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‘A Turning Point’: First Ever Nuclear Energy Summit Concludes in Brussels


Global momentum for nuclear power continued to build as world leaders from more than 30 countries and the European Union (EU) met at the inaugural Nuclear Energy Summit in Brussels. The landmark Summit, the world's first high-level meeting focused entirely on nuclear energy, comes on the heels of nuclear’s historic prominence at last December’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP28).

High-level representatives from dozens of countries emphasized the importance of using nuclear power to achieve energy security, climate goals and drive sustainable development. Increased financing, workforce development and more proactive support to nuclear newcomer countries were identified as key to long-term success.

 During his opening remarks, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, who co-chaired the Summit together with Prime Minister of Belgium Alexander De Croo, underlined the need for action. “Acknowledging nuclear's necessity isn't enough. It's on political leaders to foster environments that encourage nuclear development. Without decisive action, the potential for nuclear to support the green transition could be lost.”

Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA Director-General, delivers his opening remarks at the Nuclear Energy Summit in Belgium.

Mr Grossi also spoke at a Joint Research Centre (JRC) side event last Wednesday, as well as a fireside chat organized by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Statements from Heads of State and other high-level national representatives highlighted the status of nuclear in their countries and listed important factors in meeting deadlines for the clean energy transition, including technology neutral approaches , such as laws and regulations that do not favour one clean energy source over another.

“Our challenge is to deliver on climate change and reduce our CO2 emissions, is to improve our sovereignty by securing our energy and is to improve our competitiveness in order to create jobs at the same time,” said President of France Emmanuel Macron. Nuclear power is currently responsible for around 25 per cent of global low carbon electricity production, but deployment will need to expand significantly in the coming decades in order for the world to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Last year’s COP28 was the first time nuclear power had been included in the Global Stocktake, a final agreement that assesses where the world stands on achieving the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement and how shortcomings might be rectified. In total, 22 countries agreed to work towards tripling nuclear power capacity by 2050, with an additional three countries signing on to the pledge since then.

“The Summit constitutes a turning point concerning the future of civil nuclear energy,” said Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan. “Once fully operational the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant will meet 10 per cent of our electricity demand. Our objective is to raise this level by building additional conventional plants as well as small modular reactors.”

“For a long time, many of us had reservations... but times have changed, safety technology has evolved, and of course our views on the urgency of a fossil free future have changed dramatically in recent decades,” said Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands. “It is true that for the transition to succeed we need every carbon free energy source we can get. But we also need a source that is available come rain or shine. And that is nuclear energy.”

On the eve of the Summit, Grossi, De Croo, as well as Belgian Minister of Energy Tinne Van der Straeten, met with over 70 young activists supporting nuclear and renewable  technologies to discuss the role of nuclear power in the clean energy transition.

“Net zero needs nuclear because this is the only way we will completely decarbonize,” De Croo said at the youth event. “We will need a lot of renewables, but we will need a lot of nuclear as well.”

The European Commission recently launched the European Industrial Alliance on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) to help accelerate development and deployment. “The IAEA analysis tells us that investments need to accelerate this decade and reach new heights in the 2030s to meet the Paris Agreement target,” said President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. “That requires support from governments to ensure that financing is available and that nuclear’s contribution to electricity security is properly valued and remunerated.”

“Today I can assure you that nuclear is coming back, and coming back strongly,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, echoing his organization’s projections that nuclear power generation is set to reach a record high in 2025.

Industry representatives also affirmed their readiness to support governmental efforts to expand nuclear power in a joint statement. They pledged to work closely with interested governments and support the continued operation of existing nuclear power facilities, the construction of new ones and the development of nuclear infrastructure both in the United States and around the world,” said John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy, Innovation and Implementation in the United States of America.

Four panel sessions covered topics that included maintaining and expanding nuclear capacity, technology advancements, fuel cycle innovations and facilitating an equitable clean energy market through financing mechanisms.

Melanie Nakagawa, Chief Sustainability Officer at Microsoft, spoke on the importance of driving clean electricity demand through corporate partnerships. “The role we play as a technology company is to be a demand signal to all the carbon-free power technologies including emerging technologies, from SMRs to advance reactors and fusion, including for our suppliers”. Earlier this week, Microsoft, Google and Nucor, a steel company, announced a collaboration for carbon-free electricity. “So, everything from advanced reactors to fusion technology to advanced geothermal and long-duration energy storage – how are these players coming into the marketplace to provide the supply that we are requesting that will allow us to meet our goals,” she said.

A senior representative, as well as two executives from Google, were also in attendance at the Summit.

The need for governments to collaborate with industry in order to deploy fusion energy was also addressed. “I think that the feasibility of nuclear fusion as an energy source will be demonstrated in a relatively short time – in a decade,” said Pietro Barabaschi, Director-General of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). “But the viability as a reliable energy source requires a lot of imagination. It will require a worldwide fusion development programme.”

Represented at the Summit through Zhang Guoqing, Vice Premier of China, Liu Jing, Vice Chairman of the China Atomic Energy Authority, and Cao Shudong, Vice President, CNNC, China has ambitions to potentially reach around 400 GW(e) of installed nuclear power capacity by 2060 — more than the capacity of the current global reactor fleet. According to Mr Cao, China’s expansion will include a mix of technologies, from large conventional reactors to innovative ones such as the HTR-PM, a high temperature gas cooled small modular reactor that China put online last year. “Nuclear energy possesses unique advantages in addressing climate change and ensuring energy security,” said Zhang.

“The Nuclear Energy Summit must be a turning point for nuclear energy, calling for global investment across all economies,” said Mr Grossi. “The IAEA, born from a vision of nuclear for peace and prosperity, is here to support this transition.”

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