• English
  • العربية
  • 中文
  • Français
  • Русский
  • Español

You are here

Statement at the International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power

Vienna, Austria

(As prepared for delivery)

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to welcome you all to this IAEA International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power.

I thank the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for its cooperation in organising this important event.

It is gratifying to see high-level participants from IAEA Member States and from many partner organisations here today.

I believe this reflects international recognition of the gravity and scale of the climate emergency – as reflected in last month’s UN Climate Action Summit – and a growing appreciation of the contribution that nuclear science and technology can make in addressing it.

Like all technologies, nuclear power brings benefits and risks. Nuclear power has a good overall safety record  However, nuclear power is not always judged purely on the basis of scientific facts.

It is my hope that this Conference will contribute to an informed consideration of nuclear power on the basis of facts and, possibly, help to dispel some misconceptions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

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

Making that transition will be a major challenge.

At present, nuclear power provides 10% of the world’s electricity. But it accounts for one-third of all low-carbon electricity generated today. That fact deserves to be better known.

The world will need to harness all low-carbon sources of energy in order to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Use of renewables such as wind and solar power will continue to grow.

However, nuclear power provides the steady and reliable stream of electricity needed to run and grow an advanced economy, and to enable developing countries to boost economic output and raise living standards.

Together with hydropower, nuclear is the only low-carbon source of energy that can replace fossil fuels for 24/7 baseload power.

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

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 some countries, nuclear power has been successfully integrated with other low-carbon energy sources and serves as a flexible baseload back-up to intermittent renewable sources.

It is difficult to see how the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved without a significant increase in the use of nuclear power in the coming decades.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A number of countries are considering introducing nuclear power, or expanding existing nuclear programmes, as part of their efforts to achieve sustainable development.

The IAEA does not attempt to influence countries’ decisions either for or against nuclear power.

We help countries to make informed decisions by providing solid scientific data and analysis and offering planning tools. If countries opt for nuclear power, our role is to help them use it safely, securely and sustainably.

Some countries have successfully extended the operating lifetime of existing power plants to 60 years and see potential to extend it to as long as 80 years. The IAEA helps countries to share experience in this area.

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

This is a national responsibility, as is the need to ensure that nuclear and other radioactive material is properly secured so that it does not fall into the hands of terrorists and other criminals.

However, effective international cooperation in these areas is vital. The IAEA provides the global platform for cooperation in nuclear safety and security.

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

The IAEA Milestones Approach helps countries that are considering or planning their first nuclear power plant to understand, and prepare for, the commitments and obligations associated with nuclear power.

We also work to ensure that growing use of nuclear power does not lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons by implementing safeguards in 183 countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I believe that technological advances in the coming years will further improve the economic attractiveness and cost-effectiveness of nuclear power.

Advanced reactor designs with innovative safety features could play a key role in the accelerated replacement and expansion of the global nuclear fleet.

Small modular reactors could make nuclear power feasible for the first time on smaller grids and in remote settings, as well as for non-electrical applications.

Advances being made in several countries concerning the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste may help to alleviate public concerns about the long-term sustainability of nuclear power.  

I expect that we will learn more about some of the remarkable technological innovations in the pipeline during the next few days.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In more and more parts of the world, climate change is already causing significant damage to the coastal and urban infrastructure, and to fragile eco- and agricultural systems.

This poses a threat to 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.  

Through our technical cooperation programme, the IAEA makes available non-power applications of nuclear science and technology to help countries address such problems.

For example, our scientists help to develop new varieties of food crops such as rice and barley that are tolerant of drought, and other conditions such as extreme temperatures and salinity, which are being exacerbated by climate change. We help countries and regions to use nuclear techniques to identify and manage limited water resources.

With specialist laboratories in Monaco and near Vienna, the IAEA helps countries to obtain reliable environmental data and devise accurate models to help predict future conditions. We launched 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 that this Conference will help to build public understanding of the advantages of nuclear power in addressing the climate crisis, one of the greatest challenges of our time.

The IAEA is committed to assisting our 171 Member States in making optimal use of nuclear science and technology in order to improve the well-being and prosperity of their people.

Let me conclude by thanking you all once again for your presence here today. I wish you a very successful Conference,

Thank you.

Stay in touch