Nuclear Energy Agency

Towards the next half-century

The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) is 50 years old. It predates the actual OECD itself, having started out in 1958 as a division of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation. It has since grown to become a global body spanning four continents. What does its future hold?

The NEA is a highly specialised agency which has been devoted to developing and maintaining international co-operation in the scientific, technological and legal bases required for the safe, environmentally friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.If the NEA did not exist today, countries with nuclear power would be looking for ways to create something like it. For these countries who believe that nuclear energy is an appropriate component of an effective energy mix, the NEA is the right place for countries to focus together on how to make nuclear energy safer, more economical and more effective. Not all countries believe that nuclear power is an appropriate path to energy security, primarily for environmental and waste management reasons. Yet even some of these countries are NEA members, as they too believe they have an interest in making nuclear power as safe and reliable as possible.Over the years, the NEA and its larger Vienna-based counterpart, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which was founded in 1957, have worked together to make the potential benefits of nuclear energy better serve mankind. The IAEA and NEA missions are complementary, with the NEA focusing on improving the capability and safety of developed nuclear energy programmes among its members, while also looking to co-operate with other countries who are launching programmes of their own.What are the challenges of the next 50 years? These can best be summed up with a brief set of personal observations, all of which suggest that the NEA can only grow in importance:First, there is going to be an expansion of nuclear power in developed and developing countries alike.Second, for developing countries, building infrastructure–including regulatory infrastructure–will be key.Third, the NEA and the IAEA have complementary roles which are critical in making nuclear power safer, more effective and more economical.Fourth, the IAEA also has the critical non-proliferation role of applying IAEA safeguards.Fifth, the phrase “business as usual” is not acceptable for dealing with growth in greenhouse gas emissions.Sixth, predictions of sharply rising demand for electricity almost certainly call for large increases in base load generation. Recession may slow the growth of demand for power but only for a limited time.Seventh, fossil fuels are no longer considered the right way to provide large increases in base load electrical generation, both because of emissions and finite supply. Eighth, renewables (wind, solar) may be helpful at the local level and may become cost effective in small quantities, but in my judgement it’s hard to visualise renewables providing power in the 1,000–1,600 MWe range and that’s what nuclear power can do.Finally, the fact that nuclear power is emissions free makes it a useful option for meeting a growing need for electricity while attempting to stabilise or reduce the greenhouse gas burden on the atmosphere. I believe that we need ambitious nuclear power programmes. But new programmes and expansion of existing programmes are likely to require strong government support, especially given present financial conditions.Consider the fact that construction costs have sky-rocketed. A few months ago, the CEO of an American company that operated nuclear reactors remarked that they were about to take a decision on building two new nuclear reactors which at that time was in the neighbourhood of US$10-12 billion. Not long ago, a single reactor cost closer to $2 billion. For the CEO it was a particularly difficult decision, because he said that the entire company was only worth $27 billion. Rolling the dice on a bet of $10-12 billion was a sure way to go bankrupt if something went seriously wrong.Waste management is an issue which we must still face, though efforts are being made to solve that problem. In my judgement the waste management issue is solvable, if not immediately then soon.The world 100 years from now is not going to be just like today except with different clothing styles, cars with better mileage, and faster airplanes. 2108 is going to be as different from today technologically as we are from 1908. The NEA is 50 years old. Look at the technology of 1950 compared with the technology of today. Given the curve of technological development, the world of 2058, just 50 years from now, is going to be just as different from today as we are from 1950 or 1958.There is also an ongoing discussion about whether countries could jointly pursue high-level waste disposal. It is a sensitive debate which will likely intensify as the nuclear industry expands, and this is the kind of issue which the NEA can help clarify with its dispassionate data and expertise.In the meantime, governments will need to continue building infrastructure, to regulate safety and to support and help finance reactor construction. In this rapidly globalising world of the 21st century, governments must expect the NEA to make the same invaluable contribution to nuclear energy over the next 50 years as it has in the last half century. I am sure that with the right support, the Agency can help ensure that the “expansion phase” of nuclear energy in the years ahead is the safest, most reliable and most successful phase in nuclear energy’s history.References ©OECD Observer No 270/271 December 2008-January 2009


Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q3 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% Sept 2017 annual
Trade: +4.3% exp, +4.3% imp, Q3 2017
Unemployment: 5.7% Sept 2017
Last update: 14 Nov 2017

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Rousseau
  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • The annual OECD Eurasia Week takes place in Almaty, Kazakhstan 23-25 October. Writing in The Astana Times, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría urges Eurasia countries to stay the course on openness and international integration, which has brought prosperity but also disillusionment, notably regarding inequality. The OECD is working with this key region, and Mr Gurría urges Eurasia to focus on human capital and innovation to enhance productivity and people’s well-being. Read more.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017