Nuclear power is growing rapidly in Asia. Why is this form of energy so popular in the Asia/Pacific region?

Population growth, urbanisation and industrialisation are driving an increase in energy demand throughout Asia. In many Asian countries, the current energy mix relies much more on fossil fuels than is the case in Europe and the Americas,
and in some cases those fossil fuels are contributing to serious air pollution. I think the interest in nuclear energy in Asia reflects a desire for both energy security and a reliable, clean source of baseload energy to power economic growth.

Over time, that mix will look more like it does in other parts of the world. It’s also worth noting that China, India and others have included their plans for using nuclear power in their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

What are the main challenges facing countries in the region embarking on nuclear power programmes for the first time? How can the IAEA assist them?

Whether in Asia or other parts of the world, the key challenges are still managing public perceptions about nuclear power and making arrangements for funding and financing. Building new institutions to manage and oversee a programme of this scale is another significant challenge.

The Agency supports embarking countries by providing guidance based on international best practices, offering independent peer review services and delivering targeted capacity building and training. The IAEA’s “Milestones Approach” has been widely adopted by newcomer countries and vendors alike as a common language. It helps governments consider and implement nuclear power programmes in a systematic way to ensure that all vital aspects have been addressed at each milestone. These include the decision to commit significant resources to develop the infrastructure enabling a nuclear power programme; second, the decision to construct a nuclear power plant; and third, the decision to commission the plant and begin operations in a safe, secure and sustainable manner.

What are the main challenges facing those countries which already have established programmes, such as China, India and Korea?

Each country faces its own challenges. To varying degrees, these include public acceptance to permit continued operations and allow for new build.

Waste management is another significant challenge. However, a number of countries in other parts of the world are demonstrating the way forward on this issue be developing deep geological disposal facilities. Some other challenges can include matching domestic human resource pipelines to dynamic programme demands and developing robust supply chains for specialised equipment and services in order to avoid construction delays.

All three of these states have ambitions to become exporters of nuclear technology. Do you expect them to succeed in this aim?

I cannot speculate but Korea and China have already exported nuclear power plants. They certainly provide new options to countries planning to construct nuclear power plants.

All these states also enjoy significant government support for their nuclear industries. Is this a necessary prerequisite for success?

It is not a prerequisite, but government support with consistent policies creates a good environment for industries to progress.

Japan is facing serious problems restarting its nuclear plants in the wake of Fukushima. How can the IAEA help?

The IAEA works very closely with Japan and we collaborate in many different areas. However, restarting nuclear power plants is a matter for the stakeholders in Japan to deal with. We don’t comment on that.

How is the IAEA supporting nuclear research in the region and facilitating best use of facilities through cooperation?

The IAEA has been facilitating regional nuclear research cooperation in East Asia and the Pacific for more than 45 years. Projects under our Regional Cooperative Agreement have contributed significantly in a number of priority areas vital to regional socio-economic development, such as agriculture, health care, industry and environmental protection. We also facilitate regional cooperation on nuclear power through mechanisms like the Asian Network for Education in Nuclear Technology and various Coordinated Research Projects.

What support does the IAEA offer with respect to training of personnel for nuclear facilities in Asia?

The IAEA is providing a number of basic training opportunities as well as targeted support on developing national education and training infrastructure; however, the countries themselves need to assume responsibility for training their personnel through bilateral and national investments in education, training facilities and human resource development. As in other areas, the IAEA is providing tools and platforms for exchanging best practices and experiences.

Will developments in Asia figure prominently in “The International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century” to be held later this year in Abu Dhabi?

Definitely. First of all, at the Ministerial Conference, the high-level decision makers from all our Member States will share their views about the role of nuclear power and their national policies and strategies. We expect the statements from Asian countries to be of interest to participants, given the many developments in the region. For example, China has 20 new reactors under construction and we may learn more about their new plans. We may also get an update on the status of their small modular reactor. Also, I’m sure our hosts in the UAE look forward to putting the Barakah project and their nuclear power programme on full display. This is a significant project in a country that never had nuclear power before.