Cornel Feruta, acting Director General of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said this here yesterday when opening the International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power.
Some 550 participants representing 79 countries and 18 international organisations are taking part in the seven-day conference, the first on this topic to be organised by IAEA.
Held in cooperation with the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the event serves as a unique forum for exchanging science-based information and conducting objective discussions on the role of nuclear power in mitigating climate change.
Nuclear power plants emit practically no GHG emissions or air pollutants during their operation and are, over their life cycle, the second-lowest emitting source of electricity after hydro.
Currently, 30 countries operate 449 nuclear power reactors worldwide, generating 10 per cent of the world’s electricity and one-third of all low carbon electricity. In terms of emissions avoidance, that’s the equivalent of taking 400 million cars off the road every year.
Around 70 per cent of the world’s electricity currently comes from burning fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency. By 2050, some 80 per cent of all electricity will need to be low carbon to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the increase in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels to well below 2°C Celsius.
“Making that transition will be a major challenge,” Feruta said, adding: “It is difficult to see how the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved without a significant increase in the use of nuclear power in the coming decades.”
He was upbeat that advances being made in several countries concerning the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste would help to alleviate public concerns about the long-term sustainability of nuclear power.
Addressing the conference, NEA Director General William D. Magwood, IV said finding the right approach to long-term, economic and reliable electricity supply was the central challenge to the decarbonisation of the future global economy.
“A vision of the future that incorporates variable renewable energy sources and cost-effective, advanced nuclear energy in a balance based on economic reality is one path to success,” he noted.
Hoesung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was meanwhile one of the dignitaries lined up to address the first day of the conference. IPCC is the United Nations body responsible for assessing climate change science and advising governments on climate action.
In a report last October, IPCC featured four model pathways for limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold at which most experts believe the worst impacts from climate change can still be avoided.
All four model pathways included increases in nuclear power generation by 2050, ranging between 59 per cent and 501 per cent.
Also lined up as prominent speakers are Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA); LI Yong, Director General of the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO); Agneta Rising, Director General of the Word Nuclear Association; and senior government officials from Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Hungary, India, Mongolia, Morocco, the Russian Federation, the UK and the US.
Heads of relevant international organisations such as Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and IEA Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) of the OECD, have sent messages to contribute to the event.
The conference is expected to discuss key issues such as advancing energy policies that achieve the climate change goals; and the long-term operation of existing nuclear power plants and their contribution to avoiding GHG emissions.
Also on the agenda are the factors necessary to support high rates of deployment, including for advanced nuclear power technologies; public perceptions of the role of nuclear power in climate change mitigation; and the prospects for synergies between nuclear power and other low-carbon energy sources.
“The world urgently needs solutions to climate change. Nuclear power is already making an important contribution and can play an increasing role in the future,” said Conference President Mikhail Chudakov, who is IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy.
IAEA serves as the world’s foremost intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
Established as an autonomous organisation under the UN in 1957, it carries out programmes to maximise the useful contribution of nuclear technology to society while verifying its peaceful use.
The agency is the world’s centre for cooperation in the nuclear field and seeks to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.