The importance of nuclear power in the clean energy transition was showcased by the G20 today as IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and experts joined representatives from Indonesia, holder of the G20 Presidency, as well as South Korea and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the role of nuclear technology in achieving net zero and sustainable development goals.
The virtual event Nuclear Potentials in the Energy Transitions, co-organized by the IAEA and Indonesia as part of the G20 webinar series, will help inform the work of the G20 Energy Transition Working Group (ETWG) aimed at achieving a global agreement on the switch to sustainable energy during the G20 summit set for Bali, Indonesia, on 15 to 16 November. It featured IAEA and other experts on topics including emerging technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), as well as Agency support to newcomer countries looking to add nuclear to their energy mix.
Nuclear power is a proven resource, Mr Grossi said in his keynote address, highlighting that over the past five decades it has avoided about 70 giga tonnes of C02 and reduced the enormous number of deaths caused by air pollution,. But nuclear can do more than keep the lights on, he added. It can also reduce CO2 emissions generated by industry in non-electrical applications, such as hydrogen production, industrial steam, and water desalination.
The G20 is a multilateral platform connecting the worlds major developed and emerging economies. It plays a key role in charting the direction of the global economy, representing more than 80 per cent of global gross domestic product and 60 per cent of the worlds population. G20 working groups including the ETWG provide in-depth analysis of key issues to help inform the G20 decision making process.
Nuclear power is currently operated in 32 countries, providing about 10 per cent of the worlds electricity and about 25 per cent of its low carbon electricity. Some 441 reactors are in operation for a total capacity of almost 400 gigawatts. Fifty-three reactors are under construction in 17 countries, with China building the most reactors (15). Studies by the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that global nuclear power capacity will need to double by 2050 if the world is to achieve the climate change goals of the Paris Agreement. Much of that expansion will need to come in newcomer countries, many of them in the developing world where the need for low carbon energy to power economic growth and development is acute, according to the IEA.
Ninety per cent of the growth in nuclear capacity between 2020 to 2050 will happen in developing countries, led by China, Peter Fraser, an IEA expert, said during the event. Nuclear energy will provide about ten per cent of the energy needed by China by 2060, which is up from four per cent today. But nuclear makes a huge contribution in providing stability to a carbon neutral power system in China in 2060. Its that kind of central system service that nuclear can play a big role in, even in a system dominated by wind and solar.
The IAEA plays a key role in supporting newcomer countries through its Milestones Approach in the development of infrastructure for a safe and sustainable nuclear power programme, including through regional technical cooperation projects, said Hua Liu, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation. In the first stage of a nuclear power implementation programme, it is very important to have very strong support from the government, said Liliya Dulinets, Head of the IAEAs Nuclear Infrastructure Section. Of course, thats important during all the stages, but in the first stage its really very important.
Almost 30 newcomers, including Indonesia, are either exploring or embarking on nuclear power and working with the IAEA, whose Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) service helps to assess national efforts on developing nuclear infrastructure. Indonesia, which hosted an INIR in 2009, has ambitions to develop nuclear power by 2060 to help maintain system reliability, said Andriah Feby Misna of the Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.
The UAE worked extensively with the IAEA as it developed infrastructure to support the construction of four large nuclear power reactors, two of which have come online in recent years. When the plant is fully operational, it will meet almost 25 per cent of electricity demand, making a significant impact on the countrys efforts to fight climate change, said Ambassador Hamad Alkaabi, Permanent Representative of the UAE to the IAEA.
Other IAEA experts highlighted benefits of nuclear power, including having the smallest land requirement of all low carbon technologies and studies showing that the transition to net zero will be less costly when nuclear is part of the energy mix. They also noted the potential role for nuclear in producing low carbon hydrogen to help decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors such as industry, transport and heat for buildings.
There is also strong evidence of a link between the development of a nuclear power programme and economic growth and prosperity, and South Korea is a good example of this, according to Manki Lee of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute. Last year, a working paper by the International Monetary Fund said that investments in nuclear power produced the biggest economic multiplier effect of any clean energy source, producing about 25 per cent more employment per unit of electricity than wind power, with workers in nuclear earning one-third more than those in the renewable energy industry.
I am certain that nuclear will be a significant technology for clean energy systems, not only for developed countries but also emerging economies and developing countries, concluded Indonesias Prahoro Nurtjahyo, Co-Chair of the ETWG.