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[en] The world needs energy to support everyday life and drive human and economic development. In 2019, over 26 000 terawatt-hours of electricity were produced worldwide. This electricity is being produced by a range of energy sources, mostly fossil fuels but also nuclear power and renewables such as solar, hydro and wind. Energy production and use are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. As greenhouse gases are a driving force behind climate change, countries worldwide are actively working on a clean energy transition by changing how energy is produced. Here’s a closer look at the clean energy transition and what role nuclear power plays.
[en] Nuclear power combined with smart power grids — the two-way networks that connect producers to consumers and use new technologies to do so — can help countries transition to low carbon electricity sources and ensure reliable, stable and sustainable energy supplies. Many countries are diversifying their mix of low carbon energy sources to help them decarbonize their economies and achieve their climate goals. This has led to a global shift towards renewable energy sources; however, these sources alone are not able to fully and reliably meet demand.
[en] The world is far off track when it comes to meeting the Paris Agreement climate goals of limiting the global temperature increase by 1.5°C to 2°C by 2050. Current projections show that fossil fuels will still make up the majority of world energy use by 2050. If we miss the 1.5°C target, this could mean accepting climate impacts, such as millions of people being displaced by sea level rise and millions more being exposed to extreme heatwaves, as well as major biodiversityrelated impacts, including species loss, the elimination of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, and the loss of virtually all coral reefs. If we miss the 2°C target, half the world’s population could be exposed to summertime ‘deadly heat,’ Antarctic ice sheets could collapse, droughts could increase massively, and the Sahara Desert could begin to expand into southern Europe. World food supplies could be imperilled, driving mass human migration and leading to a growing risk of civilizational collapse. The Clean Energy Ministerial Flexible Nuclear Campaign we co-founded explores the expanded role that nuclear energy can play in de-risking the energy transition. Here, we describe two opportunities to drive deeper decarbonization with nuclear energy. The first is to expand the role of nuclear energy in electricity production through a combination of advanced reactors and thermal energy storage. This is intended to complement renewables in future energy grids. The second is to address the use of oil and gas, which currently accounts for three quarters of energy consumption, by providing large-scale, low-cost hydrogen produced with nuclear power.
[en] Accelerating and enlarging the “contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world” is a statutory objective of the IAEA. For ten years the Peaceful Uses Initiative (PUI) has contributed to this objective, proving to be effective in mobilizing extrabudgetary contributions toward peaceful applications of nuclear technology.
[en] Fast neutron reactors can increase efficiency of nuclear energy and shrink the environmental footprint of radioactive waste. Several countries are looking to these innovative reactors to help ensure a sustainable energy future. Fast reactors use neutrons that are not slowed down by a moderator, such as water, to sustain the fission chain reaction. While only a fraction of natural uranium is used as fuel in existing thermal reactors, fast reactors can use almost all uranium contained in the fuel to extract up to 70 times more energy, reducing the need for new uranium resources.
[en] Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, but producing it in pure form for a range of industrial processes is energy intensive, with a significant carbon footprint. Hydrogen is used in industrial processes ranging from producing synthetic fuels and petrochemicals to manufacturing semiconductors and powering fuel cell electric vehicles. In order to decrease the environmental impact of the annual production of over 70 million tonnes of hydrogen, some countries are looking to nuclear power. Several countries are now implementing or exploring hydrogen production using nuclear power plants to help decarbonize their energy, industrial and transportation sectors. It is also a way to get more out of a nuclear power plant, which can help to increase its profitability.
[en] This year marks a decade of action under the Peaceful Uses Initiative (PUI). Far reaching in scope and impact, the PUI has enabled us to expand our horizons to support developing Member States and confront some of the most pressing and — at times — unanticipated global challenges. From supporting cancer control programmes, to increasing food security and enhancing nuclear safety, projects under the PUI have been instrumental in increasing the contribution of the peaceful use of nuclear science and technology to development. In the last ten years, the initiative has mobilized €174 million in extrabudgetary contributions from 24 countries, the European Commission and the private sector. More than 300 projects have been implemented, benefiting over 150 Member States. Several countries have made multi-year funding pledges to the PUI, making funding more reliable. This is particularly beneficial for longterm, large-scale projects where predictability is key. As the world faced unexpected challenges, such as the Zika virus disease and now COVID19, the PUI has enabled the IAEA to respond quickly and flexibly to the evolving priorities of Member States.
[en] The growing number and evolving needs of countries joining the IAEA call for timely assistance with the peaceful use of nuclear science and technology. The Peaceful Uses Initiative (PUI) plays an invaluable role in strengthening and supporting peaceful applications of nuclear technology and in providing assistance to countries worldwide. It does so by providing resources and supplementing the IAEA’s Regular Budget and Technical Cooperation Fund (TCF), which help to ensure countries can continue to get the support they need when they need it. Japan highly appreciates all the PUI has done since its establishment in 2010. The country has steadfastly supported the initiative with contributions that amount to more than €38 million to date. This has helped to fund 86 IAEA projects in a range of areas, such as cancer diagnosis and treatment, infectious diseases, food and agriculture, water resource management, environmental protection, nuclear safety and radiation protection, and nuclear infrastructure development.
[en] Advanced reactors are helping to make nuclear power a more accessible, sustainable and affordable low carbon energy option. With enhanced safety features and designs optimized for cost-effectiveness, these reactors are expected to open the door to better economics, streamlined licensing processes and greater public acceptance, ultimately helping countries to consider nuclear power towards achieving their climate goals. Advanced reactors and associated fuel and fuel cycles represent the cutting edge of nuclear power technology. Their designs build on over six decades of research, development and lessons learned in nuclear power. The IAEA works together with countries to identify and address challenges associated with the development of advanced reactors, such as technological innovation and safety design criteria. This support includes collaborative research projects and activities such as workshops with international experts, as well as cooperation with the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), an international cooperative endeavour that now includes 13 countries. Since its establishment in 2000, GIF has been carrying out research and development activities to support next generation nuclear energy systems. Some distinguishing features of advanced reactors include enhanced thermal efficiency, waste minimization, optimized use of natural resources and the ability to address both electricity production and non-electric applications of nuclear power, such as hydrogen production. These features expand operating potential and vastly improve nuclear power plant economics.
[en] IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, speaking at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) on 11 December in Madrid, Spain, said greater use of low carbon nuclear power is needed to ensure the global transition to clean energy, including to back up variable renewables such as solar and wind. The world is currently well off the mark from reaching the climate goals of the Paris Agreement. With around two thirds of the world’s electricity still generated through the burning of fossil fuels, and despite growing investment in renewable energy sources, global emissions of greenhouse gases reached a record high last year. Mr Grossi said greater deployment of a diverse mix of low carbon sources, such as hydro, wind and solar, as well as nuclear power and battery storage, will be needed to reverse that trend and put the world on track to meet climate goals.