Nuclear power industry must market strengths more effectively – UN watchdog

Nuclear power plant

21 March 2005 – With energy demand expected to double by mid-century and nuclear power adding, by lowest estimates, the equivalent of 127 more 1,000-megawatt plants than earlier thought by 2020, the United Nations atomic watchdog today called on the nuclear industry to provide the public with a clear balance of the risks and benefits involved.

“The failure of the nuclear community – both scientists and technical experts, operators and regulators – to effectively ‘market’ the strength of nuclear power in comparison with other sources, has contributed to a lack of public understanding regarding risks and benefits of nuclear energy,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told a ministerial meeting in Paris.

He noted that nuclear power was dealt a heavy blow by the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine, a blow from which the reputation of the industry has never fully recovered. Yet an array of measures have been put in place since then to offset the possibility of another severe accident.

“How a given nation balances the risk of a nuclear accident against other factors (from fossil fuels) – such as air pollution, dammed rivers, mining accidents or dependency on foreign fuel supplies – is already a matter of complexity and legitimate debate,” Mr. ElBaradei told ministers and senior officials from over 60 countries attending the conference on Nuclear Power for the 21st Century.

“It is important for the nuclear community to make every effort to provide comprehensible, accurate information to support that debate, to ensure that the risks and benefits of nuclear technology are clearly and fairly understood,” he added.

He said he felt confident that nuclear safety has significantly improved. “But we should not rest on our laurels,” he added. “As nuclear power technology continues to spread to new countries, as new reactor designs are developed and put to use, and as the licences of existing plants are extended, it is essential that existing safety standards, operational practices and regulatory oversight are adapted – and in some cases strengthened – to ensure acceptable levels of safety into the future.”

On the threat of nuclear terrorism, he said security activities had greatly expanded in scope and volume. “Here, too, the international community is making good progress,” he declared. “While much remains to be done, nuclear installations around the world have strengthened security forces, added protective barriers and taken other measures commensurate with current security risks and vulnerabilities.”

Among the advantages of nuclear power, he noted that while the degree to which fossil fuels are tapped to meet the growing demand for energy could have a major negative environmental impact, nuclear power emits virtually no greenhouse gases.

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