September 22, 2016

By: John Gilleland, Ph.D - Chief Technical Officer

Next week, nations will gather in Vienna, Austria, for the 60th Annual Regular Session of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) General Conference. This annual event marks one of the world’s central gathering points on nuclear energy. Discussions this year will be significantly influenced by last winter’s COP21 meeting in Paris and the signing of the Paris Agreement. Of special importance is the idea that nuclear energy needs to play a key role in the global market if we are to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2°C.

Despite the need for carbon-free energy, nuclear plants in the United States continue to close due to market-distorting subsidies that penalize nuclear energy, America’s main source of emissions-free electricity. It is indeed a disturbing trend. Nonetheless, new hope lies in what are known as “emerging nations” – countries in the process of rapid growth and transition to a modern market economy, a process often involving industrialization, urbanization and rapid social change. This includes nations like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Many such nations – already member states of the IAEA – are actively considering or are already building nuclear energy into their national energy plans. According to the World Nuclear Association, more than 45 countries are actively considering new nuclear power programs.

Countries like the United Arab Emirates, India, South Africa, Turkey and others realize the importance of nuclear energy at a time when other energy sources exacerbate climate change. In addition, these other sources are useful only in certain geographic regions or require burdensome economic subsidies. With increasing populations, the need for reliable, clean energy is more important than ever and these countries see nuclear energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels and an essential element of a practical, balanced energy supply.

In India, the trend toward urban living has created a greater demand for power. Nearly 40 percent of India’s 1.2 billion citizens do not have access to electricity. India’s priority is economic growth; the government wants nuclear power to provide 25 percent of its electricity by 2050. The country is investing heavily in new nuclear and recently signed a civil nuclear deal that calls for Westinghouse to build six nuclear reactors.

As these emerging nuclear nations move quickly to enhance their nuclear energy programs, those nations with established programs need to be ready to support that development. Advanced nuclear technologies, like TerraPower’s traveling wave reactor, offer a chance for these newcomers to make great strides in the application of carbon-free electricity.