World Nuclear Association's Director-General, Agneta Rising, is excited about the World Energy Congress 2019 and looks forward to opportunities to talk about the importance of nuclear power for the transition towards clean and affordable energy. In an exclusive interview with Devdiscourse, she talks about the role of the World Nuclear Association in the industry and the importance of nuclear power for the transition towards clean and affordable energy. The mission of the international organization is to promote a wider understanding of nuclear energy among key international influencers by producing authoritative information, developing common industry positions, and contributing to the energy debate. It is an international trade body made up of 180 member companies across all nuclear businesses from around the world. The Edited Excerpts:
Q1. What is the level of your excitement? How are you preparing to attend the World Energy Congress 2019 in Abu Dhabi?
Rising: Being the association representing the global nuclear industry, we are very excited to be part of the World Energy Congress. There will be many opportunities to talk about the importance of nuclear for the transition towards a clean and affordable energy system, including in the dedicated session on nuclear on the first day of the congress and at side events, such as the one organised by the Clean Energy Ministerial on their Nuclear Innovation Clean Energy (NICE) Future initiative.
World Nuclear Association, and several of our member companies, will also be hosting stands in the exhibition hall, and we are looking forward to the launch reception on Tuesday of our white paper – 'The Silent Giant: The need for nuclear energy in a clean energy system' – alongside a report on nuclear energy scenarios prepared by the World Energy Council, with input from us.
Q2. How do you think your organization's vision could make a change in the energy sector in line to the SDGs 2030 set up by the United Nations?
Rising: Nuclear energy, complemented by other low carbon sources, must play a central role if we want to shift to a clean, affordable and reliable electricity system. Nuclear power directly contributes to SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) and 13 (climate action), thanks to its low-carbon credentials. The global nuclear industry has set itself the ambitious target to construct an additional 1000GWe of reactors before 2050 to ensure that we can deliver the multitude of benefits that a high-powered lifestyle offers.
Beyond energy and climate action, the use of nuclear energy and technologies contributes to the majority of the development goals. Nuclear energy can be used for desalination, ensuring a secure supply of fresh drinking water. Thanks to its small environmental footprint, nuclear leaves more space for nature to thrive. It prevents many thousands of air pollution deaths every year by displacing dirty fossil-fuelled power stations, and radionuclides produced in reactors are used to treat illnesses and prevent food-borne diseases and food spoilage.
Q3. What has been technical and executive feasibility of your organization's concept?
Rising: Nuclear power is a proven technology which has consistently provided affordable and reliable low-carbon electricity around the world since the 1950s. History has shown, time and time again, that nuclear power plants can be built quickly. France, which today has one of the world's cleanest electricity systems thanks to nuclear, managed to expand nuclear from 5 percent to 75 percent of the country-wide supply in about 20 years, and almost eliminated fossil fuels from the power sector. Once built, many reactors operate for more than 50 years at capacity factors unrivalled by any other electricity generators.
In order to ensure that nuclear energy can fully contribute to the clean energy transition, the industry has identified three key areas of reform as a part of our Harmony Programme: the need for a playing field, the need to harmonize regulations, and the need for a holistic safety paradigm for the electricity system.
In terms of creating a level playing field, we see that many of the world's electricity markets operate in an unsustainable fashion, dominated by short-term thinking. Electricity supply which is affordable, reliable and available 24/7 generates broad societal benefits. This has resulted in situations where nuclear energy has struggled to compete with energy sources that have been subsidized, do not pay the hidden costs brought on by their intermittency (e.g. costly backup provisions and investments in the grid), or do not have to take responsibility for using our common atmosphere as a dumping ground.
In terms of regulations, nuclear energy faces multiple regulatory barriers stemming from diverse national licensing processes and safety requirements which currently limit global nuclear trade and investment. A lack of international standardization places unnecessary regulatory burdens on nuclear activities and causes delays in the licensing of new designs, hindering innovation.
In terms of safety, we need to consider safety from a societal perspective, something the current energy system fails to do. Despite being, by far, the safest large-scale electricity producer, the health, environmental and safety benefits of nuclear energy are not sufficiently understood and valued when compared with other electricity sources.
Q4. What have been your organization's achievements so far?
Rising: World Nuclear Association is proudly representing the global nuclear industry. The world's nuclear reactors - a grand total of 445 in 30 countries - are the low carbon backbone of electricity systems, operating in the background, day in and day out, often out of sight and out of mind. By using nuclear energy rather than fossil fuels, we currently avoid the emission of more than 2500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. To put that into perspective, it is the equivalent of removing about 400 million cars from the world's roads.
The performance of the nuclear industry in the last year is also worth highlighting. This year has marked an important milestone – five different nuclear power plants around the world celebrated 50 years of producing low-carbon, reliable and affordable electricity. Some nine new reactors were connected to the grid last year, with another four already this year. The nuclear industry remains one of the most reliable in the world, with a global average capacity factor around 80 percent.
Q5. What is your business strategy for further expansion?
Rising: The Association firmly believes that the use of nuclear energy should be pursued around the world and we actively support stakeholders in such ventures – be it in already-established countries, such as the United Kingdom, or newcomers to the nuclear arena, such as the UAE, where the Congress is being held, and others such as Bangladesh, Belarus, or Turkey. As a part of the Harmony Programme, the world nuclear industry is committed to delivering an ambitious expansion of nuclear capacity around the world – at least 1000GWe before 2050 – to ensure that all corners of the globe can enjoy the multitude of benefits which the use of nuclear power brings. By delivering the Programme's three pillars – a level playing field, harmonization of regulations and holistic safety across the electricity sector – we are confident that we will be able to deliver this ambitious program.
Q6. What are your expectations from the 24th World Energy Congress 2019?
Rising: We welcome that the essential role of nuclear energy will be discussed at the Congress, and we expect that concrete actions follow those discussions. Over the last few months, several of the world's most recognized expert and organizations have highlighted not only the crucial contribution that existing nuclear power plants make towards climate change but also the need for nuclear energy to grow – be it the International Energy Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD. We are confident that policymakers will reflect on these landmark reports and their conclusions, take these messages back home and put in place the right policies, a task which the world nuclear industry is ready to support to the fullest to reach the Harmony goal of 25 percent electricity provided by nuclear by 2050.
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