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UAE and Belarus Introduced Nuclear Power Last Year. Who is Next?

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Construction site of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Turkey’s Mersin province. 9 March 2021. (Photo: Anadolu Agency)

With nuclear energy increasingly recognized as vital to supporting sustainable development and climate change mitigation, nations from Africa to Asia are eyeing its use. The IAEA is providing them with comprehensive support as they consider adding nuclear power to their energy mix.

After a landmark year in which Belarus and the United Arab Emirates began using nuclear power for the first time after a decade of working with the IAEA, the Agency is kicking off a new slate of activities to support so-called nuclear newcomers. Earlier this month almost 100 participants from some 30 newcomer countries gathered online for the IAEA’s main annual meeting on nuclear power infrastructure development.

“Sri Lanka is looking to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel imports and drive sustainable development—and nuclear power is an intriguing option,” said Malinda Ranaweera, a Scientific Officer on Sri Lanka’s Atomic Energy Board who took part in the weeklong Technical Meeting on Topical Issues in the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure.

Access to affordable, reliable and clean energy is crucial for achieving sustainable development goals, from eradicating poverty to advancing health and education, facilitating industrial development and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power can help provide the energy to achieve high living standards, good health, a clean environment and a sustainable economy. Some 30 countries are working with the IAEA as they consider or embark on nuclear power including Bangladesh and Turkey, which are building their first reactors.

“Since the first such meeting in 2006, scores of experts from embarking, expanding and operating countries have updated us annually on the state of their nuclear power programmes, sharing good practices and lessons learned,” said Mikhail Chudakov, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy in opening remarks to the meeting. “The fact that we now have about 100 participants connecting from different parts of the world speaks to the importance of the topic.”

The IAEA’s work with newcomers looks set to intensify next month when it is scheduled to conduct an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission to Uzbekistan, the first of four INIR missions planned for 2021. The others are to Sri Lanka, Kenya and Uganda—developing countries all exploring nuclear energy for sustainable development. (Decisions on whether the missions will proceed amid the global pandemic are pending.)

Conducted upon request, INIR missions are holistic peer reviews that assess the status of national infrastructure for the introduction of nuclear power. They provide a chance for countries to engage with international experts about experiences and best practices, and to update their national plans in response to recommendations and suggestions. Belarus and the UAE both used INIR missions for each phase of their programme as well as many other IAEA services such as nuclear safety peer reviews and advisory services on their road to successfully developing a nuclear power programme.

Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country of 33 million people and a top global uranium supplier, is looking to nuclear power to enhance energy efficiency and boost generating capacity, including with low carbon sources. Negotiations with Russia’s Rosatom to construct a nuclear power plant are well underway, with an eye to deploying two units by 2029.

“The pre-INIR mission allowed in-depth discussions with international experts on experiences and best practices in nuclear power infrastructure development,” said Aleksandra Khidirnazarova of Uzbekistan’s Agency for the Development of Nuclear Energy. “The recommendations and proposals of the INIR team made it possible to update the national action plan and ensure increased safety, reliability and sustainability of the national nuclear power program.”

Besides INIR missions and other IAEA peer review services, the IAEA’s tailored support to newcomers includestechnical advice, publications, trainings, webinars and the formulation of an Integrated Work Plan (IWP), which is the strategic framework for planning the IAEA’s integrated assistance for a country’s nuclear infrastructure development. The Agency’s assistance is based on the Milestones Approach, a three-phased method that covers 19 infrastructure issues such as the legal and regulatory framework, safeguards, human resources development, procurement and financing and radioactive waste management.

Kenya, which relies mainly on hydro and fossil fuels for electricity, aims to add nuclear power to sustainably address increasing demand for electricity, which it estimates will grow by 7% annually through 2030. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which are well suited for Kenya’s relatively limited grid capacity, are under consideration as a cost-effective complement to Kenya’s growing base of renewable energy sources.

In Sri Lanka the government is looking at nuclear power to provide about 11% of the country’s electricity after 2030. The IAEA has conducted 11 national and regional workshops on nuclear infrastructure issues in Sri Lanka.

“To achieve an operational nuclear power plant by 2030, Sri Lanka must address several infrastructure areas including human resource development and energy policy, and IAEA support will be crucial to our efforts,” said Ranaweera of the Atomic Energy Board.

Uganda is also considering nuclear power as part of plans to increase electricity generating capacity to meet rising demand. The country has identified five potential sites and signed agreements on nuclear energy with Russia and China.

Jordan, a Middle Eastern country of 10 million people, is considering nuclear power to increase its energy security and address its water scarcity via nuclear desalination.

“Jordan has spent years developing the infrastructure necessary to implement a nuclear power programme, including the preparation of our Bid Invitation Specification (BIS) documents where programme requirements and project needs are described,” said Shirin Altaher of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC). “JAEC’s technical and economic experts have referred to IAEA publications and guidelines during the BIS preparation, which has also been supported by an IAEA expert review of the working documents.”

Jordan is currently assessing various nuclear power technologies. The country plans to commission an SMR plant after 2030 and a large nuclear power plant thereafter, according to the IAEA’s Nuclear Technology Review.

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