Energy for Growth Hub
Impact Story Jul 01, 2020

US Development Finance Corporation Lifts Ban on Nuclear Projects, Expands Low Carbon Energy Options

Future of Energy Tech
Making Markets Work

Impact Summary: The Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the US government’s agency for investing in high-impact projects in poor countries, removed its ban on financing nuclear technologies in July 2020. We were the first to pitch the policy idea to DFC leadership in April 2019 and then worked with Third Way, ClearPath, and other allies to cultivate support across the executive branch, with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and among climate and development advocacy groups. This seemingly small policy adjustment entirely changed the conversation and the array of technologies — the United States can invest in to help frontier and emerging countries meet shared development and climate goals.

Why It Matters

The world faces a dual challenge: providing abundant reliable energy to everyone while reducing emissions from the power sector. Promising advanced nuclear technologies will soon offer smaller, safer, scalable zero-carbon power especially suited to fast-growing frontier and emerging markets. Small modular reactors, for example, could be attractive for remote mining operations in Indonesia or replacing gas-fired power in Ghana.

Advanced nuclear technology can potentially help build high-energy power systems that support economic growth and keep emissions low. Despite this, nuclear technology faces resistance and skepticism, while financing is highly restricted by policies written for another era. The DFC was created to catalyze pro-development and pro-climate investments while countering the influence of strategic competitors. Yet the agency inherited a legacy rule prohibiting any consideration of nuclear power.

What We Did

We were the first to raise the idea of removing the ban on financing nuclear energy projects with DFC’s then-acting CEO David Bohigian and EVP Edward Burrier in April 2019, and then again with incoming CEO Adam Boehler before he assumed office in October 2019.

  • We had credibility on DFC issues, having initially proposed a new consolidated US development bank that led to the creation of the DFC in 2018.
  • We pitched DFC’s leadership directly on the idea, how it could work, and why it would help the United States and its allies meet their shared goals to help move more people out of poverty and into prosperity with zero-carbon energy, while also providing an alternative to Russia’s state-owned nuclear company.
  • We made the case to US officials why such a rule change was needed now and to the development policy community why nuclear technology wasn’t only for rich countries and why the newer models might be especially useful to poor countries.
  • We worked closely with allies including Third Way, ClearPath, and the Nuclear Innovation Alliance to cultivate support across the executive branch, with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and among climate and development advocates.

Big win: DFC removes the outdated ban on nuclear technology investments

The DFC lifted the outdated ban on nuclear technology investments in July 2020. The pro-climate, pro-energy, pro-development, and pro-technology policy change has entirely changed the conversation about the tools and technologies the United States can consider investing in to help countries meet shared development and climate goals.

  • Former DFC Chief Executive Officer Adam Boehler said the change “positions DFC to accelerate growth in developing economies with limited energy resources.” The modernized approach, he said, would advance innovative technologies that adhere to the US’s safety, security, and non-proliferation standards and “deliver affordable, reliable, and emissions-free energy where it is needed most.
  • The DFC has since signed letters of intent for potential nuclear projects in Ghana, South Africa, Poland, and Romania, with others in discussion.
  • Ghana is explicitly planning for nuclear technology to replace its gas power by the mid 2030s, but faces policy and financing barriers. We’ve begun discussions with Ghana’s Atomic Energy Commission, Ministry of Energy, and Ministry of Finance around the country’s future nuclear plans.

Bottom line impact → Lifting DFC’s ban on investing in nuclear projects has spurred innovative technology and investment options that the US government, private sector, and emerging economies can use to deliver modern, clean energy to drive economic growth without generating new emissions.

"deliver affordable, reliable, and emissions-free energy where it is needed most"

Former DFC Chief Executive Officer Adam Boehler

Key Players

  • Todd Moss, who helped to create DFC, which opened doors to the agency’s leadership.
  • Jessica Lovering, the Hub’s go-to Fellow on nuclear technology.
  • Jake Kincer, who tracks nuclear policy and crunches the numbers.
  • Jackie (Kempfer) Siebens and Josh Freed, our nuclear policy partners at Third Way.
  • Rich Powell and Cole Simons at ClearPath who helped build support among conservatives.
  • Ashley Finan at the Nuclear Innovation Alliance.

Learn more about our work on advanced nuclear and our analysis of DFC.

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