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11 March 2013 | Mumbai, India
Indian Nuclear Society

IAEA Perspectives on Future of Nuclear Energy

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address the Indian Nuclear Society once again.

When I last spoke to you, in January 2011, the nuclear world looked somewhat different from today. There was still talk of a global nuclear renaissance. Dozens of countries were thinking about introducing nuclear power. Many of the 30 or so existing users planned to build additional plants.

Then came the Fukushima Daiichi accident, two years ago today. It caused profound public anxiety and damaged confidence in nuclear power. Some people predicted that nuclear power would go into decline.

However, the evidence suggests that this will not be the case.

Some European countries announced plans to move away from nuclear power. But, globally, nuclear power looks set to continue to grow steadily, although more slowly than we expected before the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

There are 437 operating nuclear power reactors in the world today. The latest IAEA projections, which are based on what Member States tell us, suggest that number could increase by 80 or 90 in the next 20 years. It could even double.

At the moment, there are 66 new reactors under construction. Seven of them are in India. I understand your country plans continued expansion in the coming decades. Other major users of nuclear power such as China and Russia also have significant expansion plans.

A number of countries have taken the decision to introduce nuclear power, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, Poland, Turkey and Vietnam. The United Arab Emirates has started building a nuclear power plant, the first new country to do so for 27 years. I visited the site in January and was impressed by the progress being made.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This audience understands better than most the many benefits which nuclear power offers.

Nuclear power can help to improve energy security. It can reduce the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices and mitigate the effects of climate change. For a rapidly developing economy such as India's, it can make a vitally important contribution to growth.

I believe that other sources of energy such as renewables also have an important contribution to make. But they are not in a position to provide the amounts of reliable base-load electricity which a modern economy needs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Nuclear power can do that.

In many countries, the main obstacle to building new reactors is financial. The costs of construction can be considerable, although these may be offset by lower and more stable fuel costs during operation.

Public acceptance is also an important issue. I know this has been a concern in India, as in other countries, and that there have been demonstrations against the construction of new nuclear power plants.

Winning back confidence in nuclear power after Fukushima Daiichi will take time. It will also require an unwavering commitment to safety, as well as openness and transparency by operators, regulators and governments.

The safe management and disposal of radioactive waste and spent fuel are sometimes seen as major challenges for the future of nuclear power. The IAEA works closely with Member States in this area. In fact, the nuclear industry has been managing interim waste disposal successfully for more than half a century.

No long-term disposal facility for nuclear spent fuel has so far become operational. However, good progress has been made in a number of countries, including Finland, Sweden and France. Last year, I had an opportunity to visit the ONKALO facility in Finland, where a repository for the final disposal of spent fuel is being built deep underground. It is an impressive site.

The world's first deep geological repositories for nuclear spent fuel are expected to become operational after 2020. The progress that is being made in this area deserves to be better known.

Continued technological innovation is essential for the future of nuclear power.

India is at the forefront of technological development in the nuclear sector, not least in the area of fast reactors and related fuel cycles. Some of you may have attended the IAEA Conference on this subject which took place in Paris last week.

Fast reactors and related fuel cycles will be important for the long-term sustainability of nuclear power.

This innovative technology has the potential to ensure that energy resources which would run out in a few hundred years, using today's technology, will actually last several thousand years. Fast reactors also reduce the volume and toxicity of the final waste.

I understand that work is at an advanced stage on construction of India's 500 MW(e) Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor.

The IAEA remains the unique collaboration forum for ensuring continued progress in fast reactor technology. As in so many areas, India is a key partner for the IAEA in this field.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The lasting legacy of the Fukushima Daiichi accident will be a much more intense global focus on safety.

The accident was a wake-up call for everyone involved in nuclear power - a painful reminder that safety can never be taken for granted, even in an advanced industrial country.

A few months after the accident, our Member States adopted an IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, which is now being implemented.

Virtually all Member States with nuclear power plants have conducted stress tests to assess how well facilities are likely to withstand extreme events such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Many practical steps have been taken, such as equipping plants with portable diesel generators and building higher protective walls.

In June this year, the IAEA will hold an International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century in St Petersburg, Russia. It will provide a valuable opportunity to consider nuclear power's long-term contribution to sustainable development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to say a few words about the work of the IAEA.

Our statutory objective is "to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world."

We also work to help prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by verifying States' compliance with the safeguards agreements they conclude with the IAEA. India has concluded an agreement with the IAEA for the application of safeguards to civilian nuclear facilities, which came into force on 11 May 2009. India has since then placed 19 of its civilian facilities under that agreement, and has undertaken not to use any of those facilities, or relevant nuclear material, for military purposes.

We are active across the full spectrum of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In nuclear power, for example, we advise countries on how to put the appropriate legal and regulatory framework in place, and how to ensure the highest standards of safety, security and safeguards.

In nuclear applications, we help countries to increase food production by using nuclear techniques to develop robust new varieties of crops. We work to improve access to clean drinking water and to combat deadly animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth.

A special interest of mine is our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy. We provide training, expertise and equipment to developing countries so they can build comprehensive cancer control programmes.

India has been a generous supporter of our cancer control activities, for which I am very grateful. Bhabhatron II radiotherapy machines were donated by India to Vietnam and Sri Lanka, through the IAEA. A third machine is being provided to Namibia.

More generally, India is one of the largest contributors to the IAEA Coordinated Research Projects, a major vehicle for international cooperation in nuclear research and development.

The Agency plays the central role as the global platform for strengthening nuclear security. Our work focuses on helping to minimize the risk of nuclear and other radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists, or of nuclear facilities being subjected to malicious acts.

Nuclear security will be the focus of an important IAEA Ministerial Conference in Vienna in July this year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to conclude by noting that India's remarkable success in the field of peaceful nuclear technology is an inspiration for many developing countries. That success is the result of careful long-term planning and a focus on building home-grown expertise through high-quality education and training.

India has been an active member of the IAEA Board of Governors since the Agency was founded in 1957. Many Indian scientists, engineers and diplomats have served with distinction with the Agency.

I am very grateful to India for the extensive support it provides to the IAEA and, through us, to other Member States.

I also appreciate India's willingness to serve as a mentor for other Asian countries that have recently joined the IAEA. I am confident that these countries will benefit greatly from your vast experience and know-how in a broad range of nuclear applications.

I greatly value our cooperation with India in the field of peaceful nuclear technology and I look forward to strengthening that cooperation in future.

Thank you.