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Nuclear Technology for Climate Change: Scientific Forum Opens

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Nuclear technology has an important role to play in addressing climate change and the IAEA supports countries in using nuclear science for the mitigation, monitoring and adaptation to global warming, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano noted in his statement at the opening of the 2018 Scientific Forum today.

“Climate change is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time,” said Mr Amano’s statement, delivered by Aldo Malavasi, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications. “Nuclear power can help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, while other applications of nuclear science and technology can help countries to monitor the effects of climate change and adapt to them.”

Mr Amano pointed to the need to increase the use of all forms of low-carbon electricity, including nuclear energy, if climate change goals are to be reached by 2050. And this includes nuclear. “It will be difficult for the world to meet the challenges of securing sufficient energy, and to achieve the Paris goal of limiting the average global temperature increase to 2 degrees centigrade, without making more use of nuclear power,” he stated.

Mr Amano also pointed to the importance of nuclear technologies in the adaptation to the consequences of climate change, such as water scarcity, land degradation and an increase in animal diseases and insect pests. “Plant breeding techniques using radiation help countries to develop and grow new varieties of crops such as rice and barley. These produce higher yields and are more resistant to drought and disease, which could become more frequent.”

We must make the notion of nuclear technology for climate accessible and palatable to all. It is our duty to ensure that the wider world is aware of this and the importance of nuclear technology in combating climate change.
Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, President, Royal Scientific Society of Jordan

Opening session

For Jordan, nuclear technology is one of the key and innovative means of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, said Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, President of the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan. “Jordan has embarked on a path to harness both renewable and nuclear technology.”

Policy makers and the international community need to listen to scientists and acknowledge the role of nuclear technology, she said. “The Paris agreement was silent on nuclear technology,” she noted. “It is up to us to make the case for it and communicate it widely. We must make the notion of nuclear technology for climate accessible and palatable to all. It is our duty to ensure that the wider world is aware of this and the importance of nuclear technology in combating climate change.”

Adaptation and mitigation are two distinct responses to climate change that need to be pursued in parallel, emphasized Yeafesh Osman, Bangladesh’s Minister of Science and Technology. Bangladesh, which due to its low elevation and high population density is one of the countries most impacted by climate change is including a role for nuclear technology for both adaptation and mitigation to climate change in its Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. “The development of resilient crop varieties is urgent in order to increase food security,” he said. Irradiation, using nuclear technologies, plays an important role in this endeavour, he added.

Francis Mokoto Hloale, Lesotho’s Minister of Energy and Meteorology, emphasized the importance of climate smart agriculture in adapting to the consequences of climate change. He pointed to the support of the IAEA in soil and water management, livestock husbandry and the mapping of groundwater in helping the country achieve the goals it set out under its climate change strategy, adopted last year.

“Nuclear energy is green energy with almost zero emission,” said Jianfeng Yu, Chairman of the Board of the China National Nuclear Corporation. “Compared with renewables it is more stable and less constrained by meteorological circumstances.”

Nuclear energy is an important part of China’s climate mitigation plans, he said, pointing out that with 13 nuclear power reactors under construction, China accounts for a quarter of all units under construction worldwide. “We have doubled [nuclear] capacity in five years and this has had a major environmental impact.”

Mr Yu called for international experts to work together in innovation, in order to address concerns related to safety, economics and public acceptance of nuclear power. “Only innovation can make nuclear energy more vigorous,” he said.

Innovation, in the form of the largest scientific experiment in the world, is at the heart of the mission of ITER, the international organization working towards making nuclear fusion as a source of electricity a reality. “Fusion is the most abundant source of energy in the universe,” said Bernard Bigot, Director General of the ITER Organization. “Today, as the global community is working to combat climate change, fusion energy is needed more than ever.”

Fusion is inherently safe, generates no radioactive waste, produces no greenhouse gases and the source of fuel is abundant. But lot of challenges remain before this technology can be harnessed, he added, including creating the vessel that can withstand the 150 million degree Celsius temperature required for the fusion reaction to take place.

It is not the science, it is its public perception that keeps nuclear technology from playing a larger role in combating climate change, said Hillary Diane Andales, a student from the Philippines who was the Winner of the 2017 Breakthrough Junior Challenge. The industry and all stakeholders need to focus on communicating in an accessible manner, so the message gets across to the public. “People should assess things according to evidence; and evidence says climate change is a real problem and that nuclear technology can help solve it.”

Scientific Forum programme

Held over two days during the IAEA General Conference, the Scientific Forum this year is showcasing how nuclear technologies are used to address climate change issues in the areas of mitigation, monitoring and adaptation. Senior officials, leading experts and academics will review the contributions of nuclear science and technology to combating climate change.

The live streaming of the Scientific Forum is available via this link. A recording of the opening session is available on Facebook via this link. See a short video and our series of Impact Stories on how the IAEA supports development, including in combating climate change, around the world. Follow and use #Atoms4Climate on Twitter to get updates and join the discussion on the Scientific Forum.

Overview of sessions

Role of nuclear power in limiting CO2 emissions

The first session will highlight the role nuclear power plays in simultaneously reducing GHG emissions and securing sufficient energy generation to drive economic growth.

Monitoring and measuring the change

The second session will focus on the need for accurate and timely data and how nuclear techniques are advancing our understanding of climate change and its impacts.

Adapting to a changing environment

The third session will explore how nuclear techniques can be used to breed more resilient crops, enhance animal productivity, address risks to food safety and fight insect pests and animal diseases.

Concluding session

The closing session will examine how nuclear technologies and techniques can be beneficial to all countries in addressing challenges related to climate mitigation, monitoring and adaptation, as well as how the IAEA can help in raising awareness and assist in their deployment.

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