Grossi highlights the importance of nuclear energy at World Economic Forum

May 31, 2022, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe
Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks on a panel at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. (Photo: WEF)

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has authored an article for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting held last week in Davos, Switzerland.

The article, titled “Nuclear energy can be the turning point in the race to decarbonize,” discusses three main points: nuclear energy is gaining increasing support as a result of efforts to counter climate change, as well as energy concerns stemming from the war in Ukraine; achieving net-zero emissions will require a doubling of nuclear capacity; and progress on small modular reactor and spent fuel repository technology is boosting the accessibility and safety of nuclear power.

Energy infrastructure shift: Grossi points out that the governments of many countries have recently announced plans to extend the lives of their nuclear power plants as they worry about shortages in supplies and high prices of oil and natural gas, saying that there is “little doubt this crisis will accelerate a shift in our energy infrastructure.” He adds, however, that it remains “still to be decided . . . whether it will be coal and gas, or nuclear, that [will] work together with hydro, wind, solar, and other renewables to deliver uninterrupted electricity.”

Been done before: The IAEA director general notes that a number of energy experts have concluded that “the journey will require a doubling of nuclear capacity,” and he asserts his confidence in achieving this goal, reminding the reader, “It has been done before.” Many of today’s nuclear power plants were originally built as a result of the last major energy crisis—the shortages and price hikes related to the 1973 oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

New technologies: After Grossi describes the ongoing construction of more than 50 nuclear reactors around the world, the life extensions of reactors in several countries, and the consideration or planning of new nuclear power plants in about 30 countries, he notes the recent technological developments that paint an even brighter future for nuclear energy. These developments include the Onkalo spent fuel repository in Finland and the innovations of SMRs, which “will be quicker and more affordable to build, have a greater level of inherent safety due to their design, [and] offer more flexibility for pairing with variable renewables.”

Opportunity: Ultimately, Grossi has hope that scientists, political leaders, and the public will make the right decisions for nuclear energy, including in roles supporting “the shift to a hydrogen economy” and decarbonizing “hard-to-reach industrial sectors and transport.” However, he adds, “It is up to all of us to ensure we don’t let the opportunity go to waste.”

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