Ministers, policymakers and nuclear energy leaders came together at the fifth International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century for high-level discussions on this technology’s role in the clean energy transition and its contribution to sustainable development and climate change mitigation.
A delegation led by NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV attended the conference on 26-28 October 2022, organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in co-operation with the NEA.
In his address to the opening session of the conference, Director-General Magwood summed up the mood of many delegates when he said “We cannot ask our populations to choose between saving the environment and assuring access to reliable energy. We have to do both. That’s where nuclear comes in.”
The world is currently not on track to meet net zero by 2050 but the nuclear energy sector delivered a strong message in Washington D.C.: nuclear energy can help governments around the world to meet their climate objectives while bolstering energy security.
Reaching net zero
During his address to the conference’s opening session, Director-General Magwood also highlighted that in order for nuclear energy to reach its potential in decarbonising the economy—including hard-to-abate areas such as industrial heat—nuclear capacity needs to triple by 2050.
“NEA analysis shows that global installed nuclear energy capacity must triple by 2050 for the world to reach net zero. Our highest responsibility is to make sure that people and societies have access to reliable energy; not just wealthy countries, but also for emerging economies, which deserve access to clean energy,” said Director-General Magwood.
Speaking alongside United States Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, and Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director-General Magwood emphasised the challenges that must collectively be overcome for nuclear power to fulfill its potential. As part of the opening session, the conference heard video messages from Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency and Bill Gates, Founder and Chairman of TerraPower.
Director-General Magwood reiterated that the nuclear industry must look beyond its past failures to ensure future success, working to alleviate challenges around production increases, supply chain issues and gender balance within the sector.
“We [the nuclear industry] are people who believe in the future – we are futurists. But the future doesn’t happen by itself. It requires hard work,” he concluded.
NEA Director-General Magwood addressing the International Ministerial Conference in Washington D.C. (Image source: IAEA)
A new era?
The nuclear energy industry is experiencing a resurgence and this was touched on during many of this conference’s discussions. This shift over the past five years has been driven by the fact that nuclear energy offers a pathway for governments and policymakers to meet their climate objectives whilst also providing communities with a secure energy supply.
“The level of enthusiasm is broader and deeper than what we have seen since the 1960s,” said Director-General Magwood.
Director-General Magwood noted that COP26 was a pivotal moment for policymakers who were faced with the realisation that despite many successes, the current trajectory of CO2 emissions would see the carbon budget exhausted in less than eight years.
“When officials returned home and confronted this reality, we found a buzzing conversation about nuclear energy,” he added.
During a joint press conference, Director-General Magwood, US Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, and IAEA Director General, Rafael Mariano Grossi, shared their optimism for the future of the nuclear energy industry. In particular, the NEA Director-General highlighted the important role that “game changing” new technologies can play in the clean energy transition.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm about the next generation of nuclear energy technologies: Generation IV and small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs open up new opportunities for how nuclear energy can be used – especially in hard-to-abate areas of the economy. There’s a lot of excitement about these new technologies – because they promise better economics, simpler designs, and factory manufacturing,” he said.
United States Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, also shared her optimism for the future of the nuclear energy industry and its potential to help improve various aspects of society.
“We see enormous potential in nuclear power to advance our climate goals, to enhance our energy security, to widen affordable energy access, to create millions of high quality, good paying jobs,” said Secretary Granholm.
United States Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, speaking at the International Ministerial Conference opening session in Washington D.C. (Image source: IAEA)
The nuclear energy industry has seen private industry playing a more prominent role in the development of new nuclear technology innovations.
“In years past, it was the role of governments to develop and lead the deployment of nuclear energy technologies; today, it’s the private sector, fueled by people like Bill Gates,” said Director-General Magwood.
“People in the private sector are investing resources, talent and energy, to push forward with nuclear technology for one simple reason: because they think it’s necessary to save the world,” he added.
Bill Gates, Founder and Chairman of TerraPower - a nuclear innovation company – participated in the International Ministerial Conference opening session and shared why he firmly believes that a clean energy future cannot exist without nuclear power.
“Every possible path to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions requires non-weather dependent electricity generation, which only nuclear energy can provide at scale.” - Bill Gates.
Bill Gates, Founder and Chairman of TerraPower, addressing delegates at the International Ministerial Conference. (Image source: IAEA)
Decarbonising energy production with nuclear power
NEA Director-General Magwood took part in a robust panel discussion Fulfilling the Promise: Achieving Net Zero with Low Carbon Nuclear Energy with IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, World Nuclear Association (WNA) Director General Sama Bilbao y León, World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) President, Mohamed Al Hammadi and IEA Director for Energy Markets and Security, Mr Keisuke Sadamori.
The panellists delved into the factors which can affect domestic policy support for nuclear energy including investing in new innovative technologies such as SMRs and hydrogen produced using nuclear power.
They also discussed the challenges around future deployment and continued operation of nuclear power plants.
NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV (second left) speaking alongside fellow nuclear industry leaders during the panel session 'Fulfilling the Promise: Achieving Net Zero with Low Carbon Nuclear Energy.'
Strengthening international relations
Over the course of the conference, the NEA delegation held a number of bilateral meetings with valued international stakeholders and delegates from around the world.
Discussing a range of topics related to the sector, Director-General Magwood met with Clear Path; Westinghouse President and CEO, Patrick Fragman; Canadian Nuclear Association President and CEO, John Gorman; Orano CEO, Philippe Knoche; and the World Institute for Nuclear Security.
Additionally, Director-General Magwood met with various national delegations including Kenya, Korea and the United Arab Emirates to discuss domestic nuclear energy policy and strengthened collaboration on future nuclear safety activities and research projects.
Following the insightful discussions which took place between experts and leaders from all corners of the nuclear energy sector during the three days, a strong understanding prevailed that in order to overcome the challenges and deliver secure and low carbon clean, co-operation between the nuclear sector is critical. A sentiment echoed by the NEA Director-General Magwood:
“The only way that we will succeed is if we work together.”
More about the NEA's work in the field of nuclear energy and climate change here.