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Statement to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
St. Petersburg International Economic Forum

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. (Photo: IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to have signed the Agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Russian Federation regarding the transit of low enriched uranium to the new IAEA LEU Bank, which is being established in Kazakhstan.

Under the Agreement, Russia will ensure safe and secure transit of IAEA LEU, and equipment, through its territory to and from the LEU Bank.

The LEU Bank is one of a number of assurance of supply mechanisms intended to give countries confidence that they will be able to obtain fuel for their nuclear reactors if there is some unforeseen non-commercial disruption to existing fuel supply arrangements.

I am very grateful to the Russian Federation for its strong support for the IAEA LEU Bank. I also appreciate the speedy manner in which the Transit Agreement was negotiated.

Thank you again, Mr Kiriyenko.

It is just over five years since you and I signed another important agreement establishing the world’s first LEU reserve at the International Uranium Enrichment Centre in the Russian city of Angarsk.

That reserve, which contains 120 tonnes of LEU, is fully funded by the Russian Federation. It serves as a back-up supply to IAEA Member States which face non-commercial disruptions to their supplies of nuclear reactor fuel. 

I look forward to visiting Angarsk on Saturday.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The last time I had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful city was two years ago, when Russia hosted the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century.

I stated my belief that we could look forward with confidence to the future of nuclear power, although the Fukushima Daiichi accident was still fresh in our minds at that time.

That remains my view today.

The main reason is the clear evidence that many countries continue to see an important role for nuclear power as part of their energy mix. They believe that nuclear power can help to improve energy security, mitigate the effects of climate change, and make their economies more competitive.

There are now 438 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries. Another 67 plants are under construction. IAEA projections indicate that the use of nuclear power throughout the world will continue to grow in the coming decades.

Most of the growth looks likely to be in Asia, where existing nuclear power users such as China and India have major expansion plans. But we are also seeing countries in other regions build their first plants.

The United Arab Emirates has three nuclear power reactors under construction, the first of which is expected to be operational by 2017. Belarus is building two units.

A number of other countries are at an advanced stage of nuclear power development.

Another reason for my confidence about the future of nuclear power is the significant strengthening that we have seen in nuclear safety throughout the world since the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

I have seen improvements in safety features in every nuclear power plant that I have visited since the accident. Safety is attracting attention at the highest levels of government and the idea that “Safety Comes First” is unchallenged.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Technological innovation is a third reason for optimism.

I believe that technological developments already in the pipeline will make nuclear power even safer, and more efficient, in future.

Fast reactors and closed fuel cycles, for example, have the potential to ensure that energy resources which would last hundreds of years with the technology we are using today will actually last many thousands of years.

Small and medium-sized reactors are another fascinating area of development.

Around 45 innovative small and medium-sized reactor concepts are at various stages of research and development and several countries are already building such reactors, including Russia.

I am proud of the work being done by the IAEA to help bring about innovation, for example through INPRO – the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles. Russia is a very active member of INPRO.

Finally, I must mention nuclear fusion, which holds the promise of an inexhaustible, clean and safe source of energy – one of the dreams of humankind.

The IAEA acted as 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.

The challenge is huge. But I have faith in the ingenuity of human beings, and the ability of brilliant scientists and engineers to overcome even the most daunting technological hurdles.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Global demand for energy is growing steadily as the world population increases. In order to meet that demand, we must make the best use of all the sources of energy at our disposal, in a clean, efficient and sustainable way.

Clearly, fossil fuels will play a central role for many decades to come. But we know they will not last for ever. Many countries are investing heavily in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar – not just as alternative sources of power, but also because of concern about climate change. It is clear that renewables will grow in importance in the coming decades.

Climate change considerations are also important for many countries that are thinking about the introduction of nuclear power.

In the last 50 years, the use of nuclear power has undoubtedly led to a substantial reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases that would otherwise have been emitted.

Unlike renewables, nuclear can also deliver the steady supply of baseload electricity needed to power a modern economy.

Waste disposal is often cited as one of the major problems facing nuclear power. In fact, the nuclear industry has been managing waste disposal 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 management of high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel is concerned, good progress has been made in recent years on disposal, especially in Finland, Sweden and France. I have had an opportunity to visit the ONKALO deep geological repository in Finland, and Sweden’s Hard Rock Laboratory. I understand that France’s Cigeo project, which I was briefed on during my recent visit to France, is now at the licence application stage.                 

It will still be some years before the first deep geological repositories for nuclear spent fuel become operational. But the progress being made in this area deserves to be better known.

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 30 or 40 years – or even more.

A number of innovative financing models have been developed. I expect to see other creative approaches to the high start-up costs of nuclear power emerge in the coming years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Russia is one of the most experienced users of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It has a dynamic nuclear energy industry which is increasingly active both at home and abroad, as well as top-class scientists and engineers. Russia is providing training to countries that are considering introducing nuclear power.

Its support goes beyond power generation and includes many other peaceful nuclear applications. Russia is working with the IAEA and making a significant contribution to our technical cooperation programme.

For example, we are working with ROSATOM to help improve cancer treatment in countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia is also supporting a major IAEA project on the impact of climate change on soil and water resources in polar and mountainous regions.

In short, Russia is a very important partner for the IAEA.

Before concluding, let me briefly explain the role of the IAEA in the nuclear power area.

  It is the sovereign decision of each individual country whether or not to add nuclear power to its energy mix. But for countries that choose nuclear power, our job is to help.

We advise on how to put the appropriate legal and regulatory framework in place and how to ensure the highest standards of safety, security and safeguards.

We offer know-how on the construction, commissioning, start-up and safe operation of nuclear reactors. We establish global nuclear safety standards and security guidance. We offer expert peer review missions to assess the operational safety of nuclear power plants and the effectiveness of nuclear regulators – and in many other areas.

We can help with the decommissioning of plants at the end of their natural lifetimes and with waste disposal.

 The end-result, we hope, is that countries will be able to use nuclear power safely, securely and sustainably.

Needless to say, safety is key to the future development of nuclear power. The Fukushima Daiichi accident was a painful reminder that a terrible accident can happen anywhere, even in a developed industrial country.

To prevent anything like it ever happening again, plant operators, nuclear regulators, and governments must demonstrate an unshakeable commitment to the principle of “safety first.”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear power is one of the lowest-carbon technologies available to generate electricity. As governments prepare for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of the year, I believe it is important that the contribution that nuclear power is making to combating climate change is recognized.

Let me conclude by expressing my appreciation to the Russian Federation, both for hosting the St Petersburg International Economic Forum – and for its steadfast support for the work of the IAEA.

Thank you.

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Last update: 25 Nov 2019

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