A "solid group" of 10-12 countries building nuclear power plants for the first time will emerge in the next decade, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Director General William Magwood in a WebChat on 16 October 2020.
Bangladesh, Belarus, Egypt, Turkey and the UAE are among the nuclear newcomers, while Kenya, Ghana, the Philippines and Uzbekistan are "seriously considering" joining their ranks, Grossi said. The IAEA's Milestones Approach - its guidance for countries that are considering or planning their first nuclear power plant - is "a collection of years and years of experience", he added.
The start-up in August of the UAE's first nuclear power plant has helped provide a reference point and the IAEA is being approached by "more and more" countries, he said. "I think that we will have a solid group of around 10-12 new countries added to the list of those which are at the moment producing nuclear energy," he added.
"I think that we will have a solid group of around 10-12 new countries added to the list of those which are at the moment producing nuclear energy"
Magwood referred to the change Grossi's predecessor - the late Yukiya Amano - made to the IAEA's motto - from 'Atoms for Peace' to 'Atoms for Peace and Development' - to align the agency more closely with other UN bodies working on the 17 goals for sustainable development.
"The development side of the agenda has always been there," Grossi said, "but what we are trying to do is be more efficient and impactful." He noted that as many as 100 of the IAEA's 172 Member States do not have nuclear power in their energy mix.
"[They] are coming to the agency for other reasons and they value this enormously. It may be difficult for countries which are in nuclear energy alone to understand this, but they are here for food security, nuclear medicine and water management. These are the things that are bringing them to the IAEA," he said.
The IAEA's role in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic proves how vital nuclear energy is, he said. This support has included the supply of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (real time RT-PCR) diagnostic equipment, which the agency says is the most sensitive technique for detecting viruses currently available.
"When you know about nuclear technologies and applications, you understand the many things that nuclear science can do. We started with the biggest operation in the history of the IAEA. We have been assisting 125 states, so well beyond what anybody should conceive as the 'developing' world," he said. "Many countries, including here in Europe, have been turning to the IAEA for help. We have been providing RT-PCR equipment, tests and so on and now we are launching a programme [to fight against future pandemics] called Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action, or Zodiac. It is really a very big part of what we believe we can do. And, for the first time, the IAEA has been requested to join the UN crisis management task force created by the Secretary General to address this pandemic."
"When you know about nuclear technologies and applications, you understand the many things that nuclear science can do"
All these efforts are alongside Grossi's work to secure a place for the nuclear industry in the next round of climate talks. Soon after becoming IAEA director general near the end of last year, Grossi attended COP 25 in Madrid, and he hopes for a prominent presence for the nuclear sector at COP 26, in Glasgow.
"It is more or less well known that nuclear provides 10-15% of global energy and one-third of clean energy," he said. "What we need is for nuclear to be considered seriously and that we have a mature debate about what kind of place we can have in the current circumstances - in the middle of a global crisis with one of the worst recessions that we have known, worse than in 2008. We have to go for rational solutions that would of course include nuclear. I was saying this in Madrid and I’ll be saying all the way to Glasgow that nuclear has a place at the table. We aren't dancing on top of the table but we have a place at the table and so, listen to what we have to say."
"It is more or less well known that nuclear provides 10-15% of global energy and one-third of clean energy"
He added: "I've started working with the British presidency and the Italian co-presidency, and we expect to have an opportunity to present the angle of nuclear energy as part of a solution that is done in harmony with renewables, one that can integrate itself into every realistic model that we can look at … My idea is to be there together perhaps with the private sector, with operators, with regulators, with a variety of actors in nuclear activity, to present as comprehensive an image of the sector as possible."
The WebChat is available here.