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Building a clean energy future

Rafael Mariano Grossi

“The IAEA will continue to do everything it can to assist the transition to a clean energy future for the world through the use of nuclear technology.”

— Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General, IAEA

Nuclear power has a vital role to play in helping to address the global climate emergency.

It already contributes one third of all low carbon electricity generated in the world. Nuclear power offers a steady, reliable supply of power and its use can help to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet the needs of the world’s growing population, not least in developing countries.

Nuclear power plants produce almost no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants during their operation. Emissions over their entire life cycle are very low. It provides a vital complement to renewables such as wind and solar power, which are intermittent sources of energy.

The great contribution that nuclear power has already made — for example, avoiding the production of the equivalent of 55 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over the past 50 years — and the enormous potential of innovative technologies now in the pipeline deserve to
be better known.

That is why I decided to devote the first IAEA Scientific Forum since I became Director General of the IAEA to “Nuclear Power and the Clean Energy Transition”. Leading scientists and experts from around the world will meet over two days to examine how nuclear power’s science-based solutions can play a pivotal role in paving the way for a sustainable future. 

This edition of the IAEA Bulletin will provide you with a closer look at the clean energy transition and how nuclear power fits in. You will learn how, during extreme events such as a pandemic or severe weather caused by climate change, nuclear power’s resilience can help to ensure continuous energy supplies. 

You will get a glimpse of the innovations driving the future of nuclear energy. Advances in materials science, for example, are helping nuclear power plants to operate safely, sustainably and cost-effectively for far longer than originally planned. Thanks in part to new concepts, technologies and materials, fast reactors promise more efficient energy production with far less waste. With enhanced designs and safety features, large advanced nuclear reactors, as well as small modular reactors and microreactors, offer countries a wider array of options for nuclear power to meet their energy and climate needs.  

The impact of innovation goes beyond nuclear power production. Forward-looking financing policies are helping to overcome the economic barriers to new nuclear power projects. ‘Smart’ technology, such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, when combined with nuclear power, is making energy grids with a high share of renewables more efficient, stable and reliable. Non-electric applications using nuclear power facilities, such as hydrogen production, are extending the low carbon benefits of nuclear energy to sectors such as industry and transport. 

Advances in nuclear power technology must be accompanied by progress in nuclear safety, security and safeguards. A new, technology-neutral regulatory framework is being established to enable innovation in nuclear power technologies without compromising safety. One technology in development for safeguards are neural networks to help analysts more effectively and efficiently use their time when reviewing surveillance data collected as part of verification activities to help prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. 

Achieving sustainable development and meeting climate goals will be a huge challenge. Nuclear power is a proven, mature technology with a great deal to contribute. The IAEA will continue to do everything it can to assist the transition to a clean energy future for the world through the use of nuclear technology. 

September, 2020
Vol. 61-3

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