Anniversary: Building on 20 years of success, the next decade will be crucial for nuclear power

14 May 2021

The 20th anniversary of World Nuclear Association provides us with a golden opportunity to reflect on the years that have passed, and to look ahead to the future. On 15 May 2001, the then Uranium Institute - a trade association dedicated to the nuclear fuel cycle - was transformed into World Nuclear Association.

With this transformation, the Association embraced all sectors of the nuclear industry, ranging from uranium mining and utilities to decommissioning, reactor vendors and the diverse supply chain. The Association had found a new, broader mission: building a positive disposition towards nuclear energy around the world. The new mission and the rebranding that took place in 2015 further reinforced the shift towards advocacy, whilst holding true to its commitments of creating forums for the industry to share leading practice and of providing world-class information on all things nuclear. Today, World Nuclear Association is the organisation that represents the interests of the nuclear industry worldwide, promoting the crucial role of nuclear energy globally.

The Association rapidly became the global provider of authoritative information on nuclear power. The Information Library is a cornerstone in the Association’s mission to provide the most comprehensive and up-to-date information. Today, it contains more than 190 entries, ranging from reactor technologies and the economics of nuclear to waste management and hydrogen production, and it includes the widely utilised country profiles. Its pages are referred to by key organisations such as the International Energy Agency, by decision makers to inform government policy, and it is frequently cited in research. Similarly, with the founding of World Nuclear News in 2007, the Association became the home to the premier, go-to news service for everything related to the nuclear sector. In 2020, more than one million people visited the WNN website from all corners of the globe.

Our flagship reports have become essential industry references, be it the Nuclear Fuel Report - the most respected publication for the uranium fuel market - the World Nuclear Supply Chain Report or the annual World Nuclear Performance Report. We have published a number of landmark reports on crucial issues, such as the roadmap for the standardisation of nuclear reactor designs, a framework for managing safety in uranium mining and processing, showcasing innovative approaches and the state-of-the-art in the industry. Much of this work is led by more than a dozen working groups and task forces, which act as forums for the industry to share leading practice, develop consolidated positions on common issues, and act as interface for the industry with institutions globally.

In 2003 World Nuclear Association, in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the World Association of Nuclear Operators, founded the World Nuclear University (WNU) with a simple, yet crucial, mission: to inspire and develop the next generation of leaders for the global nuclear industry. Since 2003, many thousands of fellows have graduated from WNU courses, and its Summer Institute has in many ways become the incubator for the men and women that one day will lead the industry.

Progressively, the Association’s remit expanded from being purely an information provider towards actively promoting the many strengths and benefits of nuclear power. In tandem, we started to ensure that the industry had strong representation in institutions that set the frameworks for our industry, such as the IAEA, the ICRP, the NEA or the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. An important milestone in the transformation towards advocacy was the launch of the Harmony programme in 2015, setting a positive and ambitious goal for the industry: delivering 25% of all electricity with nuclear energy by 2050.

Whilst the Association has been very successful in delivering our broadened scope over the past 20 years, we always aim higher. The upcoming 20 years are crucial for the nuclear industry; indeed, we are at a watershed moment. Building on the collective strength of our membership, we continue to work tirelessly to address the perhaps even larger challenges the industry faces today.

One of the longest-lived of these challenges is the need to overcome the stigma and misconceptions associated with nuclear technologies. This has been a central issue confronting the industry for decades, and it will require us to hold up a mirror and accept that some of our communication practices as an industry have been far from effective. We are working with our members and partners to embrace the latest scientific breakthroughs in social and behavioural sciences and we are incorporating the human side of our industry to create more effective messages to change the public perception of nuclear power.

Linked with the need to de-stigmatise nuclear power is the challenge of ensuring that the role of nuclear technology in combatting climate change, providing economic development and implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals is fully recognised.  The Association will continue to actively engage with stakeholders and institutions around the world to support the development of policies, markets and financial frameworks that recognise and value the important role that nuclear energy has played for decades - and will need to continue to play - if the world is to succeed with its decarbonisation ambitions. We continue to work with governments and financial institutions towards the establishment of a level playing field, where nuclear energy is treated as an equal among sustainable technologies in accordance with its inherently green credentials.

The third challenge, which is intimately connected with those identified above, is accelerating the deployment of new nuclear projects globally. The Association will, through its working groups, work towards further coordination of industry activities to improve nuclear projects, both in terms of timely delivery and cost effectiveness. Our work through Cooperation in Reactor Design Evaluation and Licensing (CORDEL), bringing together regulators and industry to streamline international licensing processes, may be key to accelerating the global deployment of new technologies, such as SMRs.

This also includes work on the supply chain and developing manufacturing compatibilities as well as further harmonisation and standardisation of global codes and standards, and helping to ensure innovation is effectively integrated throughout the nuclear sector. Being the global voice for the nuclear industry, we will also continue to bring the industry’s expertise to newcomer countries, facilitating their incorporation into the global nuclear family, thus ensuring that everyone will be able to fully enjoy the many benefits provided by nuclear technologies.

The last 20 years have been transformative for World Nuclear Association. We greatly expanded our mission, and we have become both the go-to source for authoritative information on nuclear, and the undisputed voice for nuclear power on the global stage. Whilst we are immensely proud of our achievements, this is no time for complacency. We continue to work relentlessly with our members and stakeholders in supporting the global nuclear sector to deliver on its promises, thus ensuring that nuclear power takes the place it deserves among sustainable energy sources, and helps satisfy global energy demand, achieve climate targets, and help the world meet the sustainable development goals.