“The applications of nuclear science are so extensive that they are relevant to the achievement of more than half of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”Mariano Grossi, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency
On the 80th anniversary of the first controlled chain reaction, our partner, Politecnico di Milano, awarded an honorary degree in Nuclear Engineering. The recipient was no less than International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.
This moment clearly reflected the growing recognition of nuclear technology and the never-ending potential of engineers, scientists, and talented individuals everywhere as a source of innovation as we tackle the needs of the future together. Uniting and enabling knowledge and talent across the world to harness nuclear phenomena is the mission of the IAEA.
The ceremony also shone a light on the long history of Italian-led achievements in nuclear science. In his lectio magistralis, Mr Grossi – Piedmontese in origin – commended Italy’s long-standing contributions to nuclear science and technology, sparked with Fermi, the Via Panisperna Boys and the Chicago Pile 1 experiment itself.
Harnessing the talent and vision of the nuclear industry
As we look to the future together, committing to the growth and nurturing of talent in the nuclear industry is fundamental.
As Mr Grossi highlighted, “every contribution is relevant… there is a group of professionals, engineers, inspectors, civil servants, lawyers, academics, communication experts who have to work together for a common result.”
For the IAEA, ensuring a future where every contribution is celebrated also means seriously addressing existing structural disadvantages in the industry, as the overlooked importance of the role women play in nuclear science. Mr Grossi shared further information about the IAEA’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship program offering Master’s scholarship, and the fresh launched Lise Meitner initiative for young professionals.
Mr Grossi equally commended the passion of nuclear professionals, recalling a famous quotation from Enrico Fermi himself – “what we all fervently hope is that man will soon be adult enough to make good use of the powers he acquires over nature”.
“In my personal vocabulary, hope is actually action” said Mr Grossi, calling each of us nuclear professionals to act: a moment that resonated powerfully among the ceremony’s attendees.
The challenges ahead of us
The Agency is also the key global supervisory body dedicated to verifying that states do not misuse nuclear material. Difficult and unprecedented scenarios around the world – in Ukraine, Iran, and North Korea, for example – hold their own challenges and require new approaches, but Mr Grossi was clear in emphasising that this should not dampen our confidence, speaking in support of the IAEA’s efforts towards expanding international cooperation.
Mr Grossi also touched upon the efforts in enabling new nuclear: “I am dedicated to the important role of supporting the energy sector and national regulators in areas such as, for example, the efficient and safe implementation of small modular reactors SMRs,” shared Mr Grossi.
“We are in discussions with nuclear regulatory authorities of countries around the world in order to harmonize regulatory regimes on SMRs. And in parallel we are bringing together the main players in the international nuclear industry and discussing with them how to standardize component construction and qualification processes, the validation of design calculation codes, and much more,” – something that Mr Grossi jokingly remarked would be ‘much easier’ thanks to his new honorary Engineering degree.
Powering up for the future: launching new industry initiatives
The IAEA participated with a pavilion at the last COP and has launched an “Atoms4NetZero” initiative, which “will allow countries to evaluate the contribution that nuclear energy can make to achieving the objectives of environmental sustainability and energy self-sufficiency in their respective territories.”
Nuclear technology’s existing role in producing low-carbon energy is undeniable – and the acknowledgement of this fact is represented in the recent growth of nuclear construction projects.
The 400+ reactors in operation today produce 10% of the electricity generated globally and 25% of the energy generated from low-carbon sources. Half of the low carbon energy produced here in Europe is of nuclear origin – with a significant proportion of it imported into Italy, of course. Right now, over 50 new nuclear reactors are under construction in 18 countries and another 30 countries are considering or already planning the introduction of nuclear power generation programs.
“The nuclear energy produced in the world today allows a net reduction of emissions equivalent to the quantity of total emissions produced by three of the main European economic powers: United Kingdom, France and Italy.” said Mr. Grossi.
The work of nuclear professionals everywhere is making a fundamental contribution to the mitigation of climate change – a contribution that can, and will, grow in the future.
An exciting period for the nuclear sector
Mr Grossi shared an inspirational message to his audience towards the end of the ceremony.
“I hope you understand the fundamental importance of the work you do at the Politecnico di Milano, for many people around the world and for future generations. We live in an exciting historical period for the nuclear sector.”
“The world needs you too, like never before.”