Scientififc Forum

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
Report to the 43rd General Conference of the IAEA from the 2nd Scientific Forum
Sustainable Development: A Role for Nuclear Power?

Mr. President,

As the Rapporteur of the 2nd Scientific Forum, I am very happy to present my overview of the work of the Forum and the outcome of the discussions.

1. The Scientific Forum was extremely well attended and the presentations and debates were held in a very constructive and positive manner. The participants came from a wide variety of national and international scientific and research centres, international organizations and NGOs, and the nuclear industry. The freedom to express individual views as opposed to rigid adherence to national positions was seen to be fundamental to the success of this initiative of the Director General.

2. The Scientific Forum was entitled "Sustainable Development: A Role for Nuclear Power?" There were many views on what is meant by "sustainability", and clearly this differs depending on the perspective of the person and the time frame being considered. Also at issue was whether one is debating the sustainability of the nuclear power industry, or the broader subject of sustainable development of the world (or country or city or village). In terms of the sustainable development of the world, there were several presentations on the framework for the debate, with different perspectives on economic, energy and environmental considerations. However, no conclusion was reached about the bases on which to judge nuclear power in this context, except for a strong feeling that there must be a common set of criteria (e.g. emission levels, economics) for all energy generation systems. The question of the inevitable trade-offs between the criteria was raised but was not resolved. The issue of global climate change was extensively discussed and there were significant disagreements as to whether this would become the justification for nuclear expansion or whether it would have any material impact on the predominantly economic criteria currently used. What emerged from the various presentations was a common view that electricity use would expand greatly. However, there were vastly divergent views on the role nuclear power would (or should) play in meeting this growth.

3. The discussions covered the role of nuclear power in three general time periods. Fundamental to each of these, as pointed out by a number of speakers, and fully endorsed by all present, was the continued maintenance of the highest level of nuclear safety globally.

4. The first period could be seen as the "nuclear power of today". In the case of the OECD countries the dominant issue is the operational costs in an increasingly free market system for electricity. For the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian Federation and the Newly Independent States, the issue is one of safely managing nuclear power plant operations in "economies in transition", and in the case of developing countries the dominant concern is that of the effective management of technology.

5. The next period, "nuclear prospects for tomorrow", extending from the present until about 2020, can be seen as the bridge that maintains the technology for future generations. It was generally agreed that for there to be any prospects for nuclear power two issues must be resolved. The first is public confidence - or at least public tolerance - particularly of an accepted solution to the high level waste disposal. The second, and no less important, is competitiveness, in terms of capital cost and construction periods. And, there are two related topics. The first is what the appropriate linkages (through the marketplace or regulations, for example) should be between nuclear power and environmental issues, such as global climate change, local air quality and regional acidification. The second is the desire to create a globalized approach to nuclear power issues. Examples of this globalized approach were proposals for an International Nuclear Waste Authority, an IAEA led initiative on innovative proliferation resistant reactors and fuel cycles, and international standards for new generation nuclear reactor designs.

6. The last period could be called "nuclear power for the future", running from about 2020 onwards. The principal issue here was the central role many felt nuclear has to play if greenhouse gases are to be limited, given that half the available hydro potential appears to already have been exploited and doubts over the potential for renewables. Some projections showed, however, that if nuclear power was indeed to assume this central role, uranium supplies would be inadequate unless a closed cycle was employed. There was extensive discussion on the proliferation potential this would generate.

7. There were many recommendations that were proposed at the Forum. Included were the following:

  • The IAEA should take an active role in sustaining nuclear skills and expertise for the long term needs of the nuclear community.
  • The IAEA should continue to drive international co-operation and the free dissemination of information in the nuclear field.
  • Given the importance of nuclear safety, the IAEA should continue to establish, promulgate and promote the implementation of safety standards.
  • The IAEA should play an important role with regard to the design certification of new generation reactors.
  • The scientific and technical debate on the future of nuclear power should be continued, preferably in conjunction with the General Conference, and bring in participants with a broad energy background, including members from NGOs, trade unions and industry.

I would like to end my report to the General Conference by quoting the final words of one of the speakers from the general debate of this week, which I think capture the mood of the Scientific Forum: "When future generations look back 50 or 100 years from now, let them say that we seized the opportunities rather than let them slip away."

Mr. President. In closing my report I would to thank the Director General very much for the opportunity to be involved in this exciting activity.

D.R. Nicholls, South Africa, Rapporteur

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