Nuclear Energy Summit In Brussels And The Way Forward – OpEd

This year, a nuclear energy summit is being held in Brussels on March 21-22. The two-day summit aims to highlight the role of nuclear energy in lowering dependence on fossil fuels, enhancing economies, and boosting energy. Following the inclusion of nuclear energy at the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP 28 – the summit intends to gather world leaders to address the challenges, seek the way forward, and discuss solutions for harnessing the full potential of nuclear energy. 

In a press release, Director General IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi stated that the “Nuclear Energy Summit will highlight this renewed momentum for nuclear power and provide a high-level forum to showcase solutions for some of the issues the sector faces to realize its full potential, including from an industrial perspective. In this regard, it will also be a venue for building closer ties between political and industry executives, which are of paramount importance for the future of nuclear power.”

More than 30 countries worldwide aspire to use this technology. Rafael Mariano Grossi argues, “More and more countries are either planning to introduce nuclear power in their energy mix or expand already existing nuclear energy programs. We have seen a clear positive shift in recent years, with a growing realization that nuclear energy is an indispensable part of the solution to some of the most pressing global challenges of our time.” 

Over the past several decades, nuclear energy has played a crucial role in environmentally and economically sustainable development. Also, 13 European Union countries, since 2020, have started using nuclear power, which has produced around 683,512 GWh of electricity. 

The significance of nuclear energy in multiple domains has compelled the major stakeholders to consider nuclear power as a mitigation tool against climate change. The Atoms4NetZero Initiative, adopted at the 67th General Conference in Vienna, will continue to stress the direly needed transition in the energy sector. In terms of advocacy and conferences, the momentum on nuclear energy is gradually building, and the IAEA is playing a key role in this domain by holding major conferences, summits, and dialogues. 

However, to achieve the full potential of nuclear energy, real stakeholders and major powers need to come forward in real terms. To do so, a policy by major stakeholders should focus on the hurdles that hinder the early deployment of nuclear reactors and address the problems to overcome such challenges. These problems range from economic and technological access to, more importantly, political will on the part of major powers. 

In terms of economics, providing a loss and damage fund, as per the consensus achieved at COP 28, could help invest in nuclear energy. Most developing states are facing adverse effects of climate change while their options for energy remain limited to fossil fuels. Investing in the nuclear sector from the loss and damage fund can have multiple benefits for those states. This would not only help states transition their energy sector to nuclear energy but would also help mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. The loss and damage fund could be responsibly utilized by states, aligning with international norms, standards, and regulations. 

The countries, including the United States, Germany, Britain, the European Union, and the United Arab Emirates, as per the consensus built in COP 28, pledge to provide the loss and damage fund to the vulnerable states. However, the summit could be the best available platform for finalizing the agreement on loss and damage funds to climate-vulnerable countries. 

To promote nuclear energy practices and ensure their sustainability, the states and relevant stakeholders must prioritize safety and protection of people. In this context, the funds could be utilized for developing the insurance mechanism or risk mitigation strategies for overcoming potential accidents and disasters. Enhancing emergency preparedness response and investing in advanced safety measures and technologies could reduce the likelihood of accidents. 

Furthermore, the public perception of nuclear energy plays a crucial role in its adoption in the countries’ energy mix. Investment in and support of nuclear energy by key states can promote a positive public perception of nuclear energy. Countries meeting at the nuclear energy summit in Brussels should also focus on developing a comprehensive and well-documented policy for nuclear energy, addressing various aspects related to the development, regulation, and safety of nuclear power plants (NPPs). 

The nuclear energy summit in Brussels may promote a safer and more sustainable nuclear energy sector and help produce comprehensive, internationally recognized criteria for the safe operations of NPPs.  There are changes in the energy sector in the wake of geopolitics of great power rivalry. However, presenting feasible criteria for utilizing the full potential of nuclear energy would encourage more states to be part of the Atoms4Net Zero initiative.

Countries require pragmatic solutions. Many initiatives have yet to be practically implemented. To achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and achieve a net zero carbon emission by 2030, all stakeholders must participate actively. Cooperation between states and relevant stakeholders could play a crucial role in taking specific measures to utilize the full potential of nuclear energy. 

About the authors:

  • Dr Rahat Iqbal is Associate Director Research at Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad. 
  • Samran Ali is a Research Officer at Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad.