Nuclear Power in 21st Century

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to visit Mongolia for the first time and to address the Institute of Strategic Studies of Mongolia.

Yesterday, I spoke at the opening of an international conference on cancer care, organized by Mongolia, the IAEA and the World Health Organization.

People often do not realize that the IAEA is active in making radiation medicine available to developing countries to help them fight cancer, or that we work in areas such as improving food security and water management.

This is a very important part of our work.

Today, I would like to talk to you about the role of nuclear energy in the 21st century.

The IAEA’s primary objective is to bring the benefits of nuclear science and technology to all humankind, while minimizing their risks. We help our Member States to meet their energy needs, use nuclear techniques in many areas for peaceful purposes and work for nuclear non-proliferation.

Nuclear power generation is one of the most prominent peaceful uses of atomic energy. These are interesting times for nuclear power. More than 60 countries, including Mongolia, are interested in exploring nuclear power. The IAEA’s projections are that between 10 and 25 new countries are likely to bring their first reactors on line by 2030.

The growing attractiveness of nuclear power is due to a number of factors. They include its very low greenhouse gas emissions; surging global energy demand; its strong and lengthening performance and safety record, which now totals more than 14,000 reactor-years; and concerns about energy security.

I firmly believe that access to nuclear power should not be the sole prerogative of developed countries. It should also be available to developing countries. The Agency is well-placed to help. We now have projects on introducing nuclear power with fifty-eight of our Member States, 17 of whom are actively preparing nuclear power programmes.

So what is the role of the IAEA? The Agency does not interfere in decisions made by States. It seeks to provide objective and comparative information and advice to interested Member States. Our advice has the advantage of being comprehensive and impartial.

To start with, countries considering the introduction of nuclear power seek the Agency’s assistance in analyzing their options and choosing the best energy mix. Once a country makes the decision to include nuclear power in its energy mix, the Agency helps to make sure that this is done sustainably and profitably. It also needs to be done safely and securely and exclusively for peaceful purposes. The Agency tries to impress upon interested countries that it is necessary to plan properly, to build the required human resources and infrastructure and to follow international safety, security and non-proliferation norms.

The IAEA has developed guidelines and milestones to help countries work in a systematic manner towards the introduction of nuclear power.

This starts with a country thoroughly researching all aspects of building a nuclear power programme so it is ready to make a knowledgeable commitment to proceed. It then undertakes the preparatory work for the construction of a nuclear power plant and gets ready to invite bids. The final phase is when a country is ready to commission and operate its first nuclear power plant.

This sounds simple and straightforward, but in practice the whole process can take many years. There are no short-cuts. But the IAEA is there to help at every stage. We assist interested countries with everything from the drafting of their nuclear legislation to establishing independent regulatory bodies and providing training for regulators and operators.

In the case of Mongolia, the IAEA has provided assistance in the development of uranium mining and in areas such as energy planning and strengthening the country’s capabilities in nuclear science and technology.

For nuclear power to remain viable as a source of energy, it is vital that concerns regarding safety and security are addressed. Safety and security are primarily the responsibility of each sovereign state. However, the IAEA has a strong role to play, because an accident or malicious act may have far-reaching and cross-border consequences.

There has been a very significant improvement in the safety performance of the nuclear industry in the past two decades. This reflects factors including improved design, better operating procedures, a strengthened and more effective regulatory environment and the emergence of a strong safety culture.

The IAEA promotes an integrated approach to nuclear safety, focusing on management systems, effective leadership and safety culture. It is important that countries’ safety and security infrastructures keep pace with developments in all areas of nuclear science and technology. We must never be complacent.

The Agency helps countries to reduce the risk of terrorists obtaining nuclear or radioactive material and to prevent sabotage at nuclear facilities. IAEA support covers all aspects of nuclear security, from physical protection at facilities to radiation detection and response. We helped to protect against possible nuclear attacks at the World Cup in South Africa this year and at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

The IAEA also works as a catalyst for innovation in nuclear energy. I take a keen interest in research and development which will maximize energy efficiency, reduce risks to the environment and ease the burden on future generations of having to deal with nuclear waste. I look forward to the development of new nuclear technologies which can generate electricity at competitive prices, with improved safety and reduced construction times and operating costs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude by saying that I believe nuclear energy has a very promising future. Its importance looks certain to grow in the coming decades as more and more countries add it to their energy mix. Continued technological innovation will improve the attractiveness of nuclear power.

The IAEA will continue to play its part in helping to make the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology available to all humankind.

Thank you.

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Last update: 21 October 2014