Scientififc Forum
International experts review figures on world energy demand at the IAEA´s Scientific Forum in Austria, Vienna




Part I: Nuclear Power: Where is it Headed?
Part II: The Energy Debate & Sustainable Development: Any Room for Nuclear?
Part III: Final Report to the General Conference
The Energy Debate & Sustainable Development: Any Room for Nuclear?

We reap what we sow.

That was one central message emerging from discussions at the IAEA Scientific Forum on global energy needs and the future role of nuclear power. In his presentation, Sustainable Energy Development, Economics, and Externalities (pdf format, 21 pages, file size 1.8MB), Mr. Hans-Holger Rogner, an IAEA expert in the field, cautioned that energy choices today must not impede the choices of future generations. Fossil fuels may not be available for future generations and, for countries without a domestic source, they may not always be an economically viable option, either. More than just carbon dioxide emissions must be considered in the environmental equation, he said. "Which contributes more to sustainability", asked Mr. Rogner, "large diluted amounts of waste or highly concentrated, smaller amounts"? Waste must be considered in perspective. Solar and nuclear power have the lowest volumes of waste. Burning coal generates some 300,000 tonnes of ash containing 400 tonnes of heavy metals, all of which can be dissipated into the environment.

The global energy debate is vital for fueling today and tomorrow's big and bigger cities. Global urbanization trends are an important factor for energy planners to consider. For the first time this year, the urban population of the world exceeds that of the rural. Renewable energy sources and small-scale power generation could supply rural areas, but are inefficient for huge urban centres. There is no one single energy option which will satisfy future energy needs. Diversity of supply will be the key. The challenge to the nuclear power industry will be to realize economies of scale, develop small to medium-sized reactors, reduce construction time and lower capital costs. The world's energy marketplace is becoming more and more competitive economically, and cost effectiveness is one of the driving factors in energy debate. One step being pursued by the nuclear industries is to extend the safe operating lifetimes of existing nuclear plants, rather than build new ones.

But cost isn't the only major factor. In the sustainable development debate, the role of nuclear power in providing power without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions or consuming finite fossil fuel sources is often overshadowed by public concerns about safety. As Mr. Rogner noted, in a regulated environment like the nuclear power industry, safety and competitiveness are two sides of the same coin. And safety is a public, not just a technical, issue.

Ms. KoetzIs there room for nuclear power in the popular debate over energy options and sustainable development? "Yes," said Ms. Maureen Koetz of the US Nuclear Energy Institute, because an informed public will make the right choices. In her afternoon presentation, Comparing Alternative Electricity-Generating Options and their Impact on the Environment (pdf format, 10 pages, file size 4MB), Ms. Koetz stated that the challenge to the nuclear energy industry was how it could foster a more informed debate on environmental issues. In many ways, the current debate is stacked against nuclear energy. Regulatory requirements for the nuclear power industry require reporting of information on all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle. Such detailed reporting is not usually required of other power generation systems, hence it is difficult to compare the relative advantages and disadvantages from an environmental perspective. Environmental issues are fundamental considerations at all levels -- governmental, private industry, and personal. What is necessary to begin the informed debate is a comparative system to weigh the attributes of various power generation systems.

While there is considerable information about nuclear power generation, the positive attributes are often overshadowed by perceived problems. Waste management heads the list in the debate in many countries, but all aspects must be examined equally in assessing the overall environmental picture. At present, only the nuclear industry is held accountable for all activities involved in the cycle of producing electricity. Does this mean that nuclear is more or less safe than other power generation systems?

To foster informed debate, the Nuclear Energy Institute is developing a consistent system for comparing the full environmental impact for various energy power alternatives, Ms. Koetz reported. Let the facts speak for themselves. - by JoAnne Ford, Division of Public Information

Part I: Nuclear Power: Where is it Headed?
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