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IAEA Conference Says More Nuclear Power Needed to Meet Global Goals on Climate Change

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Panellists at the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, with the conference president, Ambassador Hamad Alkaabi of the UAE, second from right. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Nuclear power remains an important option for many countries to strengthen energy security and mitigate the effects of global warming and air pollution, but substantial growth in its use is needed for the world to meet its climate goals, according to an IAEA international conference that concluded in the United Arab Emirates today.

The some 700 participants from 67 IAEA Member States and five international organizations who attended the event in Abu Dhabi this week enjoyed a wide convergence of views, Ambassador Hamad Alkaabi, president of the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, said in his concluding statement.

“While respecting the right of each State to define its national energy policy, the Conference recognized that nuclear power remains an important option for many countries to improve energy security, reduce the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices and mitigate the effects of climate change and air pollution, including by backing up intermittent energy sources,” Alkaabi, the UAE’s Permanent Representative to the IAEA in Vienna, said at the conference’s closing session, attended by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.

The three-day conference provided a forum for high-level dialogue on the role of nuclear power in the coming decades. Nuclear power emits virtually no greenhouse gases during operation. It produces 11 percent of the world’s electricity, which amounts to one-third of all electricity generated from low-carbon sources. Participants noted that some 6.5 million deaths a year are linked to air pollution, with that number set to increase significantly in the coming decades in the absence of greater action to curb emissions and expand access to low-carbon energy.

To meet targets set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change, “substantial growth in nuclear electricity generation by 2050 will be required,” Alkaabi said, citing the International Energy Agency.

While nuclear power will play a key role for many countries in achieving the Sustainable Development goals and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, “nuclear is not currently attracting the necessary global investment” to limit the average global temperature increase to 2° C as required by the Paris Agreement, he said. “In addition, a number of plants are being shut down in some countries before the end of their safe operational lifetimes for both political and economic reasons.”

The conference was the fourth such ministerial event following previous gatherings in Paris in 2005, Beijing in 2009 and St. Petersburg in 2013. Organized in cooperation with the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the conference was hosted by the UAE Government through the Ministry of Energy and the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation.

Ministers and senior officials from IAEA Member States engaged in discussions on issues including their countries’ energy strategy and vision for the role of nuclear power and challenges to its introduction, continued operation and expansion. In addition, four panel sessions with selected speakers from diverse backgrounds discussed nuclear power and sustainable development; challenges to nuclear-power infrastructure development; nuclear safety and reliability; and innovations and advanced nuclear technologies.

Alkaabi said participants widely agreed on other key areas, including the need to create an enabling environment to facilitate the introduction of nuclear power and ensure its safety and sustainability; that nuclear power is a safe, reliable and clean energy option; and that “innovations in technology design—including reactor size—as well as in investment and ownership models could facilitate the introduction of nuclear power in more countries.”

Small modular reactors currently under development “may allow for expanded use of nuclear power—including on smaller grids and in remote settings, as well as for non-electrical applications—and improve access to nuclear energy,” the ambassador said.

The conference repeatedly highlighted the importance of public confidence for the future of nuclear power. “Open and transparent decision making involving all stakeholders can improve the public perception of nuclear power and lead to broader public acceptance,” Alkaabi said.

In conclusion, participants recognized the IAEA’s leading role in promoting peaceful uses of nuclear energy and supporting efforts to strengthen global nuclear safety, nuclear security and safeguards.

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