Nuclear plants could safely operate for 100 years, suggests Grossi

09 November 2022


As the nuclear sector takes its place at the COP27 gathering, the International Atomic Energy Agency's director general says that Long Term Operation (extending the lifetime of existing nuclear plants) is the "unsung hero of the fight against global warming".

The IAEA director general spoke at the opening of the #Atoms4Climate programme of events (Image: IAEA)

Rafael Mariano Grossi was speaking at the first full day of events at the #Atoms4Climate stage at the 27th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Grossi and a host of other industry figures stressed the important role nuclear must play in efforts to cut carbon emissions and to tackle climate change. He said that the fact there was a pavilion at COP27 for nuclear was "a first and a reflection of how things are changing".

In a question and answer session with Bloomberg’s William Kennedy, Grossi was asked about the fact that the many reactors built in the 1970s were now approaching their 50th year, with some having had operational permissions extended to 60 or 70 years and was asked whether that would be safe.

Grossi replied: "The unsung hero of the fight against global warming is Long Term Operation, which is basically having, with half or even less the initial investment, a new reactor that is going to be there - you say to 70 years, I say 100, you know, it's going to be closer. We see reactors now that are closer to 80 years and are perfectly safe, having undergone very thorough refurbishing operations."

He said that the involvement of the IAEA was crucial "because what we do is work with national regulators through very intensive peer reviews to make sure that Long Term Operation is giving you a new nuclear reactor, not simply an old one which is more or less muddling through".

Asked if he thought that from a climate change point of view, countries shutting reactors were making a mistake, he said: "Well in my personal opinion, yes. This is a matter that requires a technical, scientifically-sound discussion. I think from the vantage point of the nuclear sector, we must also recognise political realities, because in politics 2 plus 2 is not 4. Sometimes, from a scientific or technical point of view, it is very difficult to accept that people are taking decisions that do not seem to square, but it happens and the challenge for us is to prove, and to show, that keeping nuclear in the equation is going to give you the energy, is going to give you the solution to your climate problem, is going to give you jobs, is going to give you opportunities - it is going to give you things that are very important for political people to get the votes they need."

During the session Grossi also restated the need for a protection zone around the nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine which, as he pointed out, is on the frontline of the war. The six reactor plant, occupied by Russian forces, currently has IAEA staff stationed there, but Grossi said there was an emerging question about future safeguard inspections, because the IAEA had different mechanisms for inspecting nuclear facilities in countries without nuclear weapons - such as Ukraine - and those with nuclear weapons - such as Russia. Efforts continue to try to establish the protection zone "in the near future", for what, he noted, was a very large site with a variety of different facilities.

Other speakers on the first full day of events at the #Atoms4Climate stage included World Association of Nuclear Operators President Mohamed Al Hammadi who said that the “new momentum” seen in the civil nuclear industry sector was being driven by the world’s need for large scale decarbonisation and energy security and the industry "must get ahead of the curve when it comes to ensuing that we have the resources and the capacity to deliver" safe, reliable and timely new capacity.

World Nuclear Association Director General Sama Bilbao y León, in a video message, said the association had represented nuclear at COP meetings for more than 20 years, and said there had been a change of attitude - a positive change - towards nuclear last year at COP26. She added: "This is now the moment for the nuclear industry to really step up - it is essential for the nuclear industry to demonstrate it has the capacity and the ambition to deliver the massive contribution to climate change mitigation that is needed if the global community is to succeed in reaching net-zero with the urgency needed."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News