CEOs Ask Trump to Help Them Sell Nuclear Power Plants Abroad
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. nuclear energy developers on Tuesday met with President Donald Trump and asked for help winning contracts to build power plants in the Middle East and elsewhere overseas.
“There is competition around the globe, and we want to be part of it,” said Chris Crane, the chief executive officer of Exelon Corp., the largest U.S. operator of nuclear plants, following the meeting at the White House.
The push comes as developers seek U.S. government approval of next-generation advanced and small modular nuclear reactors -- and the administration’s help in selling their products to the world. The International Atomic Energy Agency predicts that some 554 gigawatts of nuclear electric generating capacity will come online by 2030, a 42 percent increase over current levels.
The White House meeting included representatives from a range of nuclear developers, including NuScale Power LLC, TerraPower LLC, Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC and General Electric Co, as well as suppliers Centrus Energy Corp. and Lightbridge Corp. and other companies. It was initiated by Jack Keane, a retired Army general and the co-founder of IP3 International, a company that has advocated American nuclear power development in the Middle East, according to two people familiar with the session.
The executives sought to enlist Trump in their bid to make U.S. nuclear power more competitive globally, such as with financing assistance to vie against subsidized companies. Russia, China and France are also seeking to build nuclear plants overseas.
“The United States needs to maintain a leadership position,” said Crane, flanked by Dan Poneman of Centrus Energy Group and John Hopkins, president of NuScale. “There’s a huge economic upside for jobs -- manufacturing jobs, operating jobs, engineering jobs -- that can be created in us playing a more stronger role in the international economy.”
Participants in the meeting described Trump as engaged and probing.
“He really wanted to hear from us on what our views are on how we win the global nuclear energy technology race,” said J. Clay Sell, the chief executive officer of X-energy, a Maryland-based advanced nuclear reactor company that is in talks to build reactors in Jordan.
Sell said the company is set to meet next week with representatives of Jordan, with whom they have a memorandum of understanding, though a nuclear-sharing agreement has yet to be finalized.
The developers argued that U.S. national security would be jeopardized if the country cedes its role as a chief developer of civilian nuclear power plants. As the domestic nuclear fleet ages -- and the prospects for building a new wave of plants diminish -- exporting the technology globally is a way to ensure a robust and thriving U.S. brain trust on nuclear power.
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“There was a notion in the room that this is very much a competition with Russia and China and there are strategic benefits to the U.S. being involved in overseas nuclear programs and there are strategic losses if they aren’t,” said Seth Grae, president of Lightbridge Corp.
The executives are looking for Trump to highlight the role U.S. nuclear developers can play in providing power to other countries, just as the president touts American exports of natural gas, according to people familiar with the session.
One possibility: A directive laying out U.S. nuclear power development as a chief national security goal.
Also on the table: Efforts to secure agreements to share U.S. nuclear technology with Middle East nations, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia. While negotiations for a so-called 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia were damaged after the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, an agreement with Jordan is also a possibility.
Some nuclear executives also expressed concerns about a raft of policies designed to boost their competitors generating renewable power. The industry representatives meeting with Trump promised to come back in a few months with more concrete ideas.
Separately Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would require any nuclear sharing agreement between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. meet the so-called “gold standard” barring enrichment and reprocessing of uranium.
The White House has vowed to help the nuclear power industry, which is struggling to compete with electricity from cheaper natural gas and renewables, but the administration so far hasn’t been able to formulate a plan to do so.
IP3 International is backed by several prominent national security figures, including Keane, whom Trump has considered as a possible defense secretary.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to making false and fraudulent statements to the FBI, has been linked to IP3 and was accused of failing to disclose private travel and meetings tied to a plan by Russia and Saudi Arabia to build nuclear plants while seeking a government security clearance.
Representatives of IP3 did not respond to a request seeking comment. A NuScale representative referred questions about the meeting to the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the White House declined to comment.
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