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US agency ends ban, will now finance advanced nuclear projects abroad

Washington — The US International Development Finance Corporation has ended a ban on financing nuclear power projects and "will prioritize the support of advanced nuclear technology in emerging and frontier markets," the federal agency said in a statement July 23.

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The revised policy "recognizes the vast energy needs of developing countries as well as new and advanced technologies such as small modular reactors and microreactors that could be particularly impactful in these markets," DFC added.

DFC proposed the policy change June 10, beginning a 30-day public comment period ending July 10. The agency said it had received more than 800 comments, "with 98 percent in support of the proposed change," including from academics, nuclear experts, industry stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and bipartisan members of Congress.

The agency was created in 2019 through the consolidation of Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the US Agency for International Development's Development Credit Authority. OPIC and USAID both had bans in place prohibiting them from financing nuclear reactor projects. OPIC's policy was established in 2010. DFC has a total investment limit of $60 billion.

Ending the financing ban on nuclear projects was one of several recommendations in a White House working group report released April 23 by the US Department of Energy. The US Nuclear Fuel Working Group was formed in July 2019 by President Donald Trump to provide recommendations to revive and expand the US nuclear energy sector.

DOE officials "have met with government and private industry around the world who are eager to import American civil nuclear technology, yet funding challenges prevented them from doing so as a result of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation's legacy ban on financing of nuclear projects," Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in the July 23 statement. "Reversing this ban is a commonsense action," he added.

"This is an extremely important move for American technology competitiveness," which "would otherwise likely be met" by Chinese and Russian technologies and financing, said Jeremy Harrell, managing director at Clear Path, an organization advocating clean energy innovation and climate policy, July 24.

Nuclear power projects could be financed in as many as 30 countries, which have expressed interest in nuclear power, including Algeria, Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, India, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, Vietnam and Zambia, Harrell added.

Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Maria Korsnick said in a July 24 statement, "Financing plays a decisive role in global nuclear energy procurement decisions – this milestone policy change will enable U.S. nuclear exports to compete on a more level playing field against state-owned rivals from countries such as Russia and China."