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Net Zero “Needs Nuclear Power,” IAEA Says in Landmark Statement Backed by Dozens of Countries at COP28

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Director General Rafael Mariano Gossi delivered the IAEA Statement on Nuclear Power at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, 1 December 2023. (Photo: D Calma/IAEA)

The world needs nuclear power to fight climate change and action should be taken to expand the use of this clean energy source and help build “a low carbon bridge” to the future, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a landmark statement supported by dozens of countries at COP28 today.

Announced by Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at a high-profile event of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, it was the first time such an IAEA statement was issued, its broad international backing underlining increased global interest in nuclear power to tackle the existential challenge of a rapidly warming planet.

The statement is a further indication of a new momentum for nuclear power as a source of reliable low carbon energy, needed also to meet growing electricity demand and achieve sustainable economic development.

“The IAEA and its Member States that are nuclear energy producers and those working with the IAEA to promote the benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear energy acknowledge that all available low emission technologies should be recognized and actively supported,” the statement read by Director General Grossi said.

“Net zero needs nuclear power,” it said. “Nuclear power emits no greenhouse gasses when it is produced and contributes to energy security and the stability of the power grid, while facilitating the broader uptake of solar and wind power.”

Today, 412 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries make up more than 370 gigawatts of installed capacity, providing almost 10 per cent of the world’s total electricity and a quarter of its low-carbon supply. Several countries – including Bangladesh, Egypt and Türkiye – are building their first nuclear power plants, while many others have also decided to introduce nuclear energy. In addition, existing nuclear power countries, including China, France, India and Sweden to name a few, are planning to expand their nuclear programmes.

“Studies confirm that the goal of global net zero carbon emissions can only be reached by 2050 with swift, sustained and significant investment in nuclear energy,” the statement said.

It underlined the importance of innovations in the nuclear sector such as small modular reactors that aim to make nuclear power easier to build, more flexible to deploy and more affordable. In addition, "continuous plant life management and refurbishment ensure the ongoing safety and reliability of our existing fleet, allowing it to provide decarbonized energy to the electric grid and other sectors,” the statement said.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, nuclear power has avoided the release of some 30 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases. It can also contribute to addressing climate change in areas apart from generating electricity, notably in helping to decarbonize district heating, desalination, industry processes and hydrogen production, the statement highlighted.

“Resilient and robust nuclear power has the potential to play a wider role in the quest towards net zero carbon emissions, while ensuring the highest level of nuclear safety and security,” it said.

Director General Grossi said that “achieving a fair and enabling investment environment for new nuclear projects remains an uphill battle. We are not at a level playing field, yet, when it comes to financing nuclear projects.”

“Analysts widely agree that nuclear power capacity will need to more than double by 2050 for current climate goals to be reached. We will need even more capacity to go beyond the electricity grid and decarbonize transport and industry,” he told the IAEA Board of Governors last month.

In a further step to enhance the prominence of nuclear power, leaders from around the world will gather in Brussels in March next year for the first-ever Nuclear Energy Summit, hosted jointly by the IAEA and Belgium.

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