactor project incubator in China, to China’s recent purchase of 33% of the Hinkley Point nuclear power project in the UK. Although such a power dynamic would have been unthinkable through much of history, Tucker asserts, “The Western countries- particularly the United States- have virtually abandoned nuclear development and turned the job over to the rest of the world.” Given these developments, writes Tucker, it should be unsurprising that China is suddenly asserting itself and taking the reins of nuclear innovation.

From here, Tucker presents a new piece of the geopolitical puzzle. For as much attention as China is garnering, he argues that China will not be able to oust Russia in terms of emerging nuclear market influence. Rosatom- the state-owned nuclear entity of Russia- has consistently pursued ambitious sales of nuclear technology in developing economies, capitalizing on traditional nuclear powers’ torpor in the wake of Fukushima. Tucker asserts that international nuclear facilitation has become a key tool in Russia’s foreign policy agenda, helping secure relationships in key countries where the government perceives military or diplomatic interest.

Finally, Tucker expounds on the implications of these shifts on Western nuclear interests, particularly the United States. Ultimately, the perseverance demonstrated by China and Russia in recent years despite nuclear controversy affords them the upper hand in the next generation of reactors. Though the dragon and the bear may clash while pursuing international interests, there is little doubt that the few projects underway in the US will soon pale in comparison to China and Russia’s on-the-ground experience and deployment.

In this concise article, the geopolitical shifts of the nuclear market are clearly laid out. Until very recently, Russia and China largely executed these power plays under the radar, but their influence is becoming increasingly apparent. Forum on Energy anticipates attentively monitoring the long-term impact of these shifts in the nuclear market.

Read the full article here.