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IAEA Opens Atoms4Climate Pavilion at COP28 as Global Support for Nuclear Power Grows


President of Armenia, Vahagn Khachaturyan, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, Kazakhstan Minister of Energy Satkaliyev Almassadam, and Juhani Damski, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment of Finland at the Net Zero Needs Nuclear Power event at COP28.  (Dean Calma/IAEA)

The IAEA has opened its Atoms4Climate pavilion at the annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) amid a rising wave of international support for scaling up the use of nuclear power to achieve global climate goals by slashing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming to net zero by 2050.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi on 1 December officially kicked off the start of almost two weeks of activities and events at the IAEA pavilion aimed at raising awareness of the benefits of nuclear technology and applications in both mitigating and adapting to the effects of the climate crisis. The event featured a lively conversation on the growing support for nuclear power between Mr Grossi and Isabelle Boemeke, also known as Isodope, the world’s first nuclear influencer.

Earlier, Mr Grossi unveiled a landmark IAEA statement supported by dozens of countries that underscored the need for expanded use of nuclear power to fight climate change, achieve energy security and sustainable economic development, and build “a low carbon bridge” to the future. The IAEA appeal came amid other initiatives at COP28 also calling for a significant increase in nuclear power capacity to address the global climate crisis, and ahead of the first-ever Nuclear Energy Summit, to be hosted jointly by the IAEA and Belgium in Brussels in March 2024.

“If we want to achieve our climate targets, it will simply be impossible without nuclear energy,” Mr Grossi said as he announced the statement at an event together with Armenian President Vahagn Khachaturyan as well as Satkaliyev Almassadam, Minister of Energy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and Juhani Damski, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment of Finland.

Nuclear power currently provides almost 10 percent of the world’s electricity production, equivalent to around 25 percent of all low carbon electricity and contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the last five decades, nuclear power has avoided the emission of some 70 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases, including 30 gigatonnes alone since the start of the 21st century, according to the IAEA statement which also underscored nuclear power’s role in ensuring energy supply security, stabilizing electrical grids, and reducing local air pollution.

“We understand with more than 60 percent of electricity generation powered by coal, we see no other significant alternative other than nuclear power plants to ensure reliable electricity supplies,” Energy Minister Almassadam said about Kazakhstan, which is considering building a new nuclear power plant.

Mr Grossi noted that global attitudes towards nuclear power have undergone a massive shift since 2019, when he attended his first climate summit at COP25 in Madrid shortly after becoming IAEA Director General. The question he had asked himself then, he said, was: “How can this annual conference talking about energy issues and how they impact the environment be taking place without talking about the source of energy that provides around 25 percent of the world’s electricity? This was an omission and I’m not here to debate the reasons for that. The good thing is this has been overcome and we are putting things right, in the right perspective.”

Several authoritative studies, including by the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), suggest that a significant increase in world nuclear power capacity will be needed to limit the average global temperature increase since pre-industrial times to 1.5 degrees Celsius, thereby averting the most devastating effects of climate change.

Finland, seeking to become carbon neutral by 2035, in April began operating a new 1600 megawatt-electric nuclear reactor at Olkiluoto that will provide almost 15 percent of the country’s electricity and has helped bring down power prices for consumers by some 75 percent. A recent public opinion poll shows more than two-thirds of Finns support nuclear power while only 6 percent oppose it.

Mr Damski attributed high Finnish public approval of nuclear power to several factors, including transparent communications about its decarbonization and energy security benefits, early involvement by policy makers, local stakeholder engagement, and a national programme to develop what is set to become the world’s first operative facility to dispose of high level nuclear waste.

“Nuclear energy has a very key role to play in climate change mitigation,” Mr Damski said. “This is a strong tool for the climate battle, and this is why it’s important for us in Finland.”

But nuclear power also plays an important role in sustainable socioeconomic development. Bangladesh, Egypt and Turkey are all constructing their first nuclear power reactors, and many of the almost 30 countries that are considering introducing nuclear power are in the developing world and working with the IAEA in developing the necessary infrastructure for a safe and secure nuclear power programme.

Armenia, where a single 416 MWe nuclear reactor generates about one third of the country’s electricity, has a longstanding engagement with the Agency in its efforts to ensure its safe long-term operation and effective plant life management. The country is now looking to build a new reactor to ensure energy security and economic growth, according to President Khachaturyan. “Nuclear is a very important question for Armenia,” he said.

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