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IAEA's Grossi Calls for Nuclear Power for Net Zero Emissions as Climate ‘Clock is Ticking’

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IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said countries around the world are looking at using nuclear power for effective decarbonization as “the clock is ticking” on climate change, while emphasizing that such efforts require international collaboration and partnerships to succeed.

“We all know what the problem is, we all know what the common challenge is: to decarbonize and to do it fast,” Grossi said during the IEA-COP26 Net Zero Summit, a virtual high-level dialogue hosted by the Paris-based International Energy Agency and featuring an array of speakers from national governments, international organizations and multinational corporations.

Speaking during a panel session on how to improve the implementation of clean energy transitions, Grossi said several developed and developing countries were considering either expanding or introducing nuclear power to help them achieve both climate change and sustainable development goals. He noted that nuclear power is a “present solution” that provides almost one third of the world’s low carbon electricity, while also being a “future alternative” and “an articulator”.

“It is also a future alternative through small and modular reactors, microreactors, that make this clean source of energy available for more countries,” Grossi said, referring to emerging nuclear power technologies. “It is also an articulator which unlocks the potential of renewables by providing flexibility, dispatchability and stability, like no other.”

Grossi’s participation in the summit comes as the IAEA and IEA strengthen their partnership on nuclear power and the clean energy transition and as the Agency gears up to make its presence felt at the United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP26) this November in Glasgow, Scotland. IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, who co-hosted the summit, noted in his remarks that all low carbon technologies are needed to achieve net-zero emissions. He was echoed by Horishi Kajiyama, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, who pointed to the need for nuclear power.

The summit, which followed the IEA’s inaugural Clean Energy Transitions Summit in 2020, was co-hosted COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma and was intended as milestone towards the climate event in Glasgow. It brought together representatives from energy and climate ministries from more than 40 countries, who participated in five separate ministerial panels.

Several participants, including Birol, noted the importance of international collaboration and the role of international organizations to catalyse clean energy transitions. Bento Albuquerque, Brazil’s Minister of Mines and Energy, cited in particular the need for energy planning and capacity building.

Gauri Singh, IRENA Deputy Director General, said IRENA supports 70 countries on their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which report their plans for achieving climate change goals under the Paris Agreement. The IAEA, which supports IRENA’s efforts, assists countries on capacity building and energy planning, including the development of the infrastructure for a safe and sustainable nuclear power programme. More than 135 countries and 20 international organizations have requested the use of the IAEA’s energy planning tools, which are technology neutral.

“The IAEA is doing certain things which are very concrete,” said Grossi, pointing to nuclear power infrastructure support as well as energy planning and ensuring that countries that choose nuclear power introduce it and operate it safely and securely. The IAEA is currently working with some 30 so-called nuclear newcomer countries that are either interested in or actively embarking on nuclear power, and supported Belarus and the United Arab Emirates for a decade before they connected their first reactors to the grid last year.

Access to modern and clean energy, as envisaged in Sustainable Development Goal 7, was key to development efforts in Africa, Amani Abou-Zied, Commissioner for Energy and Infrastructure of the African Union Commission, told the panel. Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and Sudan are among the newcomers in Africa actively working with the Agency on efforts to develop the necessary infrastructure for a safe and secure nuclear power programme.

Anders Ygeman, who is Sweden’s Minister for Energy and Digital Development and served as panel co-chair, said quick decarbonization was also needed in sectors beyond electricity generation such as industry. He said Sweden plans to eliminate fossil fuels from steel production by 2026 by using clean hydrogen. Sweden has already largely decarbonized its electricity production through the use of hydro and nuclear power, which accounts for 34 per cent of its electricity generation.

Arifin Tasrif, who is Indonesia’s Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources and served as panel co-chair, emphasized that “all possible transition paths and all technologies must be considered” in the fight against climate change and to achieve the sustainable development goals.

“We need all viable technologies, being rational, being practicable, and being fast – because the clock is ticking,” Grossi said as he concluded his contribution to the panel discussion. “And nuclear is part of the solution.”

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