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More Newcomers Eye Nuclear Power as UAE, Belarus Set to Start Operating First Nuclear Power Plants


Belarus' first nuclear power plant (pictured) is expected to start operating in the coming months. (Photo: Rosatom)

With Belarus and the United Arab Emirates preparing to operate their first nuclear power plants and two other countries building their first reactors, 2020 is set to be a significant year for so-called newcomer countries looking to add this reliable source of low carbon electricity to their energy mix. This week in Vienna, the IAEA is helping to show the way forward at its annual Technical Meeting on Topical Issues in the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure.

First organized in 2006, the yearly gathering is the IAEA’s main forum for countries to share good practices and lessons learned in establishing the infrastructure required for a safe and successful nuclear power programme. Some 100 participants from 41 Member States and several international organizations are attending this year’s edition at the IAEA’s headquarters.

“We open this year with new momentum in the Agency’s work on nuclear power,” said Dohee Hahn, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Power. “Nuclear power can both drive economic growth and help address climate change.”

The key place of nuclear power in the clean energy transition was emphasized at the IAEA’s recent International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power and by IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at the UN Climate Change Summit last month.

Currently, 28 countries are considering, have started planning or are well advanced in introducing nuclear power. Among its benefits, several newcomers cite nuclear power’s low emissions and its steady stream of round-the-clock, or baseload, electricity that can fill output gaps from variable renewables such as solar or wind.

Ghana, which is considering nuclear power, is one such country. “Energy is the blood that runs the development of every country—they all need energy,” Kwaku Aning, Chairman of the Governing Board of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, told the IAEA in a recent interview. “Instead of using fossil (fuels) or any other source, especially for baseload, nuclear is a choice—and a very important choice.”

Belarus and the United Arab Emirates are expected to start operating their first reactors in the coming months. Belarus’ first plant comprises two 1194 megawatt-electric units of the Russian VVER technology, providing around one third of the country’s electricity needs. The UAE, seeking a reliable low carbon source to meeting increasing energy demand, has engaged Korea Electric Power Company to construct and commission four 1400 MW(e) pressurized water reactors, which will supply up to 25% of the country’s electricity.

Bangladesh and Turkey, meanwhile, have started construction on their first reactors, and Egypt is well advanced in developing the related infrastructure and implementing its programme. Several other countries have taken the decision to add nuclear power to their energy mix and are preparing the necessary infrastructure. The IAEA provides integrated support to all countries in their efforts to establish or expand a safe, secure and sustainable nuclear power programme.

This week’s meeting will feature updates on new and expanding nuclear power programmes and discuss the roles and responsibilities of key national organizations, including in developing human resources and implementing management systems. Financing and contracting for new nuclear power plants as well as infrastructure development for small, medium sized or modular reactors (SMRs) are on the agenda.

The meeting will also hear about the IAEA’s comprehensive set of services for countries embarking on, and expanding, nuclear power programmes, including the Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) and integrated nuclear infrastructure training activities. Four INIR missions are planned for 2020, including one next month in Belarus before its first reactor starts operating.

“Based on the IAEA Milestones Approach, INIR missions help nuclear newcomer countries assess the status of their nuclear infrastructure and identify gaps that require further attention through national action plans,” said Milko Kovachev, Head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section.

Participants will also hear about a major interregional technical cooperation project, held from 2016–2019, through which the IAEA delivered 78 training events for around 1250 participants from 50 countries. France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and the United States provided financial and in-kind support, while other countries hosted training courses, workshops, seminars and scientific visits. A follow-up project has already started.

“We have been working with the IAEA since the very beginning of the idea of the introduction of nuclear power,” Pawel Pytlarczyk of the Department of Nuclear Energy at Poland’s Ministry of Energy, told the IAEA in a recent interview. Nuclear power “will boost our energy security” and “will limit dramatically the negative impact of the energy sector on the environment by limiting greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

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