Sharm el-Sheikh, The UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) — On November 10, Youth and Future Generation Day, UC Berkeley PhD Student and Technology Consultant for Anthropocene Institute Dinara Ermakova spoke on the IAEA panel, “Nuclear for Climate and Development - Young Professionals Leading The Change, In Conversation With IAEA DG.” Fellow panelists included Everlyne Achieng, Nuclear Medicine Doctor & AYGN; Veeshesh Sunassy, Energy Market Coordinator & NAYGN; and Wojciech Zajaczkowski, Comms and Public Affairs Consultant & Voices of Nuclear. The panel was moderated by Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General, IAEA and Gert Pille, mechanical engineer for Tractebel provided opening and closing remarks.
The session offered the perspectives of four young professionals who believe nuclear technology is a powerful tool in fighting the effects of climate change. After introducing the panelists, Gert Pille welcomed Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA, who further asked the panelists different questions on their experience as young professionals in the nuclear field. In the opening remarks, Grossi stressed the need for global leadership to fight the challenges posed by climate change, particularly in developing countries where almost 80% of the young are living. He added that we need not only “top-down guidelines and directives and policies, but also exchanges to try to get much better by taking into consideration the views of those who are in the early first stages of their professional paths.”
As a medical doctor based in Kenya and specializing in nuclear medicine, Dr. Everlyne Achieng relayed how vital it is to apply radioisotopes to target and concentrate tumor treatments versus using chemotherapy, which destroys all cells. She urged young professional Africans to become involved and noted that momentum is growing for the use of nuclear medicine, evidenced by programs such as Rays of Hope, which consolidates experience and galvanizes multiple stakeholders to step up their commitment to addressing the gaping global inequality in cancer care. Dr. Achieng added that training will be crucial to increase opportunities, especially for women, to be trained in oncology and nuclear medicine to reduce Africa’s staggering rates of breast and cervical cancer. Also needed are radioisotopic centers in Kenya. Currently, there is only one hospital attempting to serve 50 million Kenyans.
Dinara Ermakova added her views as someone working on industry innovation infrastructure. She noted that keeping California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open is a defining moment for policy and regulatory issues in the United States. She urged young people to advocate for nuclear power to fill the gaps left by solar, wind, and hydropower. Ermakova also pointed out that there are many applications for nuclear power beyond electricity generation, including desalinization, decarbonizing industries such as steel and cement, commercializing green hydrogen production, and capturing carbon. Originally from Kazakhstan, Ermakova recalls that a nuclear power plant was used there to desalinate water, and she’d like to see that happen again across the globe. “Nuclear will play a big role in providing high-quality heat and stable baseload energy around the world,” she said, adding, “Diablo Canyon extension is a big win for all the nuclear community. If it was done in California, it can be done everywhere.”
Veeshesh Sunassy, who lives and works in Ontario, Canada, described the impressive strides that have already been made there to decarbonize the grid, with 60 percent of the power in Ontario coming from nuclear energy and 20 to 30 percent coming from hydropower. As an energy markets coordinator, he finds the most efficient, economical times to schedule power generation, and sees the important role that nuclear plays in the energy mix every day. “All countries are increasing their wind and solar production, but we need nuclear to be the complement because nuclear is reliable 24/7 and doesn’t depend on weather,” he said.
Sunassy is also President at NAYGN Durham. In his role, he frequently speaks at schools and universities. He noted that very few students are aware that nuclear power is part of Ontario’s electricity mix. Originally from Mauritius, he also did not know that nuclear power was a source of electricity there. He set out to change this view and became an ardent nuclear advocate.
Wojciech Zajaczkowski, who is studying energy and economic growth, gave his views as someone from Poland who is now living in Paris. He noted that Poland has a major dependence on coal, but, he said, “Luckily, we are going to go big on nuclear. We’re going to construct at least two nuclear power plants.”
Zajaczkowski sees big employment opportunities in both constructing and operating new nuclear power plants in Poland. “I think developing nuclear is a great opportunity, as it creates new jobs not only for the workers but also for their families and their local communities. So on every level, positive things are happening.”
Grossi thanked the panelists and noted that his generation has the responsibility to make space for the younger generation to take the reins and lead. Pille closed the panel by expressing his thanks to the panelists and the Director General Grossi for the IAEA’s continued support.