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IAEA says growth of nuclear power too low to curb climate change

An International Atomic Energy Agency conference statement Wednesday said nuclear power is not attracting enough investment to limit climate change, and more clarity from policymakers may be needed to support its development.

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The statement at the end of the three-day IAEA ministerial meeting on nuclear energy in the United Arab Emirates represents the views of the conference president, the UAE's ambassador to the IAEA, only, and was not voted on by the delegates to the event.

The statement suggested that one way to spur growth of nuclear power and help meet the goal of limiting global average temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius would be to include nuclear energy in definitions of clean energy incentives. Fewer than 10 countries currently do so, IAEA officials said.

There could be a decline in the use of nuclear power in the coming decades before growth in the 2030s and 2040s, IAEA Deputy Director General Mikhail Chudakov said during a news conference Wednesday, in part as the result of low prices for competing fossil fuels.



"I'm pretty sure that without constructing 20 to 30 nuclear power plants per year we cannot fulfill our obligations on climate change and stop increasing average temperatures," he said.

Some nuclear industry conference participants said the agency's actions have not gone far enough, and further action like pushing more harmonization of nuclear safety regulations between member countries or lobbying other international bodies such as the World Bank to support nuclear projects are needed.

However, Chudakov said the organization is limited by the diverse policies of its members, only 30 of which operate power reactors.

Some countries, such as Germany, are phasing out nuclear energy, while others oppose it completely. The IAEA supports its 168 member nations' right to decide for itself whether to embrace nuclear energy.

Over the course of the conference, more than 30 countries presented national statements about their approach to nuclear energy.

US Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy Edward McGinnis said the administration of President Donald Trump "will take steps to revitalize and expand the US nuclear sector," during remarks Tuesday.

The administration will do this by "vigorously moving to remove market barriers" to nuclear energy.

The Department of Energy has proposed a rule for consideration by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would strengthen the market position of coal and nuclear units by providing them payments that reflect their full costs if they meet requirements for having a certain amount of fuel on-site.

Fossil fuel-fired plant owners and renewable energy groups, among others, have opposed the proposal.

The US is seeking to spur exports of nuclear energy plants and components, McGinnis said, including to the host nation UAE and neighboring Saudi Arabia.

McGinnis said IAEA should exercise its "full authorities to verify Iran's adherence to each and every nuclear-related commitment" agreed to in last year's agreement intended to roll back that country's ability to make nuclear weapons.

The so-called Iran nuclear deal has been criticized by Trump, although it remains in place.

Iran has been complying with all the requirements of the deal, which included sending heavy water and enriched uranium out of the country, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said during a news conference October 31.

Iran declined at the last minute to attend the conference.

Several Middle Eastern countries indicated during the conference they may follow the lead of UAE, which is preparing to become the first new country to add nuclear power reactors since Iran did so in May 2011.

Four South Korean-designed APR1400 units are being built at the Barakah site in UAE, with the first unit 96% complete and scheduled to start up next year, Emirati officials said during the conference.

Belarus is the only other country planning to start up its first power reactor in the next two years, although about 30 countries are considering such a move, IAEA officials said.

Representatives of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia also expressed plans at the conference to build nuclear units, with Jordan and Saudi Arabia saying they are exploring the development of small modular units alongside gigawatt-class reactors.

Middle Eastern countries are attracted to nuclear power because of their growing populations, increasing per-capita electricity use, the need for power for water desalination and desires to diversity their fossil-dependent energy mixes, Salem Hamdi, director general of the Tunisia-based Arab Atomic Energy Agency, said during the conference Tuesday.

But some countries said they do not see a future for nuclear energy.

Germany's representative at the meeting, Lingenthal Gotz, ambassador of the country to the UAE, said his country is continuing with its plan to phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022 by increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy.

Germany is focusing on decommissioning its retired nuclear units, and plans to become a leading technology and services provider in this area, Gotz said.

--William Freebairn, william.freebairn@spglobal.com
--Edited by James Leech, james.leech@spglobal.com