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Director General's Remarks at the World Youth Forum

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
Rafael Grossi

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. (Photo: IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be with you here for this World Youth Forum event. It is wonderful to be surrounded by so much youthful energy and enthusiasm.

When I looked through the programme for this week, I was struck by how many of the issues you are discussing are also part of the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency – peace and security, climate change, protecting the environment, sustainable development, food security.

The IAEA, which was set up in Vienna in 1957, contributes to international peace and security by verifying that nuclear material is not being misused to make nuclear weapons. Our nuclear inspectors are on the road 24/7, implementing safeguards in 183 countries.

An equally important part of our mission is to help countries use peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology to improve the lives of their people.

Some applications are well known, such as nuclear power and radiotherapy.  

But many others are not. Did you know that microchips, smartphone batteries and electrical cables are routinely treated with radiation during manufacturing? So are many other industrial products.

Radiation technology also helps to prevent food from spoiling. It can be used to monitor pollution, develop new food crops, identify buildings which may be in danger of collapse after earthquakes, and reveal cracks in the wings of aircraft.

The IAEA is active in improving cancer control in countries which have limited, or no, capacity to provide radiotherapy.

Nuclear is a very cool field. If any of you are still undecided about your future career, I encourage you to consider one of the many branches of nuclear science and technology. The opportunities are huge and you can provide a great service to your countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The subject of this session is Mediterranean Cooperation in the Energy Sector.

Last week, on my first foreign trip since I became IAEA Director General, I was in Madrid for the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP 25.

I explained my firm conviction that nuclear science and technology have an important role to play in helping the world to address the climate emergency. That view is shared by many of the IAEA’s 171 Member States.

Today, around two-thirds of the world’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. By 2050, if climate change goals are to be met, 80% or more of our electricity will need to be low-carbon.

Making that transition will be a huge challenge.

Nuclear power now provides about 10% of the world’s electricity. But it contributes one third of all low-carbon electricity.

Nuclear power plants produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants during their operation. Emissions over their entire life cycle are very low.

Renewables such as wind and solar power are growing in importance. But these are intermittent energy sources which cannot meet countries’ needs on their own. That means more use of nuclear power will be needed.

We should not see nuclear energy and renewables as being in competition with one another. In order to achieve climate change goals and ensure sufficient energy for the future, we need to make use of all available sources of clean energy.

Nuclear power offers a steady, reliable supply of electricity. It can be the key that unlocks the potential of renewables by providing flexible support—day or night, rain or shine.

Nuclear power is already reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about two gigatonnes per year. That is the equivalent of taking more than 400 million cars off the road – every year.

Thirty countries are using nuclear power today. If any major users were to stop using nuclear power overnight, this would have very serious consequences for CO2 emissions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA is the centre for global cooperation in the nuclear field. It is up to each individual country to decide whether or not to use nuclear power. If they decide to do so, our job is to help them to use nuclear power safely and securely.

We establish global nuclear safety standards and security guidance. We provide extensive practical assistance. Expert IAEA peer review missions help countries to assess the safety of their nuclear facilities.

Here in the Mediterranean region, the Agency is working with a number of countries which are considering introducing nuclear power.

Our host country Egypt, for example, plans to build four pressurized water reactors at the El-Dabaa site on the Mediterranean coast.

The Agency has worked closely with Egypt for many years. An international IAEA expert team ended an 11-day mission to this country last month to advise on infrastructure issues.

Other Mediterranean countries considering the construction of their first nuclear power plants include Tunisia and Turkey.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you may know, climate change is already causing significant damage to coastal and urban infrastructure in a number of countries.

It threatens the livelihoods of farmers and entire communities, compromising food security and access to water, threatening harvests and enabling the spread of insect pests and disease.  

The IAEA helps countries to use nuclear science to help address these challenges.

For example, nuclear techniques help farmers to produce more food. IAEA scientists have helped to develop new varieties of rice and barley that are tolerant of drought, extreme temperatures and salinity. These conditions are being exacerbated by climate change.

Ensuring adequate supplies of water is a growing challenge for many countries. A major IAEA project in the Sahel region of Africa has helped 13 countries to find, assess and map sources of groundwater, using nuclear techniques such as isotope hydrology. This is part of our efforts to contribute to lasting socioeconomic development.

Our specialist laboratories in Monaco and near Vienna help countries to obtain reliable environmental data and devise accurate models to help predict future conditions.

We have run international studies to help understanding of the effects of climate change on polar and mountainous regions. We support the analysis of scientific climate data in a way that is meaningful for policy-makers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope I have succeeded in awakening your interest in the remarkable field of nuclear science and technology and the exciting work of the IAEA.

Our mission is to contribute to the well-being and prosperity of all humankind.

I wish you an enjoyable and fruitful stay in Sharm el Sheikh and every success in your future careers.

Thank you.

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