Developing world needs small and medium reactors

06 September 2007

Nuclear power cannot be exclusively for wealthy countries, but small- and medium-sized reactors will be essential if it is to become a feasible option in developing countries, according to IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei.

ElBaradei was speaking at the 32nd World Nuclear Association (WNA) Annual Symposium in London, where he and the IAEA received the WNA Award for
Distinguished Contribution to the Peaceful Worldwide Use of Nuclear Technology. He was presented the award by WNA director general John Ritch and chairman Ralf Gueldner.

The world faces a global energy imbalance, ElBaradei said, with energy security facing three challenges: accelerated growth in supply and demand; limitations in energy supply; and environmental impact. Nuclear power offers at least partial solutions to some of these challenges, and while not a panacea for global energy security, recent renewed interest in nuclear power means it will likely have an increasingly significant role in the global energy mix.

The production of safe and affordable small- and medium-sized reactors will be essential for nuclear power to be an option in countries with small electrical grids, ElBaradei said. In response to questions, he told members of the press that, in a way, nuclear vendors had missed out by not offering small and medium sized units. Vendors tended to follow market demand, and in the past the market demand had been for large capacity reactors. More recently, demand for smaller reactors in developing countries was driving design work on such units, with countries including Ghana, Thailand, South Africa, Argentina, Russia and Korea working on reactor designs with capacities ranging from 25 to 400 MWe.

As well as developing nuclear technology suitable for developing countries, ElBaradei identified three further crucial issues that the international nuclear industry would need to address to ensure nuclear could reach its full potential as a worldwide energy source: nuclear weapons proliferation must be guarded against relentlessly; the strong performance of existing nuclear plants, in terms of safety, security and economic operation, must be maintained; and the industry must use the experience of half a century of operations to come up with innovative new reactors and fuel cycles with enhanced security, safety, proliferation resistance and economics.

Further information

World Nuclear Association

WNN's Small Nuclear Reactors information paper