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Key Role for Nuclear Power in Climate Change Urged by Youth Activists at COP26 Event


Youth activists at CoP26 spoke up for the role of nuclear power in combatting climate change. (Photo: D. Calma / IAEA)

Youth activists called for a significant role for nuclear power in partnership with renewables as part of global efforts to achieve net zero emissions. At an IAEA event today at the UN climate summit, where the discussion took place Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi also announced a series of new climate internships at the Agency and awarded the winner of the IAEA Net Zero Challenge for a study on using nuclear energy to decarbonize global shipping.

“I cannot think of a better way to close the first week of COP26 than by talking about the future generations,” Mr Grossi said. “Something that is often overlooked in the climate discussions is that nuclear, apart from being a solution to the problem of global warming, is one of the most interesting in terms of job creation… where there is a bright future, where there are well paid jobs and interesting opportunities.”

In view of this, starting from next year, the IAEA will offer climate internships to young people interested in learning more about and contributing to the Agency’s work to support countries in using nuclear science and technology for both mitigating and adapting to climate change. The internships are part of a stepped-up drive by the IAEA to strengthen its engagement with young people, including by extending more opportunities in the nuclear field for young women through the Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellowship Programme.

Today’s youth event was part of a series of IAEA events at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow intended to highlight the role that nuclear technology plays in combtting climate change. At the IAEA’s main COP26 event on nuclear power yesterday, several panellists noted how people are starting to take a more objective perspective on nuclear power’s contribution to reducing and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.

“I would like to congratulate the young nuclear professionals and the IAEA especially, because when I was walking around COP26, while some people are confused about the role of nuclear power in solving climate change, others are pretty positive,” said Alexander Kormishin of the Rosatom corporate academy.

Nuclear power 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 also 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).

“A net zero world goes hand in hand with a sustainable one, and to reach this objective we need all low carbon sources, including nuclear, to achieve a decarbonized grid that is also inexpensive and reliable to promote economic development and growth,” said Lena Andriolo, President of the International Youth Nuclear Congress.

For the nuclear industry to play its full role in the energy transition to a net zero world, it will need to attract the younger generations, help develop their skills and expertise, and retain them.

“I would call upon all of the nuclear industry to really focus on awareness and education on the benefits that nuclear can have if it’s really to take hold with young people,” said Xan Northcott, a youth climate leader with the UK-based Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, adding that he appreciated the UK education secretary’s earlier comments about what the British government is doing to educate and train future generations for the new green economy.

At the end of the panel discussion, Mr Grossi presented an award to Claire Li, a 20-year-old student from Singapore, who together with Komal Prashar and Linda Zheng won the IAEA Net Zero Challenge, which had called for policy proposals using nuclear energy in the clean energy transition. The contest received a total of 71 submissions that responded to the question: How can nuclear energy, alongside other low carbon energy sources, help your country or region to achieve their net zero targets? An IAEA jury at the 65th IAEA General Conference last September selected the winning proposal.

The hypothetical proposal by Li and her colleagues called for decarbonizing the global shipping industry by using fuel cells powered by hydrogen produced by low-carbon nuclear energy.

“Ultimately, I think my policy was just one of a number of proposals submitted to the IAEA that showed a country even as small as Singapore can make a big impact on climate change and can protect our planet,” said Li.

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