UN atomic agency a sounding board for countries considering going nuclear

International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters

11 May 2010 – The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) fans out across the globe to not only ensure that nations are adhering to international pacts on security and other issues, but also to help them decide whether or not to make the leap to nuclear power.

At the start of the five-yearly review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which kicked off last week, the agency’s head, Yukiya Amano, told more than 100 nations taking part at the event in New York that dozens of countries are considering introducing nuclear power to generate electricity.

He noted that “it is expected that between 10 and 25 new countries will bring their first nuclear power plants online by 2030,” joining the 30 nations already on the nuclear bandwagon.

Nearly three dozen plants are currently under construction, half of which are in Asia, mainly China.

The financial and economic crises have not dampened interest in nuclear energy, Hans-Holger Rogner, who heads the IAEA’s Planning and Economic Studies Section, told the UN News Centre.

The lead time for a nuclear power plant is at least ten years, and the Agency expects the capacity of nuclear energy to grow in the coming decades as global demand for electricity continues to increase.

The right to peacefully use nuclear technology is one of the three pillars of the NPT, which entered into force in 1970.

When asked for assistance by Member States, the IAEA helps them to assess their energy options and weigh all the factors – including the volatility of fossil fuel and uncertainties of climate change – before making the decision to install nuclear power plants.

It is vital to make nations understand “what you’re getting yourself into,” given that “nuclear is a 100-plus-year commitment,” Mr. Rogner said.

If countries decide to proceed with introducing a nuclear component to their energy system, then the IAEA helps them to ensure that it has the right capacity, human resources, waste disposal plans and adherence to international conventions, among others.

“We really guide them through this,” Mr. Rogner said, underscoring that the IAEA’s role in this process is not a policing one. “We simply try to tell them, look – here is best practice.”

He emphasized that it is essential that any nuclear planning involve as many groups as possible, an area in which he believes the industry still has some distance to travel. Transparency is vital from the get-go, he said, citing the example of some countries which carried out the search for potential nuclear power plants under the guise of looking for oil drilling sites.

The official said that the IAEA discourages countries from taking the so-called “DAD” – decide, announce and defend – approach. “Rather, have everyone involved from Day One,” he said.

For example, instead of having a technocrat from another country try to reassure a frightened fisherman who works downstream from a potential nuclear power plant, the best encouragement would come from a fellow fisherman working close to an already-operational site in a peer-to-peer exchange.

“They trust other fishermen ten times more than they would ever trust Holger Rogner,” he said, chuckling.


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