IEA Executive Director delivers keynote address at World Nuclear Exhibition

28 June 2016

Dr Fatih Birol talks with French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron following their panel discussion

Nuclear power can play an important role in reducing carbon emissions but significant challenges remain, including an aging fleet, public concerns, and a lack of clear market and policy signals for future investments, said Dr Fatih Birol. Speaking at the  World Nuclear Exhibition on 28 June 2016, Dr Birol said nuclear energy was at a crossroads, both in terms of the role it can play in the broader energy mix, and in global efforts towards decarbonisation of the electicity system along with a greater role for renewables.

Today nuclear reactors generate 1/3 of low-carbon power globally, however a lack of investment means that a “nuclear renaissance” is failing to materialise, said Dr Birol. The share of nuclear power in the electricity mix is today 11% and this will rise to 12% under current policies, however it must reach 18% by 2040 to meet COP21 climate targets yet current prices do not provide the necessary signals to nuclear industry investors. Additions to nuclear capacity in OECD countries over the coming 25 years will barely outpace retirements, and there will be a net decrease in capacity in Europe. Rather it is India, Korea, and Russia that are seen to account for 40% of the net increase in global nuclear capacity in the period to 2040.

Dr Birol also highlighted the many challenges continued development of nuclear power. “Safety is the chief public concern throughout the lifecycle of nuclear power, from mining uranium to operating power plants to managing waste,” said Dr Birol, “Newcomer countries to nuclear power, especially, must commit to developing a strong regulator and culture of safety.” Dr Birol also noted that waste management was a serious, long-term issue that must be addressed through innovation and regulation.

In closing, Dr Birol hailed the signing of the Paris Agreement, highlighting that there is global momentum behind innovation, research and investment into clean energy technologies. Yet meeting collective climate goals will require taking advantage of all low-carbon technologies.

Following the keynote presentation, Dr Birol participated in a panel discussion on "Nuclear and Renewables in a Low Carbon Economy" moderated by Jean-Bernard Lévy, CEO of EDF. Emmanuel Macron, French Minister of the Economy, delivered a closing address prior to meeting with Dr Birol on the side-lines of the event.

Download the slide deck for Dr Birol's keynote address here.