The IAEA's Scientific Forum "Sustainable Development: A Role for Nuclear Power?" opened 28 September 1999, the second day of the General Conference. In his opening remarks to the two-day forum, IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, expressed optimism that the deliberations would help Member States better evaluate the central question of where energy would come from to meet future demands for economic growth and development.
The issues are not easy ones. The global energy debate, and specifically the role of nuclear power, is framed by public apprehension over potential misuse of nuclear materials to make weapons and the risks of accidents. These concerns often obscure potential benefits of options that offer low carbon dioxide emissions. In his remarks, Dr. Elbaradei asked, "is the nuclear option getting a fair hearing", "what can the nuclear industry do to be more competitive", "where should the focus be in terms of safety and waste management", and "is there a role for international co-operation"?
The challenges to international co-operation in the sustainable development area were evident in the first morning's session entitled: Energy and Sustainable Development.
In his presentation, "Nuclear
Power in the World Energy Outlook" (pdf format, 25 pages, file size 2MB), Mr. Robert J. Priddle,
Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, noted
that the status quo, in terms of energy policy, would see
global energy demand increasing 65% by the year 2020, with
a full two thirds of that increase coming from countries outside
of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD). If there are no changes in current energy policies,
95% of the forecasted increase would have to rely on fossil
fuel sources. By 2020, nuclear power generation would decrease
slightly, with output from new plant constructions cancelling
out losses from closures of existing nuclear power plants.
The most dramatic decline in nuclear power output was projected
for North America, where a drop of 50% is seen.
Mr. Priddle observed that two factors drive national power generation choices- economic and political. Nuclear power generation is in a transition and, therefore, it is difficult for new plants to compete with alternative sources, when considering the high start up costs. However, the benefits of lowered carbon dioxide emissions from nuclear plants, as opposed to fossil fuels is often minimized, as is the potential for nuclear power plants to be more competitive by using their capacity more effectively. Political considerations of nuclear power are often driven by social acceptability. Despite the fact that some 2 billion people in developing countries have no access to any fuel supply, the nuclear power debate in developed countries has been divisive, where some countries embrace nuclear power, while others avoid it to such extremes as to preclude other countries from access to the technology.
Has Kyoto changed the picture?
The Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (Kyoto) established international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2008-2012. These commitments mean that there can be no status quo in energy policies. Mr. Priddle reported that assuming that 50% of the Kyoto reduction targets could be achieved through improved efficiency in energy use, in order to achieve the target, 50% of current energy sources would have to shift from coal to non-fossil fuel sources. This will require political will for governments to define which energy sources will help them meet their Kyoto obligations. For the nuclear energy sector, as Mr Priddle summarized, the decisions will clearly require confronting waste management concerns and overcoming the prejudice against nuclear power. - by JoAnne Ford, Division of Public Information