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Industry Leaders Discuss Economic Sustainability, Future of Nuclear Energy


The construction site of the Barakah nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates in 2016. (Photo: IAEA)

In order for nuclear power to remain sustainable and economically competitive, it is important that operators win and maintain public confidence by paying careful attention to costs and to the management of radioactive waste, industry leaders agreed at an IAEA event today.

There is increasing global interest in nuclear power in the developing world, with some 30 countries considering its introduction, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in his opening remarks at the 6th Nuclear Operator Organization Cooperation Forum, under the theme ‘Economic Sustainability of Nuclear Power Generation in the Next Decade’.

“With its ability to produce steady baseload electricity while emitting very low levels of greenhouse gases, nuclear power can help countries lift their people out of poverty, while mitigating the impact of climate change,” Mr Amano said. “We live in an exciting time for nuclear power, with many innovative technologies under development.”


The real issue with nuclear power is economic, said Satu Helynen, the Chair of the Forum and the Vice President of the Nuclear Generation II and III Association (NUGENIA).

“Many nuclear power plants are being planned and constructed, but they find themselves operating in an increasingly difficult economic environment,” she said. “This platform is for industry experts to discuss and address key issues and challenges on sustainability of nuclear power.”

Industry leaders from China, France, Russia and the United States provided an overview of the current status and future prospect of the nuclear sectors in their countries.

Costs of nuclear energy are determined by many factors. Fluctuation in the availability of electricity and government regulations present challenges for nuclear power, said Daniel Lipman, Vice President of the Nuclear Energy Institute in the United States. In the US, the slowing economy has meant lower growth in electricity demand, which combined with the surge in the supply of natural gas has further restricted the development of nuclear power. “It’s very difficult to develop reactors with private capital alone. We need assistance and co-funding of public-private partnerships,” Lipman said.

Nuclear power could play a significant role in reducing the world’s carbon footprint and in mitigating climate change. “No country has successfully decarbonized without the contribution of nuclear power,” Lipman said.


Safety is a precondition for the sustainability of nuclear energy, emphasized Abderrahim Al Mazouzi, project manager of Electricity of France (EDF). “Safety is never granted and must be periodically reassessed,” he said. “It’s the basis on which to establish long term operations and nuclear sustainability.”

New designs can also improve effectiveness of nuclear power plant operations, said Sergey F. Shepelev, senior designer at Russia’s OKBM Afrikantov and a speaker at the event. “New fast reactors will be able to operate with 90% power factor and the service life of those reactors will be 60 years.”

Finding the right business model has been key to the economic viability of nuclear power in China, said Zheng Mingguang, President of the Shanghai Nuclear Engineer Research and Design Institute.  Joint ventures between foreign and local suppliers reduce manufacturing and transportation costs for most developing countries, while also bringing revenues to domestic companies, he said. There are 105 domestic, nine joint ventures and 23 overseas companies involved in the nuclear supply chain in China for AP/CAP designs. “This 85% localization, especially the localization of design and engineering, will enhance the economy of the domestic nuclear power industry.”

The Nuclear Operator Organization Cooperation Forum, initiated in 2011 under the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, was created in an effort to enhance cooperation among nuclear owner/operating organizations in strengthening the safety and effectiveness of nuclear electricity generation. The Forum provides a platform for senior leaders from the operating organizations and supporting institutions to hold discussions and exchange ideas on the current and future challenges of nuclear electricity generation.

Speakers at the Sixth Nuclear Operating Organizations Cooperation Forum: Economic Sustainability of Nuclear Power Generation in the Next Decade, an IAEA General Conference side event. (Photo: R. Diaz Francia/IAEA)

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