Remarks made marking the 60th anniversary of the Nuclear Energy Agency

Agneta Rising, Director General, World Nuclear Association

World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising gave a speech at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. The speech looked back on the evolution of the nuclear industry over the 60-year lifetime of the NEA, and looked forward to opportunities for nuclear energy to contribute to a sustainable energy future.

Video of all speeches given at this event is available on the NEA's website

Transcript of Speech

Madame Chair, Director General, Excellency’s, Distinguished, Ladies and Gentleman

Congratulations!

Thank you. I’m delighted to speak here today at this celebration of 60 years of the Nuclear Energy Agency. I’d like to take the opportunity to look back at the past sixty years to reflect on how the nuclear industry has developed, and what lies ahead for our future.

60 years ago

Sixty years ago, the nuclear energy industry was in its infancy. It was a time of incredible innovation and development. It had taken only 12 years from the first sustained nuclear reaction in Chicago Pile 1 to the connection of the first reactor to deliver electricity to the general public.

By the time the NEA was founded in 1958 six nuclear power plants were operating in Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom, with a combined capacity of just 236 MWe.

The NEA began with a focus on laying the foundations for nuclear co-operation and collaborative R&D projects.

30 years ago

Over the 30 years from 1958 nuclear energy would develop at an amazing pace. By 1988 nuclear power plants were supplying 17% of the world’s electricity. Between 1981 and 1990 an average of 20 GWe of new capacity was added each year.

This rapid deployment has been unmatched by any other generation technology and demonstrates the potential for future nuclear growth.

Coming years

All the way until today nuclear generation has continued to grow, but the global share of nuclear generation has fallen to just over 10%. Why has this happened?

Globally, electricity demand has grown much faster than nuclear generation. This has been driven by the rapidly expanding economies in Asia, particularly China, where this growing demand has been primarily met by coal.

The last 30 years has seen fossil fuels’ share of the global generation mix increase, despite growing international concerns over the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

So, as we celebrate 60 years of the Nuclear Energy Agency, where is nuclear energy today?

A discussion of nuclear energy today cannot ignore the challenges faced by the industry. In some countries markets are failing to provide a commercial environment in which nuclear generation can compete on a fair basis.

Elsewhere, some political leaders are pursuing antinuclear agendas, thereby jeopardising the environmental targets and security of supply needs of their countries.

And yet despite these pressures, nuclear generation is growing now faster than it has done for more than 25 years.

Nuclear energy is growing because of the many benefits it offers:

  • It is among the most cost-competitive energy options over many decades of operation.
  • Nuclear power plants support skilled hi-tech jobs and economic activity in nearby communities, during construction, operation and decommissioning.
  • Nuclear energy is capable of generating 24/7, but can also operate flexibly if desired, making it a complementary partner to other low carbon energy sources.
  • Nuclear technology is proven technology, available today and can be expanded quickly. New nuclear build is the fastest way of adding low carbon generation to the grid.
  • It is also a clean air energy source that helps avoid the air pollution from fossil fuels that harms the health of millions each year.
  • Nuclear energy has a small land and resource footprint, leaving more space for nature.
  • It boosts security of supply and brings services to the electricity system in an uncertain world

Nuclear technology is also developing, with new technologies improving efficiency and opening up new applications to enable decarbonization of industry and transport.

We have over the last three years seen a significant increase in new nuclear build. Since 2015, reactors with a combined capacity of 25 GWe have started supplying electricity. Over the next two years an additional 33 GWe are due to come on line. In total these new additions represent a 15% increase in global nuclear capacity in just five years. These new starts; 30 reactors, 10 countries, 12 reactor models and 2 newcomer countries.

This acceleration is good, but we need to do more. Access to electricity and the need for clean air are vital. Electricity consumption continues to rise but air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions must fall.

The global nuclear industry has set a Harmony goal that nuclear energy should supply 25% of the world’s electricity by 2050.

The Harmony goal is developed from the International Energy Agency’s 2˚C scenario, which sets out a pathway that avoids the most damaging consequences of climate change and requires a large increase of all low-carbon sources, of which nuclear is an important part.

An increased share of low-carbon sources, as well as a greatly reduced level of fossil fuels, must work together in harmony to ensure a reliable, affordable and clean future energy supply is delivered 24/7 irrespective of weather and seasons.

Achieving this means globally nuclear generation must triple by 2050. This target can be met with the construction of 1000 GW of new nuclear capacity, as well as the continued operation of a significant proportion of our current nuclear power plants.

Today, with the experience and knowledge it has gained, the nuclear energy industry is in a strong position to deliver on the Harmony goal. The build rate required to meet the Harmony goal of 1000 GWe of new nuclear capacity by 2050 requires building to an average 33 GWe per year up to 2050. This is an ambitious programme, but the rate at which new reactors will have to be built is no higher than what has been historically achieved.

Achieving the Harmony goal will only be possible if we address several barriers standing in the way.Electricity markets are failing to recognize the full costs and benefits of different forms of electricity generation.

Multiple regulatory barriers from diverse national licensing processes and safety requirements are limiting global civil nuclear trade and investment and makes it challenging to license innovative designs.

The current energy system also fails to consider safety from a holistic society perspective.

Addressing these barriers will not be easy. It will require a cooperative effort by the whole nuclear community - from industry to research, governments, and regulators - to focus on demolishing the real barriers to growth.

Together, we should seek to establish a level playing field in energy markets which optimizes existing low-carbon energy resources already in place and drives investment in future clean energy, where nuclear energy is treated on equal opportunity with other low-carbon technologies and recognized for its value in a reliable, stable low carbon energy mix.

We should also ensure harmonized regulatory processes in order to provide a more internationally consistent, efficient and predictable nuclear licensing regime, to facilitate significant growth of nuclear capacity, without compromising safety and security.

We should also create an effective safety paradigm focusing on genuine public wellbeing, where the health, environmental and safety benefits of nuclear are better understood and valued when compared with other energy sources.

I hope that the NEA will be an important part of this cooperative effort.

Over time the NEA’s role has evolved to one where major emphasis is placed on providing a forum for co-ordinating the national nuclear programmes of member countries, particularly in the health, safety and regulatory areas, reflecting how governments perceive that they have come under increasing pressure from their constituents to give greater priority to the environmental aspects of nuclear energy and to the safety and regulation of nuclear power plants.

I believe that the time is right to add a further task. The NEA should help governments come together to give greater priority to nuclear energy because of its environmental, health and safety benefits.  There should be greater cooperation on regulatory issues to remove barriers to global nuclear trade and investment. And we need the NEA to continue to promote collaborative approaches to nuclear innovation – we especially welcome NI2050.

Congratulations to NEA members, Director General and the secretariat. The NEA, and the nuclear industry, can look back on the achievements of the past 60 years with pride. But we must also look forward, and ensure nuclear generation is part of an energy system that delivers a bright future for our people and our planet.


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