U.S. development agency proposes financing of nuclear power exports

WASHINGTON, June 11 (Reuters) - A U.S. development agency proposed lifting restrictions on the financing of advanced nuclear energy projects for export, a move the Trump administration hopes will help the industry compete with state-owned companies in China and Russia.

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, or DFC, late on Wednesday opened a 30-day comment period on the proposal, which changes its definition of renewable energy to include nuclear power. The idea was included in the Trump administration's Nuclear Fuel Working Group report here, released in April, on ways to modernize nuclear energy policy.

The DFC said the proposed change could help deliver secure power to developing countries and that new U.S. technologies, such as small modular reactors and microreactors, may be well suited for them.

The change could “offer an alternative to the financing of authoritarian regimes while advancing U.S. nonproliferation safeguards and supporting U.S. nuclear competitiveness,” the agency said.

Business groups said axing the restrictions would allow the United States to compete and help developing countries power electricity grids, desalination plants and other uses.

Washington “must ensure that our companies, our innovators, and our clean-energy technologies have the best possible chance to compete internationally,” said Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath, a nonprofit that supports development of nuclear energy to fight climate change.

The advanced technologies are expected to be less expensive than traditional nuclear power stations costing tens of billions of dollars.

But nonproliferation experts caution that the plants and their supply chains could become targets.

Ed Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it is “utterly irresponsible for the Trump administration to promote the export of unproven and potentially dangerous nuclear technologies to the developing world.” He said the administration should first work with countries to develop independent nuclear regulators and infrastructures for dealing with emergencies. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Jonathan Oatis)