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Statement to International Conference on Nuclear Power

International Conference on Nuclear Power

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is an exciting time for nuclear power. After several decades when some people doubted if nuclear power had a future, it is enjoying growing acceptance in many countries as a stable and clean source of energy that can help to reduce the impact of climate change. Nuclear power broadens the world´s resource base by putting uranium to productive use. It reduces harmful emissions. It expands electricity supplies and increases the world´s stock of technological and human capital.

It has been 14 years since a new country - Romania - started up its first nuclear power plant. But the number of countries which are considering introducing nuclear energy is growing steadily. There are now around 60 - more than twice the number of countries which already have nuclear power plants. We at the IAEA expect between 10 and 25 new countries to bring their first nuclear power plants on-line by 2030. These are momentous changes.

The centre of expansion is Asia. Major expansions in existing nuclear power programmes are planned in China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and India. Last year, construction started on 12 new reactors throughout the world. Ten of them were in Asia. Of the 61 nuclear reactors now under construction, 39 are in Asia. Of the last 29 reactors to come on line, 23 were in Asia. So it is highly appropriate that this important conference should take place here, in Singapore.

Turning our eyes to the activities of the Agency, demand from Member States for assistance from the IAEA is constantly increasing and we are well placed to help. We now have projects on introducing nuclear power with fifty-eight of our Member States, 17 of whom are actively preparing nuclear power programmes. The Agency provides objective and comparative information and our advice has the advantage of being comprehensive and impartial.

Many of the Member States considering introducing nuclear power are developing countries. I welcome this. I firmly believe that access to nuclear power should not be the sole prerogative of developed countries. It should also be available to developing countries. They have the same right as developed countries to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and the same responsibility to do so safely and securely. Needless to say, all countries have an equal responsibility to work to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Our goal is to help countries which are interested in nuclear power, not to place obstacles in their path. And we can help them at every stage of the process. We provide them with advice on how to put the appropriate legal and regulatory framework in place and how to ensure the highest standards of safety, security and safeguards, as well as with know-how on the construction, commissioning, start-up and operation of nuclear reactors. The end-result, we hope, is that countries will be able to introduce nuclear power knowledgeably, profitably, safely and securely.

I should stress that it is the sovereign decision of each individual country whether or not to add nuclear power to its energy mix. The Agency is there to serve Member States and does not try to influence their decisions in any way. But for Member States that choose nuclear power, our job is to help.

The IAEA brings together countries with advanced nuclear power programmes and newcomers. This sharing of knowledge and experience means newcomers are not condemned to repeat the mistakes of pioneers. They can benefit sooner from the shorter construction times, higher capacity factors, more profitable performance, and higher safety levels of today´s best plants. If they so wish, smaller countries can enjoy great advantage to cooperate regionally on nuclear power projects which might be too expensive for any one of them on its own.

The IAEA provides advice which is tailored to the specific concerns of the country concerned.

I would like to mention in passing one of the potential obstacles to the expansion in nuclear power, which is access to funding. It is unfortunate that some key lending institutions remain unwilling in principle to finance nuclear power projects. Financing for nuclear power should be judged on its merits, and not categorically ruled out.

The IAEA´s resources are, of course, limited and our Member States face financial constraints which are sometimes significant. We therefore try to deploy our resources so as to achieve maximum benefit, which means putting strong emphasis on human resource development. We organized a conference on Human Resource Development for Introducing and Expanding Nuclear Power Programmes in Abu Dhabi in March to address concerns about a possible shortage of skilled nuclear professionals in the coming decades. As I said at that conference, the Agency would be happy to help interested States to formulate country-specific policies on human resource development, education, training and knowledge management in support of nuclear power programmes. We could also help countries make better use of training facilities, research reactors and other educational infrastructure and establish a framework for countries to recognize each other´s educational qualifications.

Improved education and training in the nuclear field will be of benefit both to established users of nuclear power and to newcomers. They are also vital to maintain the pace of innovation in nuclear technology, which is key to the future of the industry. I am proud of the work being done by the Agency to help catalyze innovation, for example through INPRO - the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles. INPRO, which is 10 years old this year, brings together technology holders and users so they can consider together what action is needed to achieve innovation.

I take a keen interest in research and development which will maximise energy efficiency, reduce risks to the environment and ease the burden on future generations of having to deal with nuclear waste. Fast reactor technology, for example, has the potential to ensure that energy resources which would last hundreds of years with the technology we are using today will actually last several thousand years. It would be irresponsible not to develop a promising technology with the potential to extend the life of the world´s uranium reserves to, perhaps, as much as 6,000 years. We cannot predict with any certainty when fast reactors will come into wide use, which will depend to a significant extent on economic factors. But it is important to press ahead with the research and development.

The IAEA is commonly characterized as the world´s nuclear watchdog. That is convenient shorthand for newspaper headline-writers, but it does not do justice to the full range of our work. It should be recognized that nuclear power is an extremely important part of our activities. The IAEA´s statutory objective is "to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world." We are active across the full spectrum of nuclear applications. For example, I am very interested in cancer treatment, but I will leave it for another occasion to talk about these activities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You have a fascinating and comprehensive programme for discussion ahead of you in the next few days. I am confident that this conference will reinforce the dynamism already evident in the nuclear energy sector in Asia. I wish you every success with your deliberations.


Last update: 26 July 2017