Business & Economy

Nuclear enjoys resurgence as viable and ‘safe’ energy source: IAEA chief

By Alvaro Mellizo

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, Nov 11 (EFE).- Since the war in Ukraine, nuclear has enjoyed a resurgence as a viable source of “safe and very attractive” energy, the International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi told Efe.

In an interview with Efe on the margins of the United Nations Cop27 climate summit in Egypt, Grossi backed nuclear energy as a green option with almost zero emissions, making it a “core energy” option for any “intelligent energy matrix.”

Question: What future does atomic energy have in this global context?

Answer: Atomic energy already plays a very important role. It already accounts for 25% of low-emission energies. Half in Europe. And half in the United States also. In other words, currently it is not something promising or something that could be good, it is already playing a role.

The issue is whether this role is going to be maintained, is it going to decrease or is it going to increase? Everything indicates that there will be, and already is, a strong increase in interest in it. There is an obvious motivation, climate change, and the fact that it is a stable energy, dispatchable immediately, that is very long-term and very attractive from all those perspectives.

But today we are in a world at war with a global impact and this has led to a very strong increase in interest in nuclear energy in many countries, starting with those in Eastern Europe, all of which are redoubling their commitment to nuclear energy.

Countries that had decided to interrupt nuclear energy such as Belgium have decided to extend the useful life of some of their plants. Even Germany, known for its very vocal and staunch opposition to nuclear power, has decided to halt the shutdown of its last three remaining reactors.

Q: What contribution does nuclear energy have at this time?

A: We think that it is very positive (…) because nuclear energy is now considered from a more neutral perspective and included in debates on climate change, in models towards decarbonization and if it were absent, all goals would be practically impossible to achieve.

Q: Is nuclear energy green?

A: It is a green energy, it is an energy that practically does not produce carbon dioxide emissions. The condition of being green means different things in different places.

In Europe there is the debate on taxonomy, on what role nuclear waste plays in order to consider it green. But it is a clearly sustainable energy, it is an energy that does not harm the environment. In my opinion, it is a green energy.

Q: What inherent risks exist?

A: There have been two major accidents that have greatly concerned the public, which are Chernobyl and Fukushima. When it comes to these issues one can sound a bit cold and dehumanized, but you have to compare the statistics of how many deaths there were and what the morbidity of nuclear energy is when compared to all other energy sources. Upon analyzing this, we see that the safety factor of nuclear energy is very high, practically the highest compared to all others, including renewables. It seems strange, but it is so.

Q: And is there time for nuclear energy to solve the environmental crisis?

A: Of course there is. Two things: people say nuclear plants take 10-15 years to build, and that is false. There have been some nuclear power plants that have incurred very serious delays, we do not deny it, but the average historical time for the construction of a nuclear power plant is seven to eight years, sometimes less.

If I were to have a nuclear power plant in six or seven years that would take my carbon emissions to zero… Where is the delay?

Q: So, what would be your conclusion?

A: Nuclear energy has a great advantage as a basic energy source hand in hand with renewables, which are very important. I want to clarify it because some think that we have a competitive approach with renewable energies, which are really very positive and the IAEA fully supports them.

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