There is a global consensus among the experts in the policymaking community that nuclear energy is potentially a vital tool for countries to achieve global climate goals and energy supply security. According to the International Energy Agency, nuclear power is the second largest source of low-carbon electricity. Nuclear power plants produce almost no greenhouse gas emissions while in operation. Nuclear power produces about the same amount of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions per unit of electricity as wind, and one-third of the emissions per unit of electricity when compared with solar. When compared to fossil fuel, nuclear energy is a promising source of low-carbon alternatives that could decarbonise the economy at a lower cost. One viable option, as a decarbonisation strategy, is to expand the role of nuclear energy in power generation through the use of advanced nuclear technologies and small modular reactors (SMRs) to provide process heat for industrial applications. The prospects appear bright given the political interests and financial support for SMR developers by the governments in the traditional nuclear power states such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. However, there are significant regulatory challenges since SMR technology is still nascent in the global nuclear industry.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Harmonisation and Standardisation Initiative, the immediate challenge for the global nuclear regulatory community is to establish a common position on technical and policy issues even though there is no large-scale deployment of SMRs yet. So far, two SMR units have been deployed aboard a Russian and Chinese floating nuclear power plants, and another unit is in the advanced stage of construction in Argentina. It is on this note that this roundtable aims to assess the viability of nuclear energy as a decarbonisation strategy in ASEAN, the safety issues and challenges for the regulators, and the suitability of advanced nuclear technologies and SMRs in the region.