Agneta Rising is the Director-General of the World Nuclear Association. She was Vice President of Environment at Sweden’s state power board Vattenfall AB, where she headed a pan-European department focused on energy, environment and sustainability.
Over the past two decades, Agneta Rising has been appointed by the Swedish government, the EU Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency to several significant expert and advisory positions relevant to the safety and future development of nuclear power. Among these, Ms. Rising served for four years on the IAEA’s International Nuclear Safety Group. She was awarded the Atoms for Peace Prize in 2013.
1. Some countries in Asia are reviewing their development of nuclear energy. What is the outlook ahead for the industry in the region?
The outlook for nuclear energy in Asia is, in general, positive. China is leading the world in terms of constructing new nuclear capacity, and they are achieving that new build with remarkably consistent construction times. India has recently announced its plan for ten more pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs). Reactor vendors, for example those from Russia, are also taking great interest in countries in Asia and looking to support newcomer countries seeking to develop nuclear generation.
However, I would like to see those countries that are considering using nuclear as part of their future generation mix move forward with more urgency.
2. How is the nuclear energy industry addressing concerns around nuclear safety, regulatory standards and rising costs?
In real terms, nuclear power plants costs have fallen in some Asian countries. One reason for this is that countries constructing nuclear plants in the region have benefitted from a continuous new build programme, allowing constructors to exploit the benefits of series build, including the retention of skilled staff.
However, the competitiveness of nuclear plants is being hindered because regulatory standards and treatment of nuclear safety are not applied optimally. There is a need for greater harmonisation of regulatory practices that acknowledges the growing global nature of the nuclear industry.
Nuclear power plants are proven to be among the safest forms of electricity generation. But this fact is not recognised, and other forms of generation are allowed to operate less safely. There needs to be a new safety paradigm that recognises the true impacts and benefits of different forms of generation.
3. What can we learn about the latest nuclear energy technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs)? When could these technologies be deployed at scale?
There has been continuous innovation in nuclear generation since its inception. SMRs are a particular field of interest at present, offering the potential for deployment in areas where large scale reactor technology may not be suitable.
The first SMRs are currently being built, so we could see deployment at scale of such reactors in the next 10 to 15 years. Other SMR designs are based on more novel technologies that will need further research and development before wide scale deployment, so we are likely to see the emergence of different SMR technologies over the coming decades.
At the same time, there is already a wide range of new large scale reactor designs that have benefited from more than 60 years of ongoing development. A combination of these new reactor technologies will form our future nuclear generation.
4. Renewables are expected to grow rapidly in view of the Paris Agreement. How will this impact the nuclear energy industry?
There is considerable interest in renewables because of the widespread recognition that we need to shift to clean, low carbon energy sources to avoid not only the long-term effects of climate change, but also the very serious impacts of air pollution we experience today – caused in part by the burning of fossil fuels.
Our energy system is still dominated by fossil fuels. We will need to make use of all options if we are to transition to a clean, reliable low carbon energy system. So if the Paris Agreement encourages renewables, it should encourage nuclear too.
If we are to successfully deal with climate change, it is important that we give all energy options a fair chance to contribute. As subsequent COPs develop the detailed implementation that will operationalise the Paris Agreement and as governments seek to meet their commitments, it is important that nuclear is included and encouraged in such plans.
5. What are your thoughts on the SIEW 2017 theme, “Rethinking Energy; Navigating Change”?*
Our energy future is characterised by some of the longest-term policy objectives applying to any part of the global economy. We have a clear international consensus on the need to transition to a cleaner energy future. Leading governments have set emissions reduction targets out to 2050 and beyond, to which energy use will be a major contributor. The energy industry is also characterized by infrastructure with long operating lifetimes. Power plants, whether coal, hydro or nuclear can operate for half a century or more.
Alongside these long-term characteristics are short term issues that may run in conflict. Short term dips in gas prices have had a significant impact on a number of liberalised markets, such as the US.
It is important that we keep our eyes on the long-term objectives and avoid being diverted by short-term issues. Navigating change means dealing with rough waters, but staying on course to our chosen destination.