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IAEA’s Grossi Sees ‘Great Hopes’ for Nuclear Power as Ministerial Conference Opens in Washington

 The IAEA International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century opened today in Washington. (Photo: US Department of Energy) 

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi expressed high hopes for using nuclear energy to tackle major challenges from climate change to sustainable development as he joined U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm for the opening of the IAEA International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century today.

Mr Grossi and Secretary Granholm, the conference president, delivered opening remarks at the three-day event in Washington together with William D. Magwood, IV, Director-General of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, and investor and philanthropist Bill Gates spoke via video at the conference, attended by more than 750 participants including ministers, policy makers and experts from around the world.

The opening speakers pointed to growing global interest in using nuclear power to help achieve net zero emissions while ensuring energy security and contributing to sustainable development. They also stressed the continuous need for high standards of nuclear safety, security and safeguards.

Amid global challenges, Mr Grossi said he saw “great hopes” the world “can realize this imperative of the time: to bring the solutions in terms of prosperity, in terms of growth, in terms of caring for the common house, our planet, through the beneficial uses of nuclear energy.” He added: “That is the challenge. And this is what we are going to be discussing today and during the conference.”

In her opening remarks, Secretary Granholm said: “We see enormous potential in nuclear power to advance our climate goals, to enhance our energy security, to widen affordable energy access, to create millions of high quality, good paying jobs.”

The second largest low carbon source of electricity after hydro power, nuclear energy provides around 10 per cent of the world’s electricity. By producing a steady supply of low carbon electricity, as well as industrial heat and hydrogen, nuclear power can help decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors such as industry. Its use has avoided the release of about 70 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere over the past 50 years and continues to avoid more than 1Gt of CO2 emissions every year.

Advanced technologies on the horizon, including small modular reactors (SMRs) with expected lower upfront costs and more flexibility, will offer options for more countries to add nuclear to their energy mix. Around 30 countries are either embarking on or considering the introduction of nuclear power, in addition to the 32 countries that already operate it.

"We need advanced reactors as well as contribution from the installed base of reactors we have today,” Mr Gates said. “Using this clean energy source is important to a clean energy future.”

Mr Grossi said he saw a “palpable change” in global perceptions amid new interest in nuclear power from Africa and Asia to the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. This includes countries that are now reversing previous policies to phase out nuclear as well as those that are “decisively moving into nuclear because we have to be led by science and by economically feasible decisions, and not by ideology,” Mr Grossi said.

According to the NEA, nuclear power needs to triple in generating capacity by 2050 to meet climate goals, Mr Magwood said. But in addition to providing low carbon power, “our highest responsibility is to make sure that our people, our populations, our societies have access to reliable energy—that they have secure energy,” he added.

The IEA sees a future “dominated by electricity, and clean, secure electricity is a must,” Dr Birol said. “Here, together with renewables, which will get the lion's share of the growth in electricity generation, nuclear has an important role to play.”

At the conference, government ministers and officials from around the world will deliver national statements about nuclear power. The event will also feature five panel sessions plus four In Focus events, including one in which Mr Grossi and Secretary Granholm will discuss the role of women in the nuclear field. The other panels will focus on how to create the conditions for countries to establish new nuclear programmes, how to expand the contribution of existing nuclear power plants to net zero goals, how to accelerate the process for getting advanced reactor designs into commercial use, and the future of nuclear energy regulations.

The IAEA International Ministerial Conference in the 21st Century is hosted by the United States of America through the Department of Energy and organized in partnership with the IEA and in cooperation with OECD/NEA. Previous editions were held in Abu Dhabi (2017), St. Petersburg (2013), Beijing (2009) and Paris (2005). More about the conference, including the programme can be found here.

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