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Director General's Statement at World Nuclear Exhibition

Paris, France
Yukiya Amano

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano delivering his statement at the 2018 World Nuclear Exhibition, which is taking place 26-28 June in Paris, France. (Photo: S. Gas/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to speak at the opening of the 2018 World Nuclear Exhibition. This is a very important event in the nuclear calendar. I look forward to having a tour of the exhibition later this morning.

I visit 20 or more countries every year, many of them in the developing world. I have been struck by the growing level of interest I find at the highest levels of government in using nuclear science and technology ­– including nuclear power – for development.

In fact, the IAEA helps countries to use nuclear science and technology to meet at least nine of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals directly, including those aimed at ending hunger, improving human health, increasing the availability of clean water, and, of course, energy.

Energy is indispensable for development. Huge increases in energy supply will be required in the coming decades to support economic growth and lift more than two billion people in developing countries out of energy poverty.

Nuclear power can help to address the twin challenges of ensuring reliable energy supplies and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Today, nuclear power produces 11 percent of the world’s electricity. But when it comes to low-carbon electricity, nuclear generates almost one third of the global total.

As this audience knows very well, nuclear power plants produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants during their operation, and very low emissions over their entire life cycle.

The use of nuclear power reduces 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.

In my opinion, it will be difficult for the world to meet the challenges of securing sufficient energy, and of limiting the average global temperature increase to 2 degrees centigrade, without making more use of nuclear power.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Some 70% of the world’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, according to our friends at the International Energy Agency, based here in Paris. By 2050, if climate change goals are to be met, around 80% of electricity will need to be low-carbon.

It is clear that renewables such as wind and solar power will play an increasingly important role in the future. However, these are intermittent energy sources which cannot meet countries’ needs on their own. That means more use of nuclear power will be needed.

There are now 451 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries. Another 58 reactors are under construction, mostly in Asia.

The United Arab Emirates is at an advanced stage with construction of the first of four power reactors. Belarus expects to commission its first two reactors in 2019 and 2020. Construction work began recently at sites in Turkey and Bangladesh.

Global installed nuclear capacity is now the highest that it has ever been at 394 gigawatts electrical. Twenty-seven new reactors have been connected to the grid since 2015.

The lifetimes of some existing plants are being extended beyond their current licensing period by introducing measures such as safety upgrades to meet today’s regulatory requirements. The IAEA helps countries to share experience in this area.

 However, 14 power reactors have been shut down in the last three years and some countries have decided to phase out nuclear power completely. Global nuclear electricity production remains below 2010 levels.

Clearly, the pace of construction of new nuclear power plants will need to be stepped up if the world’s future energy needs, as well as climate change goals, are to be met. It is difficult to see other low-carbon energy sources growing sufficiently to take up the slack if nuclear power use fails to grow.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am hopeful that continuous improvement in reactor designs in the coming years will improve the economic attractiveness and cost effectiveness of nuclear power, and help to alleviate public concerns about issues such as safety and waste disposal.

In recent years, advanced water-cooled reactors with innovative safety features, from several technology providers, have been commissioned, or have reached the final stages of construction. This new generation of reactors could play a key role in the accelerated replacement and expansion of the global nuclear fleet.

Several small modular reactors are also ready for near-term deployment. These could make nuclear power feasible for the first time on smaller grids and in remote settings, as well as for non-electrical applications.

We are seeing other interesting developments. First, the centre of expansion in nuclear power has shifted from Europe and North America to Asia. Second, as I indicated briefly, developing countries are embarking on nuclear power.

This should not really come as a surprise. Populous countries such as China and India need huge amounts of electricity and also want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries, especially in Africa, desperately need electricity if they are to achieve sustainable development.

Another very important development is the increased emphasis on the safety of nuclear power plants.

After the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011, the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety made a valuable contribution to improving safety globally. Countries with nuclear power plants reassessed all aspects of safety and made improvements, where necessary. IAEA safety standards were revised.

The construction costs of nuclear power plants increased after the accident as more attention was paid to incorporating the most up-to-date safety features.

The high cost of nuclear power plants has long been cited as an obstacle to future development. Nuclear power plants are indeed expensive to build, but once they are up and running, they are relatively inexpensive to operate throughout a life cycle of many decades.

It is essential that the most robust levels of nuclear safety, consistent with IAEA safety standards, are in place at every nuclear power plant in the world.

In many countries, public acceptance remains the most important issue to be addressed when it comes to nuclear power. Enhanced safety helps to increase public confidence in nuclear power, which was deeply shaken by the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

It is also vitally important that nuclear and other radioactive material is properly secured so that it does not fall into the hands of terrorists and other criminals.

Nuclear safety and security are national responsibilities that cannot be outsourced. However, effective international cooperation is also essential. The IAEA plays a key role in enabling nuclear professionals, as well as government officials and regulators, from all countries to share experiences and best practices.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the reasons for public concern about nuclear power is the problem of nuclear waste.

Despite some perceptions to the contrary, the nuclear industry has been managing waste disposal successfully for more than half a century. Dozens of facilities for low-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste are in operation throughout the world.

As far as the long-term management of high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel is concerned, good progress has been made in recent years, here in France, as well as in Finland and Sweden. The first deep geological repository for spent nuclear fuel is likely to become operational in Finland early in the next decade. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me say a few words about the role of the IAEA in relation to nuclear power.

It is up to each individual country to decide whether or not to include nuclear power in its energy mix. The IAEA does not attempt to influence those decisions. Our job is to help countries that wish to use nuclear power to do so safely, securely and sustainably.

We establish global nuclear safety standards and security guidance. We provide detailed practical assistance in many areas, from energy planning to site selection, legal and regulatory matters and technical training, all the way through to plant decommissioning.

We support research and innovation. We provide technical training and expert review missions on issues such as the safety of operating reactors and the robustness of a country’s regulatory system.

We also work to ensure that the expansion of nuclear power does not lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons by implementing safeguards in 181 countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude by stating that the IAEA is committed to helping our 170 Member States across the globe to make safe and effective use of peaceful nuclear technology – including nuclear power – to improve the well-being and prosperity of their people.

Thank you.

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