04 June 2021
Leaders in the nuclear sector yesterday discussed how nuclear energy can contribute to reducing carbon emissions in the fight against climate change during a panel discussion on the side lines of the 12th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM12) being hosted by Chile. They said technological breakthroughs and innovations can extend nuclear energy's contribution to climate action and accelerate strategies to cleaner energy. The discussion was moderated by Kirsty Gogan, managing partner at LucidCatalyst and a co-founder of TerraPraxis.
The discussion panelists (Image: IAEA)
The side event – Net Zero Emissions Pathways with Nuclear Innovation – was sponsored by the Clean Energy Ministerial's Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future (NICE Future) initiative. The discussion panel comprised World Nuclear Association Director General Sama Bilbao y León, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Director-General William Magwood and International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol.
"Maintaining our current nuclear fleet through licence extensions is the easiest thing we can do to have a huge impact in our decarbonisation goals," Bilbao y León said. "We depend on this resource and for us to lose this capacity would take us a big step backwards in the clean energy transition."
Grossi said the long-term operation of nuclear power plants is a growing trend and the public needs to be given assurances that it is not only efficient and climate-friendly but also safe. He said the IAEA is stepping up its support to provide reviews and advice to governments and operators for them to ensure safe, secure and effective long-term operation activities.
He also said developing countries were "showing a tremendous interest and appetite in nuclear energy options as they move into the global climate framework and set zero emission goals". After agreeing to and endorsing goals to address climate change, governments now need "to look in their carbon mitigation toolboxes, in which nuclear energy is an option", he said. Nuclear energy innovations are often misconstrued, he said, as a future energy alternative, when in reality nuclear already contributes around one-third of global low-carbon electricity generation.
Magwood said that there was a narrow window now for the nuclear industry to bring new technologies to market if they are to make a contribution to the energy transition. "Many say nuclear is too far away in the timeframe of the climate crisis. I can tell you that's not the case and there are technologies that could be on the market within the next five years that could help."
With regards to emerging technologies like microreactors and small modular reactors, Magwood said the nuclear industry needs to prove these technologies by bringing them to market and making sure they can be cost-effective and built to schedule.