You are here

IAEA Pre-COP26 Event Showcases Young Nuclear Experts Driving Innovation for Climate Change


Showcasing the power of youth in forging nuclear energy innovations to mitigate climate change, the IAEA kicked off a series of events on 1 September held in connection with the Pre-COP26 climate meeting to be hosted by Italy later this month, the final ministerial gathering before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November.

Young professionals engaged in cutting-edge nuclear power projects supporting net-zero efforts in China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom (UK), United States and United Arab Emirates (UAE) gathered virtually for Youth Engagement on the Road to Decarbonization – the first of three events the Agency is hosting as part of the All4Climate initiative launched by COP26 co-host Italy.

“Whether it’s melting ice caps or historic flooding, signs of the climate crisis are unfolding before our eyes, underscoring the need to address the climate crisis with proven, effective technologies,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “Nuclear power, in partnership with other low-carbon energy sources, can accelerate the transition to net zero emissions.”

In China, the Guohe One+ project is aimed at demonstrating how one nuclear reactor can not only produce electricity free of greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time in partnership with other low-carbon sources, how it can also provide a variety of products to help decarbonize other sectors, including heat for homes and water desalination.

“The hybrid use of nuclear power – a combination of nuclear, wind, solar and other renewable sources – will be a key force in meeting the challenges of climate change,” said Xu Yin, Project Management Engineer for the Guohe One+ demonstration project at the Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute (SNERDI).

Emerging nuclear power technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs), whether based on land or sea, can help provide the reliable backbone for future clean energy systems that integrate nuclear power with variable renewables, said Arina Samkova, a specialist for Rusatom Overseas. The world’s first advanced SMRs were recently deployed in Russia, aboard the Akademik Lomonosov floating nuclear power plant that provides electricity and heating to the local community.

“The floating nuclear power plant in Chukotka today provides reliable and clean heat and power,” said Samkova. “In the future it will replace two [fossil fuel] generation plants and this will make the environment much cleaner and the snow whiter.”

Microreactors, under development in several countries, are a subset of SMRs well suited for inaccessible regions to access clean, reliable and affordable energy, especially where large electricity grids are not in place or delivery of fossil fuels is cumbersome. Yasir Arafat is leading a team at Idaho National Laboratory in the US that is building a demonstration microreactor called MARVEL, which aims to help kickstart US developments of this new technology.

“The role for microreactors is actually becoming more than what we originally envisaged. Not only are these systems emission free, but they can actually fulfil some of the near-term needs in fighting this climate crisis,” said Arafat, referring to the potential use of mobile microreactors to provide emergency power to areas hit by natural disasters.

Some 30 so-called newcomer countries are considering, planning or actively working to introduce nuclear power. The UAE recently launched operations of the second of four large reactors it is constructing as part of an effort to diversify its energy sources and meet climate goals, together with the deployment of other low-carbon sources.

“Nuclear and solar work hand in hand,” said Majid Al Zarooni, a young engineer at the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation. “To support the implementation of more solar capacity, the Barakah nuclear plant provides baseload electricity, establishing a solid and reliable basis for the grid to handle more intermittent renewable sources.”

Innovations in the nuclear fuel cycle, including fuel recycling and reprocessing, can greatly enhance the sustainability of nuclear power, said Sophie Missirian, a nuclear fuel expert at EDF in France. “We’re currently launching the fabrication of new fuels using uranium to maximize the recycling of spent fuel. I believe recycling is key to allow nuclear to thrive,” said Missirian.

Over the last half century, nuclear power has avoided more than 70 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, if the same amount of electricity had been produced by fossil fuel plants. As the world heads towards COP26, youth engagement will be key to increase knowledge and understanding about nuclear energy’s key role in addressing the climate crisis by providing both mitigation and adaptation solutions.

“We’re all environmentalists and we’re all working toward the same goal,” said Sophie Zienkiewicz, an environmentalist and nuclear power advocate from the UK Young Generation Network. “The UN Sustainable Development Goals are huge anchoring points for us” and “nuclear fits into all 17 of these goals.”

Stay in touch