Despite the continued risk of damage to Ukraine’s largest power plant due to the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops, the war is acting as a “catalyst” for deployment of nuclear power in many countries, especially those in eastern Europe, the head of International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi has said.
“I know it is paradoxical… it is not something to be celebrated, but it is happening…,” Grossi told The Indian Express in an interview at the COP27 climate change meet in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Asked whether the war in Ukraine, particularly the threats of use of a nuclear weapon or the risk of damage to a nuclear facility, was dampening interest in nuclear power, Grossi said the reverse seemed to be happening.
“Take (the case of) eastern Europe. The war in Ukraine has been a steroid for (adoption of) nuclear (power). It has made Poland decide to go all the way (opt for nuclear power). No doubts about it. Ukraine (is asking for) more (nuclear power), Czech Republic more, Slovakia more, Romania more, Bulgaria more. All of them. And several of them, almost all of them, with the exception of Poland, are working with Russia (on their nuclear plans). Paradoxical, isn’t it?” Grossi said.
“I wouldn’t say this is something to be celebrated. I am just saying this is happening. Let me put it like this. The war has acted like a catalyst… something that accelerates a process that was already there. Most of the plans (in these countries) already existed. Maybe it is just about the factor of speed. People realise that if energy security is a concern, nuclear power gives you the kind of autonomy or reliability that you need,” he said, adding that Egypt, the host of COP27 meeting, was also in the process of installing nuclear power.
“In a few years, you would have a very good percentage of electricity of nuclear origin in this country,” he said, referring to similar plans in countries like Ghana, Namibia and Kenya.
Grossi said this was happening despite the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine remaining at constant risk of damage due to the war, or from the forced outages of external power at the facility that threaten the shutdown of cooling systems and potential release of radiation.
“The concerns are getting bigger every day. There is continued shelling (in the area)… regular interruptions of external power. Can you imagine a nuclear reactor in India running like this? Forget shelling, even throwing a stone can land you in big trouble… in India, in the United States, or any other country. But here (in Zaporizhzhia) you have (to depend on) diesel generators running for hours (for operating the cooling systems), sometimes even days… sometimes even these are switched off… And then suddenly there is power back, and there is a big sigh of relief… And then this thing starts all over again three days later. It is very serious,” Grossi said. Zaporizhzhia houses the largest nuclear power facility in all of Europe.
“Zaporizhzhia is a daily drama… It is a tragedy that must be avoided at all costs,” he said.
Grossi said any incident at Zaporizhzhia would most likely force countries to rethink their nuclear plans, “especially in democracies where one must win the hearts and minds of voters” to receive approval. That, he said, would be a big setback for the climate objectives as well.
“For all the energy planners looking at the energy choices seriously, at least in the industrialised countries, it was obvious before the war, and without the war, that without nuclear you would never get anywhere near the climate change goals. Nowhere near,” he said, citing assessments from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and International Energy Agency (IEA) whose outlooks for quick transition to clean energy rely heavily on deployment of nuclear power.
“According to all estimates of IEA, and even the IPCC, we need to at least double the global installed capacity of nuclear to maximise the carbon dioxide abatement. At least double. That is what IEA says. There are other assessments that say nuclear (energy) needs to be tripled or quadrupled… At the moment, nuclear energy forms about 10-11 per cent of supplies globally. This is higher than renewables, but it can be overtaken by renewables soon, given the massive investment that is moving into renewables now. But even then, realistically speaking, we can foresee nuclear rising to about 20 per cent of total capacity within perhaps the next decade or so, if current plans move at the same pace in the United States, in China, in India, in France and in the rest of Europe,” he said.
“The entire eastern European crescent, Poland, Hungary and others are going in for massive investments in nuclear. It might be driven by geopolitical factors. Poland, which does not have any nuclear power now, has just announced a massive contract with Westinghouse (a US nuclear energy company) which is interesting,” Grossi said.