On his return from COP27, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has told the Agency’s Board of Governors: “At a time of great uncertainty about whether the world can keep global warming to limits that avert the worst consequences of climate change, the IAEA cooperatively is offering solutions and ways to progress.”
He noted that nuclear energy is 25% of global low-carbon power already and has a long, proven record and enormous potential. “But the magnitude of nuclear’s ability to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is not fully understood by individual countries and regions. This is a barrier to uptake.”
He added: “Atoms4NetZero initiative, which I announced at COP, aims to change that. Through the initiative, we will work in partnership with our Member States to model and measure the contribution of nuclear power to their net zero energy transitions. Atoms4NetZero will help countries assess the potential of nuclear to be used beyond the grid – for example, to produce hydrogen or for desalination - whether through traditional large nuclear power plants, or through newer nuclear technologies, such as SMRs. I encourage every one of our Member States to participate in Atoms4NetZero. My message to leaders at COP was that nuclear technology and science can and will do more.”
The same day, a joint statement was released by the Canadian Nuclear Association, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, the USA's Nuclear Energy Institute, the UK's Nuclear Industry Association, Nucleareurope, the Romanian Atomic Forum and World Nuclear Association urged decision makers “to acknowledge and support the need for increased nuclear energy generation around the world”.
The current global geopolitical context has underlined the importance of a resilient, decarbonized and independent energy system. “Security of energy supplies and affordable prices for citizens and businesses are pressing matters for decision makers across the world. Reaching the climate objectives established by the Paris Agreement, ensuring a more efficient use of natural resources and investing in energy innovation remain top priorities,” the statement said. However, it added that the recent report published by United Nations on the Emissions Gap in 2022 shows that current policies are not enough to reach our Paris Agreement targets. “A system-wide transformation is needed to ensure the effective and sustained decrease in emissions.”
Within the framework of COP27, the representatives of the international nuclear industry presented their statement “in support of the crucial role that nuclear energy needs to play in reshaping our energy paradigm and policies going forward”. It noted: “In preparing for the future, we stress the importance of designing resilient energy strategies, centred around secure low-carbon energy sources able to support external shocks while preserving the well-being of our citizens and the competitiveness of our industry. Unity, shared commitments to stop the use of energy as a weapon of war and reaching our climate objectives should be the driving forces behind the reconfiguration of our energy policies.”
Stressing that nuclear energy has the lowest lifecycle CO2 emissions per kWh of all energy sources (6g/kWh) and that uranium is abundant and well distributed around the world, the statement said: “The cost of fuel represents a maximum of 10% of the cost of the electricity generated, so nuclear energy can enable a stable cost of electricity for citizens, public administration, industry, agriculture and all other human activities which depend on electricity. Furthermore, used fuel can be reused and recycled, which is a unique and additional merit of nuclear energy.”
Electricity produced from the existing fleet of nuclear power plants is extremely competitive “and remains the option with the lowest levelised cost of electricity not only among low carbon sources, but among all energy sources”. The statement added that “nuclear new build projects are also is competitive cost and the Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) currently under development will bring the additional benefit of lower upfront costs and shorter construction periods”. In addition, large reactors, SMRs and Advanced Modular Reactors can provide a wide variety of non-electric applications such as clean hydrogen production, thermal power for district heating, desalination, industrial heat as well as complementing the variable nature of renewable technologies.
“We need to place nuclear energy at the centre of our economic relaunch strategies,” the statement noted. “Our global commitment to increase energy production from renewable energy sources will require additional dispatchable low-carbon capacities in order to balance our electricity grids. Global expertise and innovation in the nuclear field should be fully utilised in securing our current and future energy needs. The energy transition is not possible without maintaining and expanding the role of nuclear power.”
In order to achieve a decarbonised and secure energy future the statement called for the following:
- Investments in nuclear new build (large, medium and small scale) should be intensified and accelerated to increase the contribution of nuclear power in energy grids by 2030, resulting in a significant, immediate and long-term impact on CO2 emission reductions. Financial frameworks available around the world (private and public sector) should be refocused to allow a greater coverage of nuclear projects and related applications. The role of nuclear power should be viewed from a strategic stand point, fully acknowledging its contribution to security of energy supply, affordable and stable energy prices and decarbonization, in close cooperation with other low-carbon technologies such as renewables.
- Nuclear innovation, including large reactors, SMRs, microreactors and advanced reactors, should be accelerated for fast deployment at global scale, making full use of the non-electric applications as well, such as clean hydrogen production, industrial heat, district heating, desalination. Additional support should be provided to nuclear R&D and education to accelerate the path to market of new nuclear concepts such as Generation IV Reactors , as well as to prepare the next generation of nuclear operators.
- If clean hydrogen is to play a significant role as an energy carrier in the future, it will need to be low-carbon, produced in large quantities at an affordable cost, close to the place of consumption. Nuclear power can secure one of the lowest cost for clean hydrogen (as low as 2 Euro/kg) due to its dispatchable production. Clean hydrogen strategies around the world should therefore include all low-carbon technologies, not just renewables.
- Nuclear projects require strategic planning and a long-term vision. Good cooperation between policymakers, the finance community, industry and other stakeholders is necessary to ensure that the benefits of nuclear power are maximised at every step of the supply chain.
“The above-mentioned points represent in our view of a sustainable and resilient energy strategy for the future. We stand ready to work with policymakers, the finance community and all relevant stakeholders in order to implement our vision and further develop our common objectives of a clean energy transition, security of supply and affordable energy for everyone.”