IAEA head calls for nuclear to have a place in all debates

22 September 2020

Nuclear power must be included in all debates about the clean energy transition and tackling climate change, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said today at the opening session of the Agency's Scientific Forum 2020. Panellists in the first session agreed there were issues that the industry must address in order to support its messages about the benefits of nuclear energy.

(Image: IAEA)

"We need to have a discussion on the realities of the nuclear global market; what nuclear energy is doing and can do; the challenges that we have; the solutions and avenues that can take us to where we could be with the contribution of nuclear energy," Grossi said. "And what could happen if this was not the case." He said a "dispassionate, science empirical-based debate is absolutely essential".

There are three basic reasons why nuclear power is "critical" to the world meeting its energy and climate goals, said International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol. "Firstly, today nuclear power is the second largest source of clean electricity in the world ... so this is a huge asset in the fight against climate change. Secondly, solar and wind will grow, and they will grow very strongly, but their availability is bound by nature. Nuclear power can provide flexibility to our power systems and increase the security of electricity ... Thirdly, the energy sector emissions are not only coming from electricity generation, it is coming from the industrial sector." He said nuclear power can play a very important role by providing high-temperature heat to help decarbonise this sector.

"Achieving a sustainable energy system and meeting our ambitious climate targets would be much harder without the existing nuclear power, without new nuclear investment," said Urenco Limited CEO Boris Schucht. "The main argument, which is made often, is speed. Excluding one CO2-free technology would mean an unrealistic need for acceleration of renewables even more. The consequence would be it is impossible to meet our climate targets."

Facing the challenges


While every model for reaching energy and climate goals concludes that nuclear needs to be part of the energy mix, Grossi said there are many forces at play in the world that affect the use of nuclear energy. "Contrary to some narratives, what we see is a steady growth in nuclear energy across the world ... Those who are saying that nuclear energy is in decline are watching another movie because it's not the one that shows what's going on in the world."

However, he added, "There are economic aspects, there are commercial aspects, there are technical aspects and things that industry itself must do to offer itself as a viable alternative for many countries in the industrial world and developing countries that are craving clean energy."

Achieving the emissions reduction target of the Paris Agreement will require, among other things, "reassessing formerly held prejudices against nuclear energy", said Bento Costa Lima Leite de Albuquerque JĂșnior, Brazil's Minister of Mines and Energy. "We must overcome the traditional view that claims it is an expensive, risky and polluting energy source. Our defence in refute is that improvements in safety and security standards, new technology and energy efficiency are part of a new and promising reality."

Alok Sharma, COP26 President and UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that nuclear's already important role in fighting climate change could be increased further. This would only happen, he said, "if we make it more affordable and we make it more accessible, by reducing costs and construction times across the industry, helping low-carbon power to reach new consumers and markets across the globe."

He said: "If nuclear is to fulfil its potential to reduce global emissions, we need to do three things. First, we need states and industry to work together to drive innovation. Second, we need to work together to pool our resources and expertise. Third, we need to develop international standards for small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors so that they can be deployed safely and with confidence."

Nuclear science and technologies can play an important role in helping us to protect our planet from the effects of climate change, Sharma said. "All of us - industries, governments and international organisations - must continue to work together to realise their full potential."

Olga Algayerova, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), said her organisation's work had shown that international climate change objectives will not be met if nuclear energy is excluded. "Nuclear energy can be a critical component of a decarbonised energy system, but if the industry needs to address its cost, it needs to address the human institutional factors that caused or exacerbated well-known incidents and accidents. And if it addresses waste disposal. The industry also needs to improve its communication."

Urenco's Schucht said there are three areas where nuclear needs support. Firstly, nuclear needs a level playing field where carbon emissions have a price. "Carbon must get a price in all markets," he said. "The key is to have clear, transparent and long-term stable policy frameworks. These have to include all main producers of greenhouse gases to create a level playing field for all low-carbon technologies." Secondly, he said nuclear needs to become more cost-effective. Thirdly, nuclear power needs access to finance.

"When it comes to the global policy debates, there is resistance and there is objection, so we need to understand why this is happening," Grossi said. "We need to give a good scientific debate. We need to offer the policy and scientific debate simply because we still see that factors - which are not always objective - are still influencing decision making."

Closing the session, Grossi said there was a common thread running through the presentations in the first session of the Scientific Forum. "We all know that there is a need to do something," he said. "We need to pool our resources. We need to bring our messages in a coherent manner so that they can be influential.

"Preaching to the converted is not going to make it. We need to open the doors and make our voice be heard by those who are part of this debate. We are not a passive spectator - we are an actor and we are going to play our role ... Nuclear has a place at the table and we are going to be saying this very, very clearly and loudly."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News