COP28: Burning Questions for a Nuclear Engineer

December 5, 2023

Do you have burning questions about nuclear energy? Watch “Ask a Nuclear Engineer” from COP28!

DUBAI — December 5, 2023 — At COP28, Net Zero Nuclear hosted a panel, “Youth Hour: Ask a Nuclear Engineer,” moderated by Robert Kipkemoi Kiptoo, Nuclear Engineer, Moscow National Research Nuclear University, with panelists including Jenifer Avellaneda Diaz, Engineer & Risk Analyst, Westinghouse; Dinara Ermakova, Innovation Chair, International Youth Nuclear Congress; and Dennis Soloman Balami, Nuclear Physicist and Lecturer, University of Maiduguri. The full discussion can be found here.

The youth audience had pertinent questions for the panelists around safety, energy security, fuel supplies, the role of nuclear in decarbonizing the energy sector, policy initiatives, financing for nuclear, fuel recycling, waste storage, technical advancements, and more.

Regarding safety, Diaz said, “Let me just rip off the Band-Aid. Nuclear energy is safe. There is always room for enhancement, but we have a long safety record. We are training all the time, and we are being evaluated all the time.”

When asked about the fuel supply and energy security, Ermakova, who is originally from Kazhakstan, explained that we need a robust supply chain, a long-term strategy, and more complete collaboration among countries that have enrichment capabilities. “We need more multilateral agreements, rather than just selling the resources,” she said. “We also need to embrace fuel recycling to tackle the issue of fuel security like they do in countries like France and Japan.”

Added Balami, “In terms of energy security, the nuclear industry has 130 years’ worth of nuclear reserves, according to the World Nuclear Association.”

Kiptoo asked about the implications of the pledge to triple global nuclear energy capacity by 2050. The panelists agreed that it will create a lot of opportunities in the nuclear field and increase demand for nuclear engineers. It will also be a boon for developing countries facing energy poverty. They also noted that some public perception challenges remain, but with consistent education that nuclear energy is safe, reliable, clean, and delivers energy 24/7, they can be overcome.

Technology advances and policy changes will pave the way for growth. Said Ermakova, “We need to think about changes in policy, changing education, and bringing more collaboration between countries, especially among countries that already have nuclear fleets that have much to offer to newcomers in terms of education.”

When asked about waste, “Even if you’re looking at renewables, there’s definitely waste,” said Balami. “But people always ask about nuclear waste. Scientifically, there are innovations that have been put in place. We have the dry storage cask system. We also are looking at the geological deep repository method.”

One audience member inquired about the impact of uranium mining on the environment. “Uranium has been mined in the United States and Kazakhstan using open-pit mines and that caused a lot of problems,” said Ermakova. “But there are modern ways of extracting uranium now that don’t involve digging, such as in situ leaching that doesn’t affect the environment as much.”

One audience member asked where nuclear plants can be sited. “Really anywhere,” said Diaz. Added Ermakova, “The nuclear industry doesn’t stay still. There are so many innovations in terms of new reactor designs and the power convergence systems using not water, but air cooling. Or, in the United States, we have a power plant that uses wastewater. So, there are solutions. We innovate as much as possible like any other industry.”

When asked how much nuclear contributes to total renewable energy, the panel agreed: We need nuclear as part of the global energy mix, especially because it provides reliable energy 24/7.

Watch the full video on YouTube
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