IAEA Opens Atoms4Climate Pavilion at COP28

5 December 2023

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has opened its Atoms4Climate pavilion at the annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) which is being held in Dubai. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi launched almost two weeks of activities and events at the IAEA pavilion aimed at raising awareness of the benefits of nuclear technology and applications in both mitigating and adapting to the effects of the climate crisis.

Earlier, Grossi in a landmark IAEA statement supported by dozens of countries, emphasised the need for expanded use of nuclear power to fight climate change, achieve energy security and sustainable economic development, and to build “a low carbon bridge” to the future. This was one of a number of initiatives at COP28 calling for a significant increase in nuclear power capacity to address the global climate crisis, ahead of the first-ever Nuclear Energy Summit, to be hosted jointly by the IAEA and Belgium in Brussels in March 2024.

This was the first time IAEA has issued such a statement with broad international backing that underlined increased global interest in nuclear power to tackle the existential challenge of a rapidly warming planet. The statement was a further indication of a new momentum for nuclear power as a source of reliable low carbon energy, needed also to meet growing electricity demand and achieve sustainable economic development.

“The IAEA and its Member States that are nuclear energy producers and those working with the IAEA to promote the benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear energy acknowledge that all available low emission technologies should be recognised and actively supported,” the statement said. “Net zero needs nuclear power” which “emits no greenhouse gasses when it is produced and contributes to energy security and the stability of the power grid, while facilitating the broader uptake of solar and wind power.”

“Studies confirm that the goal of global net zero carbon emissions can only be reached by 2050 with swift, sustained and significant investment in nuclear energy,” the statement said. It underlined the importance of innovations in the nuclear sector such as small modular reactors that aim to make nuclear power easier to build, more flexible to deploy and more affordable. In addition, "continuous plant life management and refurbishment ensure the ongoing safety and reliability of our existing fleet, allowing it to provide decarbonised energy to the electric grid and other sectors”.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, nuclear power has avoided the release of some 30 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases. It can also contribute to addressing climate change in areas apart from generating electricity, notably in helping to decarbonise district heating, desalination, industry processes and hydrogen production, the statement highlighted. “Resilient and robust nuclear power has the potential to play a wider role in the quest towards net zero carbon emissions, while ensuring the highest level of nuclear safety and security,” the statement noted.

Grossi said that “achieving a fair and enabling investment environment for new nuclear projects remains an uphill battle. We are not at a level playing field, yet, when it comes to financing nuclear projects.” He announced the statement at an event together with Armenian President Vahagn Khachaturyan as well as Satkaliyev Almassadam, Minister of Energy of Kazakhstan, and Juhani Damski, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment of Finland. “If we want to achieve our climate targets, it will simply be impossible without nuclear energy,” he stressed.

Kazakhstan’s Almassadam said: “We understand with more than 60% of electricity generation powered by coal, we see no other significant alternative other than nuclear power plants to ensure reliable electricity supplies.” President Khachaturyan said nuclear is “a very important question for Armenia,” which has an ageing single 416 MWe nuclear reactor generating about one third of its electricity and which is now looking to build a new reactor to ensure energy security and economic growth.

Juhani Damski attributed high Finnish public approval of nuclear power to several factors, including transparent communications about its decarbonisation and energy security benefits, early involvement by policy makers, local stakeholder engagement, and a national programme to develop what is set to become the world’s first operative facility to dispose of high-level nuclear waste. “Nuclear energy has a very key role to play in climate change mitigation,” he said. “This is a strong tool for the climate battle, and this is why it’s important for us in Finland.”

Grossi noted a massive shift in global attitudes towards nuclear power since 2019, when he attended his first climate summit at COP25 in Madrid. The question he had asked himself then, he said, was: “How can this annual conference talking about energy issues and how they impact the environment be taking place without talking about the source of energy that provides around 25% of the world’s electricity? This was an omission and I’m not here to debate the reasons for that. The good thing is this has been overcome and we are putting things right, in the right perspective.”

The IAEA’s Atoms4Climate pavilion in the Blue Zone will feature events focussing on four areas: energy, food, oceans and water. Low carbon nuclear energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while nuclear techniques can be used to enhance global food security, monitor ocean health, and improve access to clean water. All of these are impacted by climate change. More than 70 000 delegates are expected to attend COP28 including everyone from heads of state to young people.

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