How Biden’s best-laid plans for Iran and Saudi Arabia failed in his first month

“As the Democratic candidate, Biden promised a swift return to the Iran nuclear deal. He then aimed to leverage that negotiation to curb other aspects of Tehran’s aggressive behavior — like its growing ballistic missile program — in follow-on chats.

But in the Oval Office, the president has found the Islamic Republic resistant to diplomacy — but willing to have proxies launch rockets at Americans in the Middle East. That led Biden to authorize a retaliatory strike in Syria against those militants, hoping that would deter future attacks while keeping the door open for talks.

And on the campaign trail, Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state, vowing to make it “pay the price” for human rights violations, including the grisly 2018 murder of dissident, US resident, and columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Though he released an unclassified intelligence report on Friday directly blaming Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing, Biden declined to punish the nation’s de facto ruler outright. Instead of authorizing sanctions, a travel ban, or an asset freeze, the president created the “Khashoggi ban,” which imposes visa restrictions on people who try to silence dissidents abroad. It’s unclear if that includes heads of state, however.

That action — combined with the end of US support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen and a freeze on weapons sales — was meant to “recalibrate,” not “rupture” US-Saudi relations, Biden administration officials say. A major consideration was that MBS, as the crown prince is known, may soon officially run the country, so targeting him personally could doom future relations between Washington and Riyadh.”

Iran expands nuclear program amid heightened tensions with the US

“The new 20 percent enrichment target was set by Iran’s parliament last month in response to the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Fakhrizadeh was killed near Tehran on November 27, 2020, in an ambush that Iran has blamed on Israel.

And the same new law that mandates 20 percent enrichment also raises the imminent specter of international nuclear inspectors being expelled from the country: According to the New York Times, Iran has set “a two-month deadline for oil and banking sanctions against Iran to be lifted before inspectors are barred.” Currently, the IAEA says it has “inspectors present in Iran on a 24/7 basis and they have regular access to Fordow.””

“In November 2020, Iran began operating advanced centrifuges at another underground nuclear facility, Natanz, and its nuclear stockpile stood at more than 12 times the limit imposed by the JCPOA.

US President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office on January 20, has indicated that he hopes to rejoin and revive the JCPOA, which was negotiated while he was serving as vice president to President Barack Obama. Some observers see Iran’s enrichment efforts as a way of building negotiating leverage, but it remains to be seen whether recent strides in Iran’s nuclear program could complicate things.”

4 looming foreign policy crises that could derail Biden’s agenda early on

“President-elect Joe Biden may want his administration to focus on long-term issues like the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, rebuilding alliances, and America’s relationship with China, but some key near-term foreign policy problems will likely require his attention first.

After the assassination of its top nuclear scientist by an unknown attacker, Iran might be less willing to engage in diplomacy with America and instead seek revenge by targeting US officials. North Korea could test an intercontinental ballistic missile early in Biden’s term to try to gauge the new administration’s response. The last remaining nuclear arms control deal between the US and Russia is set to expire just over two weeks after Biden takes office. And the reduced number of American troops in Afghanistan could derail sputtering peace talks and worsen the country’s security situation.

Such a dilemma wouldn’t be unique to Biden. Every new president comes in with ideas on how to handle larger global problems, only to have the colloquial “tyranny of the inbox” monopolize their time. “If you assume that foreign policy is less than half, and maybe a quarter, of the president’s time, then that really shines a light on how serious this inbox problem is,” said Christopher Preble, co-director of the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council think tank.

Once he’s in the Oval Office, then, Biden will likely find his hopes of tackling grander foreign policy challenges dashed by the effort he’ll have to expend cleaning up more immediate messes.”

Solar and Wind Power Struggle as California Faces Blackouts

“Rolling electric power blackouts afflicted roughly 2 million California residents in August as a heat wave gripped the Golden State. At the center of the problem is a state policy requiring that 33 percent of California’s electricity come from renewable sources such as solar and wind power, rising to a goal of 60 percent by 2030. Yet data showed that power demand peaks just before the sun begins to go down, when overheated people turn up their air conditioning in the late afternoon. Meanwhile, the power output from California’s wind farms in August was erratic.

Until this summer, California utilities and grid operators were able to purchase extra electricity from other states. But the August heat wave stretched from Texas to Oregon, so there was little to no surplus energy available.”

“California has been bringing the hammer down on a huge source of safe, reliable, always-on, non-carbon-dioxide-emitting electricity: nuclear power. In 2013, state regulators forced the closing of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which supplied electricity to 1.4 million households. By 2025, California regulators plan to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which can supply electricity to 3 million households.
The problem of climate change, along with the blackouts resulting from the vagaries of wind and solar power, suggests that California should not only keep its nuclear power plants running but also build more innovative reactors designed to flexibly back up variable renewable electricity generation.”

SOURCES: Nuclear Power. Good idea or bad idea?

Nuclear Powerin Competitive Electricity Markets Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2000. https://www.oecd-nea.org/ndd/reports/2000/nea2569-dereg-2.pdf Economics of Nuclear Power World Nuclear Association. 3 2020. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-aspects/economics-of-nuclear-power.aspx Economics of Nuclear Power Plant InvestmentMonte Carlo Simulations of Generation III/III+ Investment Projects Ben Wealer, Simon Bauer, Leonard Goke,

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Approves First Domestic Small Commercial Reactor

“The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week approved a design application for the first domestic small commercial nuclear reactor. These types of reactors are smaller, simpler, cheaper, and feature more advanced safety systems than traditional reactor designs. It has the potential to generate enough electricity to power more than 50,000 homes.

The reactor design was submitted by NuScale Power, an Oregon company that plans to build at least a dozen small reactors by 2030 at a site in eastern Idaho. NuScale has received $288 million from the Department of Energy for the development of modular nuclear reactors, but a complex regulatory system for nuclear power means there’s a long way to go before construction can begin.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems—a consortium of 46 public utilities in six western states that plans to work with NuScale on the small reactor project— is now required to submit a combined construction and operating license application, and must complete an environmental analysis in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Utah Associated spokesman LaVarr Webb told the Associated Press that he estimates these applications will likely take two years to prepare.”

“NuScale submitted its 12,000-page application to the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2017 and has responded to more than 1,500 formal requests from the commission for more information. There’s a reason that NuScale’s design is the first that the NRC has approved since 2014.

While NuScale is moving forward, NRC regulations seem to be discouraging innovation. Carrie Fosaaen, a licensing specialist at NuScale, told Science Magazine that the NRC regulations, strictly interpreted, would push NuScale towards just building a miniature version of a conventional reactor—rather than being able to incorporate the design improvements that make NuScale’s design safer than conventional reactors.

As more states shift away from generating electricity from fossil fuels, nuclear power should be part of the mix. California’s rolling blackouts show how an increased focus on renewable energy comes with a problematic lack of durability for the power grid. The sun and wind do not care about the demand for electricity. Sometimes the sun doesn’t shine, or there is no wind. Nuclear power, however, produces a consistent amount of electricity that can be dialed up or down to meet demand.”

An expert’s case for nuclear power

“Nuclear power provides about 10 percent of the world’s electricity and despite the growth of renewable power in recent years continues to be the world’s largest source of zero-carbon electricity.”

“The biggest problem with nuclear power is not safety but financial cost, specifically the huge up-front expenses associated with building safe reactors. Better regulatory policy could make it easier to reuse the same reactor designs (as in South Korea), but a promising nuclear future is based on innovation and new reactor designs.”

Power to the people: Bernie calls for federal takeover of electricity production

“Energy analysts, however, caution that Sanders’s 2030 plan would require a federal infrastructure investment not seen since the construction of the interstate highway system. To get close to Sanders’ 100 percent clean energy goal by 2030, researchers estimate the U.S. would need to add about 800 GW of wind and solar resources — about 25 times the amount the federal government expects to be built this year — along with ample amounts of battery storage and transmission. The Sanders camp forecasts that would cost about $2 trillion.

“Our best year for solar and wind — we’d have to multiply that by three and then sustain it for the next decade,” said Sonia Aggarwal, vice president at the analysis firm Energy Innovation, which advises world governments on their climate targets.

While turning the power grid over to 100 percent renewables presents significant technical difficulties, the clean energy deployment is “not out of the question,” Aggarwal said. However, Sanders’ plan to shut down nuclear power plants will make it “much more difficult.” The nation’s 60 nuclear plants generated more than half of U.S. carbon-free energy last year, but the Sanders campaign says it will phase them out by denying extensions of their operating licenses when they expire.

Many of those nuclear plants have licenses that expire after 2030, but Sanders expects the cheaper solar and wind power to drive most them into retirement. The stability those reactors provide to the power grid would be hard to replace with the variable output of the renewables, said Leah Stokes, assistant professor of political science at the University of California Santa Barbara.”