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IAEA's Final Pre-COP26 Event Encourages Youth to Join Nuclear Field for Climate Change


Students and young professionals from around the world joined the IAEA to explore careers in nuclear energy in the Agency’s third and final All4Climate-Italy2021 event held in connection with the Pre-COP26 climate meeting hosted this month by Italy, the final ministerial gathering before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November.

The online event, “Empowering youth: attracting the next generation of nuclear professionals,” gathered a range of speakers from across the nuclear power sector. They included students and young professionals as well as senior leaders working in education, training and knowledge management as well as experts from the IAEA.

“The climate crisis is calling on young people, our next generation of leaders, to raise their voices and take action to ensure a sustainable future,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “But at the same time, we senior leaders must give them the opportunities and tools to do so.”

Nuclear power currently generates about 10% of the world’s electricity, which amounts to more than a quarter of all low-carbon electricity. Its reliable, 24/7 output helps mitigate energy fuel price volatility and improve the reliability and resilience of electrical grids with high shares of variable renewables. For these reasons, nuclear power in partnership with other clean energy sources can help deliver on both the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, according to a recent report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Yet these benefits are often not well known or clouded by misperceptions, speakers said. They pointed to the need to educate students from an early age about the unique role played by nuclear energy, which has avoided more than 70 giga-tonnes of carbon dioxide over the past half century—the equivalent of about two years of total global emissions.

The nuclear industry can also benefit young people by offering them engaging careers and opportunities to pursue a variety of fulfilling interests, said Sama Bilbao y Leon, Director General of the World Nuclear Association. “You are going to come in with some skills and some knowledge, but there are enormous opportunities within the nuclear sector to enhance your skills, to learn new skills and to actively seek different opportunities,” she said. “You will always have new things to learn and to experience.”

The nuclear field is also wide open for women. The event explored the IAEA Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme (MSCFP), which aims to help increase the number of women in the nuclear field by offering selected Master’s students scholarships for studies in nuclear related fields at accredited universities. Now in its second year, the MSCFP has increased the number of women awarded a scholarship from 100 to 110, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said recently.

“The MSCSFP is an opportunity to boost our careers and be active in the development of policies that will shape our future,” said Evelyn Granizo, speaking at about her own experience as a MSCFP fellow.

This event was the third and final in a series hosted by the IAEA in the run-up to COP26. The first event in the series focused on youth engagement on the road to decarbonization and featured young speakers contributing personally to an accelerated transition to net-zero emissions through their work in nuclear power and other low-carbon energy technologies.

The second event, held on the sidelines of the IAEA’s 65th General Conference, showcased the winners of the IAEA Net Zero Challenge, a competition for young professionals and students to propose policies to accelerate the transition to net-zero. The winning team from Singapore, which will have a chance to attend an IAEA event at COP26 in Glasgow, proposed a plan for decarbonizing the shipping industry through nuclear-produced hydrogen.

“The young generation, as an important force to address climate change and the clean energy transition, needs to be inspired and supported to pursue careers in nuclear science and technology,” said Wei Huang, Director of the Division of Planning, Information and Knowledge Management from the Department of Nuclear Energy. “The IAEA will continue this productive dialogue as we help to bring nuclear power to the table at COP26.”

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