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As confirmed by an April 21, 2017 Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board report, the Department of Energy (DOE) initiated the first in a series of long-awaited shipments of liquid Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU or target residue material) from Ontario, Canada’s Chalk River reactor to DOE’s Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina. The target residue material stems from the legacy Atoms for Peace program, where the United States provided HEU for use, in part, as target material to be irradiated for the production of medical isotopes in foreign research reactors. Irradiating this target material and extracting the medical isotopes, including molybdenum-99 as in the case of the Chalk River reactor, left a residual solution containing significant quantities of HEU. Due to proliferation concerns, the United States wants the HEU returned for safeguarding and disposal.

Classified information is slowly creeping into the day-to-day operations of businesses that have never before needed to comply with the strict requirements that accompany this information. And the questions being asked do not have intuitive answers: Can you refuse to hire an applicant who was arrested for drunk driving if the job requires obtaining a security clearance and accessing classified information? Can your company accept a $25 million loan from a European company if you handle classified government contracts? How frequently do your cleared employees need to be given training on handling classified information? How do you handle an internal investigation involving classified information if you do not hold a clearance?

Putting aside the climate change politics swirling around US President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” what does the order mean for the nation’s electric generation portfolio? Can the gradual decline in the role of coal-fired generation be reversed?

The executive order, released on March 28, 2017, calls for increased domestic energy production from coal, natural gas, nuclear material, and other domestic sources, explicitly balancing the need to “promote clean and safe development” of energy resources with “avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.” In addition to revoking various Obama-era executive orders on climate change and carbon emissions and rescinding various reports issued by federal agencies on these topics, the executive order also directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Clean Power Plan in the context of the domestic production policy adopted in the executive order and to, “as soon as practicable, suspend, revise, or rescind” the rule.  

Congratulations to Morgan Lewis client NuScale Power on submitting to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) the first-ever application for design approval of a small modular reactor (SMR). The NuScale SMR is designed to supply safe, affordable, clean, reliable power in scalable plants whose facility output can incrementally increase depending on demand. Its significant operational flexibility is also complementary to other zero-carbon sources like wind and solar.

The November 8 US presidential election results will bring new faces and policies to the energy world in January 2017 when the 115th Congress convenes and President-Elect Donald Trump and Vice President–Elect Mike Pence are sworn into office. The first order of business for the president-elect and his transition team will be to assemble their Cabinet. All indications point to the secretaries of the Departments of Energy and Interior and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency—all Cabinet positions—as the likely nominees who will advance policies to enhance oil and gas production and support the coal industry.

Russia recently suspended or terminated its nuclear agreements with the United States, further deteriorating diplomatic relations between the two countries. Russia’s actions place on hold or end certain collaboration efforts between the two nations on peaceful uses of nuclear technologies. However, these actions do not suspend or terminate the umbrella US-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement (123 Agreement) that both countries entered into under Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act. Accordingly, the US government has a legal basis to authorize nuclear exports to Russia, and vice versa. Political forces, however, make those exports uncertain.

First, on October 3, 2016, Russia rejected the Obama administration’s alternative proposal for the disposition in both the United States and Russia of 34 metric tons each of surplus weapons-grade plutonium. This agreement, which originated in 2000 and was revised in 2010, is known as the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. The United States intended to fabricate the mixed-oxide fuel in a facility under construction at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. However, because of increasing cost estimates for that facility and other strategic reasons, US President Barack Obama proposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin an alternative “dilution and disposal” path for US plutonium. On October 3, President Putin rejected the alternative and suspended the agreement, stating that he would consider reinstating it if the United States agreed to several conditions, such as reducing military presence in countries that border Russia and canceling financial sanctions against Russia.