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IAEA Director General Statement on the Future of Nuclear Power and the Role of the IAEA

Astana, Kazakhstan
Yukiya Amano

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to speak to you today. I compliment the Government of Kazakhstan for organising this important EXPO event on the very timely subject of the future of energy.

Kazakhstan is a key partner for the International Atomic Energy Agency and works closely with us in many areas of our work.

I am especially grateful to President Nazarbayev for agreeing to host an IAEA Bank of low enriched uranium – LEU – and I look forward to the inauguration of the IAEA LEU Bank Storage Facility tomorrow.

The LEU Bank will serve as a last-resort mechanism to provide confidence to countries that they will be able to obtain LEU for the manufacture of fuel for nuclear power plants in the event of an unforeseen, non-commercial disruption to their supplies.

Kazakhstan has also made a very important contribution to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Our very broad mandate – Atoms for Peace and Development – covers all aspects of peaceful nuclear science and technology.

We work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to help developing countries use nuclear techniques to fight cancer, grow and export more food, manage their water supplies, combat insect pests, protect the environment – and in many other areas.

Energy is the engine of development and prosperity. All countries – both developed and developing – need to secure sufficient energy to drive economic growth, while working to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Nuclear power helps to address both of these challenges. It is one of the lowest-carbon technologies for generating electricity. 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.

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.

There are now 447 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries. Another 58 reactors are under construction, mostly in Asia.

Around 30 countries are interested in introducing nuclear power. The United Arab Emirates is expected to commission its first nuclear reactor in 2018, with three other units to follow by 2020. Belarus will commission its first two reactors in 2019 and 2020.

I understand that the Government of Kazakhstan expects to make a decision in the next few years on whether or not to introduce nuclear power. The IAEA has worked closely with Kazakhstan as it considers its options, providing expert advice and assistance.

We do not try to influence any country’s decision on whether or not to add nuclear power to its energy mix. But if countries decide to proceed, we provide assistance and information so they can use nuclear power safely, securely and sustainably.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Remarkable research is being done on new generations of nuclear reactors which will be safer and more efficient and will generate less waste.

Advanced water cooled reactors, for example, have been developed in seven countries and more than 30 are under construction. These new designs are expected to enhance safety and reliability and improve the economic competitiveness of nuclear power.

Significant advances have also been made in the design and development of small and medium sized or modular reactors, known as SMRs. These use pre-fabricated systems and components and offer flexible power generation for a wide range of users and applications. They can be deployed at locations that are not suitable for large nuclear power plants. Around 50 SMR concepts are at various stages of research and development. SMRs are expected to begin commercial operation in Argentina, China and the Russian Federation between 2018 and 2020.

Fast reactors have the potential to ensure that energy resources which would run out in a few hundred years, using today’s technology, will actually last several thousand years. Fast reactors also reduce the volume and toxicity of the final waste.

High temperature gas-cooled reactors are much safer than previous generations of reactors and offer non-electric applications for petrochemical refineries and other industrial applications. These could have a significant impact on the reduction of carbon dioxide.

The IAEA actively encourages innovation. Our International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles – INPRO – focuses on innovation in areas such as waste management, proliferation resistance, physical protection and safety.

The Agency played the role of godparent to a project known as ITER, which is building the world's largest experimental nuclear fusion reactor at Cadarache in the south of France.

Nuclear fusion holds the promise of an inexhaustible, clean and safe source of energy. However, controlling thermonuclear fusion for energy production is a complex and challenging undertaking and it has not yet been mastered.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Public confidence in the safety of nuclear power was deeply shaken by the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011. In many countries that are considering nuclear power, public acceptance remains the main hurdle to be overcome.

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.

The post-Fukushima IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety made a valuable contribution to improving safety globally. Countries with nuclear power reassessed all aspects of safety and made improvements, where necessary. The need to maintain a robust safety culture is now universally recognised.

Every country that uses nuclear technology has a responsibility to create a robust framework for safety and security. This is a national responsibility that cannot be outsourced.

However, effective international cooperation is also essential. The IAEA has a vital role to play in enabling countries to share experiences and best practices. An IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century – the latest in a series - will take place in Abu Dhabi in October and November.

I am confident that the lasting legacy of the Fukushima Daiichi accident will be a significant improvement in safety at nuclear power plants everywhere.

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. This is primarily a national responsibility, but the IAEA provides extensive practical support to help countries strengthen nuclear security. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A key reason 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, especially in Finland, Sweden and France.

Construction of the first deep geological repository for spent nuclear fuel – in Finland – began last year. It is likely to become operational early in the next decade.  

The high cost of building a nuclear power plant is seen by some 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. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In order to meet the world’s growing energy needs in future, we will need to make optimal use of all the sources of energy available.

It is clear that renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power will play an increasingly important role. Technology is progressing rapidly in these areas, as well as in nuclear.

However, more use of nuclear power will be needed to provide the steady supply of baseload electricity to power modern economies if countries wish to meet the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions which they have set for themselves.

The IAEA accompanies both experienced users and newcomers at every stage of their nuclear journey.

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 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,

I am confident that nuclear power will make a growing contribution to sustainable development in the coming decades.

The IAEA is committed to helping its Member States to use nuclear science and technology to generate low-carbon electricity for development, and to counter the effects of climate change.

Thank you.




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Last update: 16 Feb 2018


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