"It would not be a stretch to describe 2020 as an unforgettable year, with the on-going coronavirus pandemic having caused tremendous suffering and economic hardship across the world, and turning everyone's life upside down," writes World Nuclear Association Director General Sama Bilbao y León. "But this year has shown us that we can come together as a global community to fight a common adversary." Bilbao y León took over the reins of the London-headquartered organisation in October.

Sama Bilbao y León, the director general of World Nuclear Association

"As this difficult year comes to a close, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on some of the many achievements of World Nuclear Association and our members and look ahead to 2021.

I am very grateful to my predecessor, Agneta Rising for her leadership and many contributions to the global nuclear industry in her time at the helm of World Nuclear Association. Assuming responsibility of an organisation is challenging during normal times but doing so in the middle of a global pandemic has been 'interesting', to say the least. I am both humbled by and excited about the opportunity to lead the Association in the years to come because it is superbly placed to highlight the importance of nuclear energy to policymakers, helping them make decisions based on the best information available.

Throughout the pandemic, the world’s nuclear reactors have continued to provide clean and reliable electricity around the clock, ensuring that we can focus on what is truly important. The COVID crisis has highlighted the importance of reliable and resilient baseload electricity to keep the gears of society turning; a role which over the years has been taken for granted. In this sense, I believe that 2020's challenges have helped give visibility to the enduring value of nuclear energy.

World Nuclear Association has published several reports throughout the year highlighting the importance of the long-term operation of nuclear energy, and summarising the performance and achievements of the global nuclear fleet and supply chain. We have worked very closely with the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency in examining the central role nuclear power should have in the post-pandemic economic recovery. And we hosted our first-ever Strategic eForum, where the global leadership of the nuclear world came together to discuss the role of nuclear in the energy systems of the future. The conclusion was crystal- clear - we need more nuclear power, and now. We must build on this strong sentiment as we go into 2021.

In many ways, next year will be crucial for the world of clean energy and for nuclear energy in particular. I am in awe of the pharmaceuticals industry which, when faced with the COVID pandemic, was able to realign itself, bringing together research, regulators and supply chains for the speedy development and deployment of not just one, but several, vaccines.

I want to help instil a similar sense of urgency and can-do attitude in the nuclear community, and this will be one of my priorities moving forward.

The global nuclear sector can streamline the way we design, license and build new nuclear reactors to respond with agility to the climate change and global energy poverty challenges. World Nuclear Association is in a perfect position help build effective collaborations and bring together the global nuclear industry to achieve this goal. After all, we all want the same thing: to build nuclear reactors of all sizes around the world and to see nuclear energy taking the role that it deserves in the clean energy mix of the future.

This is especially applicable to the climate change question. The world will come together in Glasgow in November 2021 for the UN's COP26 to discuss one of the defining issues of our time. In order to ensure that we deliver deep, economy-wide decarbonisation in an affordable, equitable and sustainable fashion, nuclear energy will be essential. To date, nuclear energy has played an important role in abating greenhouse gas emissions, as well as air pollution, even if this contribution has often not been valued or acknowledged. But more is needed, and World Nuclear Association stands ready to work with the global nuclear industry and seize this opportunity to raise the visibility of nuclear energy among low-carbon energy technologies, as countries agree on policies and commitments to meet the scale of the climate challenge ahead.

The COVID crisis offers a unique opportunity to accelerate the transition to more sustainable energy systems. As the world starts to see some light at the end of the tunnel, the ambition to 'build back better' is becoming even more prominent. Nuclear energy should be at the heart of any recovery plans, because of its unique value-for-money proposition: to provide many long-term jobs and 'trickle-down' economic development; supply clean and reliable electricity for generations to come; help provide system resiliency; and all this at a very cost-effective level, as highlighted by the recent IEA/NEA analysis. I look forward to working together with policymakers, financial decision-makers and other key stakeholders in 2021 to find suitable ways to incorporate nuclear in post-COVID economic recovery plans.

In this sense, the importance of affordable financing for nuclear projects is paramount.

As governments, financial institutions and multi-national development banks work on the development of ESG (environmental, social and governance) labelling for sustainable financing, it is essential that these classifications are consistent, science-based and technology neutral. The development of proper policy and market frameworks that incentivise investment in essential infrastructure that supports low-carbon energy security and economic development, such as nuclear energy, is also critical. Just as important is the ability to leverage government support to attract cost-effective private financing to deliver nuclear energy infrastructure projects. World Nuclear Association will continue to work with key partners to help ensure that affordable financing is consistently available for nuclear energy projects.

The Association will continue to represent the global nuclear industry, ensuring that nuclear power has a seat at every table where the key discussions take place - be it building back cleaner energy systems following the pandemic, meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, or fighting against climate change. In the short term, I want our Association to help our members emerge as strong as possible from the pandemic and contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable global recovery.

Much hard work awaits all of us in the nuclear sector in 2021 and I for one am ready to roll up my sleeves. After all, the potential of nuclear energy - both realised and untapped - can truly revolutionise the world we live in."

Date: Thursday, 31 December 2020
Original article: world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Message-Looking-towards-the-light-of-2021