UN nuclear chief sees atomic energy as a big part in climate control

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The head of the UN nuclear agency says he sees atomic power playing a key role balancing climate concerns and the world's energy needs. But nuclear energy is the subject of fierce criticism by opponents who fear radiation and pollution.

Many environmentalists have long been skeptical of atomic power, citing the potential for disastrous accidents and the lingering issue of what to do with nuclear waste.

Amid concerns that the world is reducing greenhouse gas emissions too slowly, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said he is seeing fresh interest in the nuclear option.

He said he has noted particular interest among younger people who do not have the "cultural burden” that some older environmentalist have associated with nuclear power.

“Young generations want a clear, a clean world, but they don’t want a ... pastoral world without, you know, the access to technology," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in Glasgow.

Grossi said nuclear power now accounts for more than a quarter of the energy generated from non-fossil sources and produces very few of the greenhouse gas emissions that countries have pledged to eliminate by mid-century.

While some nations like Germany and Japan are phasing out nuclear power, others, such as France, Britain and the United States, consider it an important part of their future energy mix.

“It is obvious that nuclear is and can be even a better, a more efficient tool to get to these very, very ambitious goals that countries have for 2030, 2050 or whatever it may be," Grossi said.

One key advantage of nuclear power lies in the steady supply it provides compared to the fluctuations from wind or solar, he said.

“When you’re looking about your ideal energy mix, you need stability, you need baseload and you need the capacity to power your economy 24/7 without any interruption,” Grossi said.

Energy crunch

In October, a group of ten EU countries, led by France, requested the European Commission, in an open letter published in the newspaper Le Figaro, to recognise nuclear power as a "low-carbon energy source" that should be part of the bloc's decades-long transition towards climate neutrality.

Tapping into Europe's ongoing energy crunch, the countries make the case for nuclear energy as a "key affordable, stable and independent energy source" that could protect EU consumers from being "exposed to the volatility of prices".

The nine other EU countries that signed the letter, most of which already count nuclear as part of their national energy mix include Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania.

But critics maintain that the resulting radioactive waste is harmful to human health and the environment.

"Nuclear power is incredibly expensive, hazardous and slow to build," says Greenpeace.

Many are concerned about potentially disastrous nuclear accidents, similar to those of Chernobyl in 1986 or Fukushima in 2011, which are still deeply rooted in the collective imagination.

Watchdog group Don't Nuke the Climate tweeted that "IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi starts the Propaganda machine of the nuclear industry...never the whole story. Half truths from the people who down play the half lives of their toxic trade. Sadly there was no time for questions."

(With agencies)

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