Nuclear 'vital' to Sustainable Development Goals

29 September 2016

Nuclear energy is relevant to "almost all" of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted last year by the United Nations General Assembly, World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising said today. Rising spoke during the Scientific Forum of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 60th General Conference being held this week in Vienna.

Agneta Rising - IAEA GC 2016 - 460 (WNN)
Agneta Rising speaking at the IAEA's 60th General Conference (Image: WNN)

Nuclear technologies are vital to help combat hunger and disease, and a lack of access to electricity has a profoundly detrimental impact on human health and the environment, Rising said.

"Nuclear power can bring health and prosperity to the 1.1 billion people in the world who currently do not have access to electricity," she said.

In the September issue of the IAEA Bulletin, Mikhail Chudakov, the Agency's deputy director general and head of its nuclear energy department, wrote that three SDGs in particular underscore the contribution of nuclear power towards energy for the future. These are Goal 7 - access to affordable and clean energy; Goal 9 - industry, innovation and infrastructure; and Goal 13 - climate action.

Nuclear power produces about 11% of global electricity with around 450 nuclear reactors in operation in 30 countries, but this needs to increase dramatically if emissions reduction targets are to be achieved, Rising said.

The International Energy Agency's 2 Degree Scenario, in which nuclear energy "plays the largest part", is the only one of three scenarios "where the world survives", Rising said. She added: "The other low-carbon options have to do a lot - some of them have to grow 70 times, some 200 times, some 700 times. Nuclear has to double or triple. That is in fact quite doable. Nuclear is already the second largest low-carbon energy source in the world. It is very important today and it can be even more important in the future."

It is a myth, she said, that small countries cannot build nuclear power plants. Rising's home country Sweden "put ten reactors online in ten years, despite having just eight million people", she said. "Those who say, 'There aren't enough engineers; There's not enough time', Well, it's simply not true."

Like Sweden, France - where nuclear accounts for 75% of its electricity mix - has also "decarbonised its electricity" thanks to nuclear power, she said.

"We need the other low-carbon options. They are not as sustainable, or as large-scale or as reliable, but we need them all. Nuclear energy makes the low-carbon electricity puzzle possible," she said.

The nuclear power industry is experiencing the highest level of construction in 25 years, with 60 reactors under construction worldwide, she noted. In the last 12 months, 11 reactors were put online, of which China accounted for eight.

In addition, the IAEA's PRIS Database shows that "existing reactors are operating very well", she added. "In the 1980s the average capacity factor - how much electricity you get out from a plant compared to what it is designed to deliver - was around 60%. Now it's about 80%. Furthermore, a 40-year-old reactor has the same average capacity factor as a new one. That means we are managing the technology very well."

But there was a low level of nuclear power construction for 25 years, until 2014, when 5GWe of new capacity was built. This doubled in 2015.

"With an additional 1000GWe of new capacity by 2050, nuclear power could account for 25% of global electricity," Rising said. This is the global nuclear industry's goal according to the Harmony Initiative that the World Nuclear Association launched last year.

"Electricity is as important as the air we breathe and the water we drink and we need it by the second. Water you can store, air you need every minute. Electricity you need every second, so we don't want it to be interrupted," Rising said.

"New technologies are very important. We need innovation and to work to get new reactors coming online, but it does not mean that by getting new reactors online, the other types will not continue to deliver clean and reliable energy. Many reactors under construction today are Generation II designs and they will operate for 80 years," she said.

"I'm not that fond of describing new reactor designs by generation because in the future we will have all of them operating in parallel. And we will need them all. We will also need small modular reactors, but we need the large-scale reactors because global demand for clean, affordable and reliable electricity is accelerating," she said.

Asked whether the Paris Agreement of December 2015 was encouraging nations to look more favourably towards nuclear power, Rising said interest was "definitely growing". It is clear, she said, that the countries best able to decarbonise their electricity "have all used nuclear power".

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News