The role of nuclear in the changing energy landscape: An Interview with Agneta Rising, Director General, World Nuclear Association

Agneta Rising
Director General
By World Nuclear Association | 1 October 2019

Agneta Rising of World Nuclear Association shares her thoughts on the opportunities and challenges in advancing nuclear adoption, and the role of nuclear in achieving a carbon-neutral future.

1. What is the role of nuclear energy in accelerating energy transformation?

Nuclear energy will need to play a major role if the energy transformation is to succeed in meeting the needs and aspirations of the global population and to rapidly decarbonise so as to protect the environment.

Electricity generation worldwide needs to be carbon neutral by 2050 according to the IPCC’s “Global Warming of 1.5 ºC” report. In the 86 scenarios the report examined that achieved this decarbonisation goal, nuclear generation increased on average by two and a half times by 2050. In a scenario where current social and economic trends continue, nuclear generation increased by more than five times.

The IEA recently released a report – “Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy Future” – which concluded that without action to provide more support for nuclear power, global efforts to transition to a cleaner energy system will become drastically harder and more costly. It stated that a failure to invest in existing and new nuclear plants in advanced economies would have implications for emissions, costs and energy security.

The effectiveness of new nuclear build as a way to decarbonise economies has already been proven. Countries such as the USA, France, Sweden and UAE have shown that a major nuclear build programme is one of the most rapid and effective ways to avoid greenhouse gas emissions.

2. World Nuclear Association aims to have nuclear provide at least 25 per cent of electricity by 2050 as part of a clean and reliable low-carbon mix. What are the challenges in moving towards this target?

The nuclear industry’s Harmony goal is to provide 25 per cent of global electricity before 2050. To achieve this would require the number of new reactors coming online to accelerate from the current average of 10 GW per year to an average of around 33 GW per year between 2030 and 2050. This is a practical target for the nuclear industry. A similar build rate was achieved in the mid-1980s.

However, there are three main challenges that would need to be addressed. We’d need to create a level playing field in energy markets that drives investment in future clean energy. Nuclear energy needs to be recognised for its reliability and should be treated on equal terms as other low-carbon technologies as part of a robust low-carbon mix. Currently, electricity markets are failing to recognise the full costs and benefits of different forms of electricity generation. There is no credit given for the reliable, long-term, 24/7 generation supplied by nuclear energy.

We also need to create harmonised regulatory processes to provide a more internationally consistent, efficient and predictable nuclear licensing regime, to facilitate growth of nuclear capacity and timely licensing of innovative designs. Multiple regulatory barriers from diverse national licensing processes and safety requirements currently limit global civil nuclear trade and investment.

We also need to create an effective safety paradigm, focusing on genuine public wellbeing where the health, environmental and safety benefits of nuclear are better understood and valued when compared with other energy sources.

3. How is the nuclear energy industry increasing the adoption of nuclear, despite reservations concerning nuclear safety?

The adoption of nuclear energy worldwide is increasing because it is meeting the needs of a future energy system. It is rapidly saleable to meet growing demand, it provides a reliable, constant supply needed by growing economies and it is a clean form of generation, avoiding not only the long term effects of climate change, but also the more immediate harm to health caused by air pollution.

Where there are concerns over nuclear safety, these often arise where nuclear energy is considered in isolation. For nuclear energy to be adopted more widely, more open discussions are needed on the broader issues related to our energy future. The reality is that nuclear energy is much safer than most other generation options in use today. The current debate fails to take into consideration important factors such as economics, industrial development, societal needs, the environment and public health.

4. How can nuclear energy play a part in the electrification of the world, even as the demand for energy grows especially in Asia?

Across the world nuclear energy is contributing not only to electrification, but also to the decarbonisation of energy. This contribution is particularly evident in Asia.

The Asia edition of the World Nuclear Performance Report focuses on nuclear energy’s role in that region. Nuclear generation in Asia increased by 13 per cent in 2018 and is expected to continue to grow. Tarapur unit 1 in India became the first reactor to reach 50 years of operations, demonstrating the longevity of nuclear power plants. With new nuclear construction underway for the first time in Turkey, the rapid deployment of nuclear energy in China and the first start-up of reactors being built in the UAE expected next year, the use of nuclear energy will continue to expand.

New technology will have an important role to play. By the end of 2019, the world’s first purpose-built floating nuclear power plant, comprising two 35 MW reactors, will start up in Pevek in north-east Russia, and will supply electricity and heat. This will be among the first in a new range of smaller reactors that will have a broader range of applications and can be deployed in a wider range of locations than larger nuclear power plants.

The role that nuclear energy should play in Asia needs to expand. The continent is still highly reliant on fossil fuels. While there has been some shift from coal to gas this can only be a short-term stopgap to longer term full decarbonisation.

5. The theme for SIEW 2019 is Accelerating Energy Transformation. What do you look forward to being discussed at SIEW this year?

Since Singapore International Energy Week 2018 it has become even clearer that we need an energy transformation to a global system that is carbon neutral, and we will need to accelerate progress to achieving that aim so it can be met within the next 30 years.

I look forward to discussions on how that can be efficiently and effectively achieved, how different uses of electricity will become increasingly interlinked, with electricity generation, transport, energy storage and heating being part of the same system.

About Agneta Rising, Director General, World Nuclear Association

Agneta Rising became Director General of World Nuclear Association on 1 January 2013, having previously held the position of Vice President Environment at Vattenfall AB. In this post Ms. Rising headed a pan-European department focused on energy, environment and sustainability. Previously, Ms. Rising was Director for Nuclear Business Development at Vattenfall Generation.

Ms. Rising joined Vattenfall AB (then Swedish State Power Board) in 1980. Her career there centred on radiological protection. Within the Vattenfall Group, Rising was the leading specialist on nuclear energy and the environment.

Agneta Rising became chairman of the Uranium Institute in May 2000 and presided over its transformation into the World Nuclear Association in 2001.

Ms. Rising is co-founder and former president of Women in Nuclear (WIN). During her WIN presidency, the organisation quadrupled in size. Ms. Rising has also been president of the European Nuclear Society and president of the Swedish Nuclear Society.

Over the past two decades, Agneta Rising has been appointed by the Swedish government, the EU Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency to several significant expert and advisory positions relevant to the safety and future development of nuclear power. Among these, Ms. Rising served for four years on the IAEA’s International Nuclear Safety Group. She was awarded the Atoms for Peace Prize in 2013.


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