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Renewing America’s Nuclear Energy Public–Private Partnership

The United States will maintain its competitive position in the international civil nuclear market with the launching of the International Trade Administration’s Civil Nuclear Trade Initiative and by focusing on a reinvigorated public–private partnership.

by Frank Caliva and Sarah Lopp

The world is on the cusp of a nuclear renaissance. Interest in expanding nuclear generating capacity is growing rapidly worldwide. By 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expects a 16 percent increase in world nuclear generating capacity, and it anticipates at least 60 new reactors in the next 15 years.

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Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez (second from right) joined (from left) President Antonio Saca of El Salvador, President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala, Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, and President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia at the Americas Competitiveness Forum 2008 on August 17, 2008.
A panel of experts including (from left) Dennis R. Spurgeon, assistant secretary for nuclear energy at the Department of Energy; David Christian, president and chief nuclear officer at Dominion; Lee Elder, senior vice president of global sales at General Electric–Hitachi Nuclear Energy; Edwin Hill, international president at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and James Conca, director at Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center at New Mexico State University, led discussions on the important role that nuclear power can play in helping meet the soaring global demand for energy at the Nuclear Energy Summit on October 8, 2008, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)


For decades, the U.S. government did not promote the growth of the U.S. nuclear industry. Instead, it focused almost exclusively on nuclear nonproliferation. Today, the government strongly supports U.S. industry’s involvement in the global expansion of nuclear energy, while partnering closely with other countries to shape their civil nuclear programs in ways most conducive to nonproliferation.

Nuclear Energy Summit

On October 8, 2008, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Energy cosponsored the Nuclear Energy Summit, in Washington, D.C. The summit drew more than 200 attendees and focused on renewing America’s nuclear energy partnership for energy security and economic growth. Keynote speakers included Carlos M. Gutierrez, secretary of commerce; Samuel Bodman, secretary of energy; and Dale Klein, chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The summit’s clear message is that a robust public–private partnership is critical to developing market opportunities and to reaping the benefits of a potential resurgence of nuclear power.

“It’s time for the United States to get focused on nuclear power—one of the cleanest and most reliable producers of electricity,” Gutierrez said. “Energy consumption is soaring globally. It is projected to increase by 50 percent between 2005 and 2030. Nuclear power can help us meet our growing energy demand.”

International Markets

Nuclear energy reduces dependency on foreign energy imports; emits no greenhouse gases; and is safe, reliable, and affordable once the initial construction costs are amortized. China, Poland, and the United Arab Emirates are developing civil nuclear power programs for the first time. In addition, Italy and the United Kingdom are planning to build new reactors after a moratorium on civil nuclear power development that extended several decades finally ended.

India, one of the largest potential markets, has recently allowed U.S. companies to enter its market because of the historic U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. The U.S.–India Business Council estimates the opportunities—which include delivery of nuclear fuel, construction of new reactors, and other related services—at $150 billion. The Department of Commerce, to help U.S. companies take advantage of those opportunities, certified a commercial nuclear trade mission to India, which was organized by the council and the Nuclear Energy Institute. The mission visited New Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai from December 2–9, 2008.

Job Creation

A strong, viable U.S. nuclear industry will have a significant and positive influence on the domestic economy. The civil nuclear industry spurs innovation, creates high-tech products, provides good-paying jobs, retains high-skilled manufacturing capacity in the United States, and creates tens of thousands of new jobs.

Constructing new plants translates into economic benefits, even if U.S. first-tier suppliers do not win the primary contract to design and build a nuclear reactor. Hundreds of U.S. nuclear suppliers stand ready to supply domestic and foreign primary contractors, which results in positive economic gains for the United States.

Formidable Competition

U.S. first-tier suppliers face competition from state-owned firms or firms that are aggressively and substantially supported by the foreign government. State-owned companies enjoy insurance coverage from their governments in the event of a nuclear accident, which is an important competitive advantage. Because U.S. companies cannot insure against the risk of a nuclear accident and the U.S. government does not provide indemnity insurance to companies abroad, adequate nuclear liability protection is crucial if U.S. companies are to compete. Therefore, the United States has ratified the international Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, and it is encouraging other countries to do the same.

Civil Nuclear Trade Initiative

To bolster U.S. civil nuclear export competitiveness, the International Trade Administration has developed the Civil Nuclear Trade Initiative. The initiative includes (a) creating a new interagency trade promotion coordinating çommittee working group to organize international U.S. policy and activities that affect U.S. civil nuclear trade, (b) establishing a civil nuclear trade advisory committee that comprises U.S. industry representatives who will provide consensus advice to the secretary of commerce, (c) developing U.S. industry promotion activities at the IAEA, (d) organizing Department of Commerce–led or –certified civil nuclear trade missions to key overseas markets, (e) increasing U.S. industry presence at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency and in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, and (f) preparing a guide for U.S. civil nuclear companies on how to export.

Expanding civil nuclear power makes environmental and business sense. The initiative and a reinvigorated public–private partnership will ensure that the United States maintains its competitive position in the international civil nuclear market.

For more information about the Civil Nuclear Trade Initiative and the International Trade Administration’s nuclear energy efforts, visit

Frank Caliva and Sarah Lopp are international trade specialists with the International Trade Administration’s Manufacturing and Services unit.