Going nuclear is a 100-year commitment: IAEA official

By V. Jagannathan, IANS
Monday, October 18, 2010

CHENNAI - Even as 60 more countries in the world have shown interest to embrace nuclear power to meet their energy needs, only one third of these may generate atomic power, says an official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Nuclear power is not like any other mode of power. Going nuclear is a 100-year commitment. A country should understand all the international obligations connected and also the internal consequence of going nuclear. Perhaps around 20/25 new countries may start nuclear power generation,” IAEA Deputy Director General Yuri Sokolov told IANS in an interview.

With over 35 nuclear power reactors under construction across Asia, a nuclear renaissance is sweeping the continent. Countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam having no reactors are now launching their nuclear programmes.

“Different countries have different energy demand and perspectives on the natural resource. They should understand the role of nuclear power in their conditions. They have to understand the nuclear technology and the front and back ends of the nuclear fuel cycle and methods to manage the nuclear waste,” said Sokolov.

He said much of the current expansion in the atomic power sector remained centred in Asia. Of the 12 plants whose construction started in 2009, 10 were in Asia. Forty of the 60 reactors under construction were in Asia, as are 30 of the 41 last new reactors to have been connected to the grid.

Asked about the preliminary steps that a newcomer to the nuclear power club should take, he said the country has to put atomic power in specific legal environment, establish regulatory systems and also understand the domestic and international implications.

“A newcomer country should also understand the international conventions on liability, mainly the liability to other countries owing to a nuclear accident and should have appropriate legislation.”

Asked about India’s objections to China’s decision to sell reactors to Pakistan, Sokolov said: “This is not new. Both the countries know what they are doing and also their international obligations.”

On the safety of uranium reserves as more and more nations plan to go nuclear, he said: “The nations where uranium reserves exists are stable and there is no risk of uranium falling into wrong hands.”

On the sustainability of nuclear power by the new aspirants, he said: “In order to have a sustainable model the new aspirants should consider institutional innovations leading to regional or multilateral cooperation in fuel supply and reprocessing of spent fuel.”

Asked whether fast reactors can be a solution for closing the nuclear fuel cycle, he said: “Fast reactors have just started and its numbers are limited. Russia has started operating fast reactors while India is building it first fast reactor. China and Japan have experimental reactors. On the other hand there are more than 420 light water reactors (LWR) in the world.”

He denied the possibility of a disruptive technology that would come into play.

According to him, the fusion reactor, under construction in France, is expected to be operational by 2019.

“It needs 20 years of experiment after which a country will start development of a demonstration plant by 2030. Perhaps a commercial fusion reactor may come into play by 2050,” said Sokolov.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

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