Considerations on the future role of the IAEA emerged from its 11th Scientific Forum.
In this era of incessant change, “the future”, it is said, “has a way of arriving unannounced”. Organisations, therefore, face a constant challenge to try and discern the trends that are likely to affect their future and to map the way ahead.
It is acknowledged that different expectations exist and will continue to exist on what the future holds in store. However, from our discussions [at the 2008 Scientific Forum] it was evident that the IAEA has over half a century of its existence assumed recognisable roles along well defined trajectories.
Let me outline the contours of what participants at the Scientific Forum viewed as the IAEA’s future along these trajectories. It is, of course, entirely possible that there may be drivers in the future that could lead to changes in these trajectories.
It was an unfortunate twist of fate that the first public demonstration of nuclear technology was its destructive power. That association of nuclear technology with destructive capabilities has remained the predominant concern in the public perception of all things nuclear. Irrespective of the forum in which they are pursued, efforts towards nuclear disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation will remain crucial to the future of all aspects related to the public acceptance of nuclear technology. The perils of the ‘dark’ side of the nuclear equation are such that the IAEA’s verification role will always remain, in the public’s perception, an overwhelming priority.
Much will depend on what will be the shared safeguards and verification standard applied in 2020. In case it would be, as it is widely expected, the combination of a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol, this would imply continuing changes to the verification culture and practices including more information-driven verification activities, use of state-of-the-art technologies, high caliber staff, outsourcing, etc. Since the IAEA’s resources are unlikely to increase at the same pace as its increasing verification activities, efficiency requirements will also be greater. Transparency and cooperation with States and with nuclear vendors embedding safeguards features directly and deeply into their facility designs, systems and components, will play important roles.
Initiatives have been launched to develop policies, concepts, technologies, expertise and infrastructure necessary to sustain the international safeguards system as its mission evolves over the next 25 years. Meeting successfully new global challenges needs also other innovations related to fourth (IV) generation reactor systems and multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle.
Past initiatives for multilateral nuclear cooperation did not result in any tangible results. Proliferation concerns were perceived as not serious enough. Economic incentives were seldom strong enough. Concerns about assurances of supply were paramount. National pride also played a role, alongside expectations about the technological and economic spin-offs to be derived from nuclear activities. Many of these considerations may still be pertinent.
However, the result of balancing these considerations today, in the face of a possible multiplication of nuclear facilities over the next decades and the possible increase in proliferation risks associated with sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, may well produce an environment more conducive to multilateral nuclear approaches in the 21st century that may help the expansion of nuclear power.
Myriad technical issues of an evolutionary nature will form the “bread and butter” tasks in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, it is imperative not to lose sight of the commitment of all of us to “de-demonize” nuclear technology. The genie cannot be put back into the bottle. We need; however, to be assured that it is up to no further harm. This can only be done if disarmament and arms control return as the focus of the international agenda. It is rightly pointed out that the IAEA is not the lead agency or forum for nuclear disarmament.
However, it must prepare for and be ready to respond to the technical needs of verification which will be required to be met as and when the political decisions are taken in the appropriate fora. As the Secretary General in his message to the 52nd session of the General Conference indicated, future progress in nuclear disarmament may also bring opportunities for the IAEA in the area of verification, transparency and irreversibility.
It is estimated that the world’s energy needs could be 50% higher in 2030 than they are today. There are rising expectations in the area of nuclear power that are gradually leading towards a renaissance of nuclear energy, through expanding programmes in ‘mature’ countries and through new programmes in ‘newcomer’ countries alike. As a result, the nuclear landscape in the next decades might look fundamentally different from that of today.
A second important fact affecting the nuclear future is that the perceived or real concerns associated with the disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste remain. To a large extent, public acceptance of the use of nuclear power depends on the solutions to this issue. The expectations from the IAEA are likely to be:
The envisaged renaissance depends very much on the success of international cooperation and approaches, and thus on the IAEA, in particular regarding confidence-building, communicating with the public and with governments, and in consensus-building through a global discussion. A bright future of nuclear energy does not only depend on individual countries’ policies. It depends on all those who want to use its benefits to get it right every time, thus the world needs to do nuclear together.
A stringent approach to safety and security is necessary to enable this renaissance. Measures to advance nuclear safety and security are important and should be achieved in a way which harmonises them.
There is recognition that, while safety requirements are well established, not all safety problems have been resolved. In addition, security requirements continue to develop. Care must be taken to ensure that this process of continuous improvement results in harmony between safety and security. It is important to emphasize that the protection of people and the environment is the ultimate goal and that harmonization of safety and security is a means to achieve the end goal, it is not the end goal itself.
Continuous international cooperation will be required to facilitate improvements to safety and security. Numerous challenges remain in harmonizing safety and security, in particular because security often involves sensitive information. The IAEA has a leading role in this harmonization process through the definition of instruments, standards and norms and the provision of services. It will require strengthened capabilities including adequate resources to take on this expanded role and to continuously improve its standards, guidance and services.
The development scenario is one of pressing, unfulfilled needs. Amidst the vast expanse of unfulfilled needs, the validity, indeed the viability of an organisation adopting solely a normative role, while having the capacity to contribute its mite to developmental goals is a non sequitur. At the Forum, it was a widely shared belief that targeted assistance in human health, food and agriculture, environment and water resources are areas where nuclear technologies can make a difference.
By way of illustration, let me provide a few examples of where Forum participants strongly felt that the IAEA can and should be doing more, much more, in the future:
Given the overwhelming nature of development needs, the scope for an enhancement of the IAEA’s future role in this area remains vast. However, for this to happen, the provision of operational support through enhanced technical cooperation in partnership with other organisations will need to be supplemented by giving thought to overcoming factors that have impeded the full potential of nuclear technologies being realised. Working towards enhancing acceptability, accessibility and affordability of nuclear technologies for development will be the key to success of the IAEA as an organisation contributing to development.
In their capacity as specialists, the Forum participants did not delve into the financial and administrative minutiae of the Future Role of the IAEA. It was self-evident to all of us, and this is a fact I would like to emphasize, that growing expectations vis-ŕ-vis the IAEA will have to be accompanied by a consideration of the need for additional resources. Such resources should not be subject to artificial constraints. As President Eisenhower once said, “there is no victory at bargain basement prices.”
To sum up, let me reiterate those five items which were the most relevant messages that we heard in the course of this Scientific Forum and which are vital from the point of view of the IAEA’s dual mission for development and security:
The path towards the future is a journey and not an end. When looking back at the history of the IAEA in maybe 10, 20, or 50 years, the process of discussions on the “Future Role of the IAEA”, and all actions that we expect to be triggered by these considerations will form a milestone in the course adopted by the IAEA. That the participants of the Scientific Forum were part of this process and hopefully will have contributed to the transition which comes about, is a matter of satisfaction to all of us who participated in this venture. We are honoured to have had the opportunity to be part of this process.