Experts see nuclear energy as surest path to brighter future
Nuclear energy experts from 20 countries gathered at the seaside town of Portorož this week are discussing how to leverage nuclear power to make the green transition a reality. The annual meeting aims to foster international cooperation and this time the Jožef Stefan Institute has signed a cooperation agreement with the US Department of Energy.
Hosted by the Nuclear Society of Slovenia, the theme of the 32nd such conference is nuclear energy as the surest path to brighter future with experts arguing that nuclear energy is the technology that can fill the gap in global sustainable low-carbon clean energy supply.
Green transition will not be feasible without nuclear energy, heard the 11 September opening of the four-day event, which is being attended by some 280 participants, professionals active in nuclear research and educational institutions, nuclear vendors, utilities, and regulatory bodies.
Nuclear energy plays an important role in achieving all of the United Nations' 17 sustainable development goals, and an increasing number of countries recognise nuclear as a key source of clean energy, the society's president Tomaž Žagar told reporters ahead of the event's official launch. He finds it regrettable that Europe is not spearheading nuclear energy development.
More skilled professionals needed
Experts expect nuclear power production to increase significantly and this growth is based on three pillars. The first is long-term maintenance and extended operation of the existing nuclear power plants, next is construction of new large-scale power plants and the third are advanced solutions such as small modular reactors, Žagar explained.
This could be done under the basic presumption that all three pillars are developed simultaneously. "To this end, we need to improve capacity, especially in terms of acquiring more skilled professionals", he pointed out.
After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, educating nuclear energy experts, who are vital for construction of nuclear power plants, almost came to a halt, especially in Europe, Leon Cizelj, the president of the European Nuclear Society, noted.
However, in the last two years, the term nuclear energy has re-entered the European commissioners' vocabulary after being "exiled" for a while. Nuclear energy has so far "proven to be the safest source," he said.
The European Nuclear Alliance, which is chaired by France and of which Slovenia is a member, has announced that nuclear power plants will be upgraded from 100 to 150 gigawatts by 2050.
Cizelj estimates that this will result in 200,000 professionals in various technical fields getting jobs. However, as the US has similar plans, nuclear engineers will be hard to come by.
The young generation of experts are most fascinated by small modular reactors (SMRs). All around the globe, in North America in particular, young entrepreneurs are working on around one hundred projects, of which only around five will make it to the market in the end, Cizelj assessed.
Slovenian researchers getting access to US labs
On the sidelines of the conference, the Ljubljana-based Jožef Stefan Institute (JSI) and the US Department of Energy signed a cooperation agreement that will give Slovenian researchers easier access to US national laboratories.
"This may open the door to brain drain an inch wider, but this is the price to pay for cooperation," Cizelj, who heads the JSI's Reactor Engineering Division, commented.
JSI director Boštjan Zalar said the document provided an opportunity to strengthen the already good cooperation with top nuclear research and educational institutions in the US.
Sean Tyson of the US Department of Energy noted Slovenia's active contribution to the international nuclear community. He believes the agreement will facilitate the US Department's long-standing cooperation with the Slovenian nuclear community.
The closer relationship between the US Department and the JSI will complement other US initiatives in the region, including the Clean Energy Training Centre in Warsaw, Poland, which will serve as a regional resource for countries in the future to explore the potential of using nuclear technology with other clean energy technologies to combat climate change, Tyson said.
Another exciting event for the Nuclear Society of Slovenia involves its youth section, which will host over 20 young European experts in Ljubljana this weekend.
On 6 October, the up-and-coming researchers will educate the public on the benefits and safety of nuclear energy, said the section's president Tanja Goričanec, adding that Slovenia should consider investing into a new research reactor.