Nuclear energy a focus of new U.S.-U.K. pact

June 12, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News
President Biden and Prime Minister Sunak chatted in the Oval Office last week during meetings to announce the Atlantic Declaration for a Twenty-First Century U.S.-U.K. Economic Partnership. (Source: Twitter/Rishi Sunak)

At a joint press conference in the White House East Room last week, President Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak—in Washington for two days of discussions with the president, members of Congress, and business leaders—debuted a new bilateral agreement dubbed the Atlantic Declaration for a Twenty-First Century U.S.-U.K. Economic Partnership.

“It outlines how we can enhance our cooperation to accelerate the clean energy transition that must take place and is taking place, lead the development of emerging technologies that are going to shape so much of our future, and protect technologies critical to our national security,” President Biden said at the June 8 event.

While it falls short of the full free-trade agreement that many Brexiteers had envisioned following Britain’s departure from the European Union, the declaration was characterized by Prime Minister Sunak as a “new economic partnership for a new age, of a kind that has never been agreed before.”

First moves: According to the declaration, the following are the first “concrete and coordinated actions” to be taken:

Ensuring U.S.-U.K. leadership in critical and emerging technologies.

Advancing ever-closer cooperation on economic security and technology protection toolkits and supply chains.

Partnering on an inclusive and responsible digital transformation.

Further strengthening the alliance across defense, health security, and space.

Building the clean energy economy of the future.

What’s in it for nuclear? To help build that future clean economy, the declaration calls for the launch of a civil nuclear partnership, to be overseen by both U.S. and U.K. senior government officials. In addition, the U.S.-U.K. Joint Action Group on Energy Security and Affordability (JAG), established last December, will be mobilized “to set near-term priorities for joint action to encourage the establishment of new infrastructure and end-to-end fuel cycle capabilities by 2030 in both continents, and substantially minimize reliance on Russian fuel, supplies, and services.”

The declaration further states, “Our joint activity and leadership will support and facilitate the safe, secure, and sustainable international deployment of advanced, peaceful nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors, in accordance with the highest nonproliferation standards and consistent with a 1.5 degree Celsius limit on global warming. These priorities will form the basis of a Joint Standing Committee on Nuclear Energy Cooperation, which is designed to deliver on shared commitments by the end of the year and serve as an enduring bilateral forum to advance shared policy goals across existing engagement mechanisms, including near-term actions identified through the JAG, and facilitate exchanges on new and evolving technical and policy developments regarding nuclear energy.”

With regard to strengthening the U.S.-U.K. alliance in space, the declaration calls for a joint study of “opportunities for cooperation on space nuclear power and propulsion in accordance with [the U.S.'s and U.K.’s] respective domestic laws and consistent with international obligations and commitments.”

Industry response: On June 9, the Nuclear Energy Institute and Britain’s Nuclear Industry Association issued a statement welcoming the declaration. “Our industries have a long history of cooperation and collaboration, and the U.S. and U.K. have been working closely in recent times to ensure the framework established enables the development of the secure, reliable, and clean power from nuclear that both of our nations need for the future,” the groups commented. “Building on work done by governments and industry at the G7 earlier this year, we particularly welcome the focus on collaboration to ensure civil nuclear fuel fabrication and supply capacity is in place in both our continents to reduce reliance on Russia. This is both an improvement in energy security and a significant economic opportunity for our nations and industries.”

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