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Director General Sees IAEA at a Critical Crossroads

Statement to General Conference Underlines Hard Decisions Ahead

General Conference

Mohamed ElBaradei delivers his opening statement to the 52nd IAEA General Conference. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

All is "not well" at the world´s top nuclear organization, IAEA Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, informed his membership today. He spoke in Vienna at the opening of the week-long General Conference of the Agency´s 145 Member States.

"The problems facing the world in the nuclear arena are plain for all of us to see," he said in his opening statement. "But I must stand here today and let you know that all is not well with the IAEA."

Dr. ElBaradei´s statement reviewed tough challenges and hard decisions being faced, in areas of nuclear safeguards, security, safety, and peaceful development. He cited a comprehensive report completed this year by a distinguished external group that calls for far greater financial resources and authority.

"We really have reached a turning point," he said. The Agency can do much to meet the world´s nuclear challenges, he emphasized - if given the authority, resources, personnel, and technology. "Making the Agency more effective is critical to international security and to development."

The General Conference this year features a two-day Scientific Forum on the IAEA´s future. Hundreds of delegates and governmental representatives are expected at the Forum, which opens Tuesday, 30 September.

Excerpts of the Director General´s statement in key areas follow. The full text is accessible here.

Nuclear Applications: "The problems faced by developing countries in fighting hunger and disease are enormous. But they are not insurmountable. The benefits of nuclear applications are potentially huge in relation to the costs. I do hope the Agency will be able to continue to increase its efforts in this field in the decades to come."

The Director General singled out the work of the Joint Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the IAEA for the world´s food security. "Regrettably, the FAO has taken steps towards ending its involvement in the Joint Division," he said. "This would be unfortunate. The FAO Conference may make a decision in November. After discussions with Member States and with the FAO itself, we look forward to a positive decision that will ensure the continuation of this valuable FAO-IAEA cooperation."

He pointed to increasing demand for technical cooperation from developing countries in fields of food security, health care, and others. He emphasized that IAEA resources "have long been insufficient to keep pace with requests for support" and outlined ways to strengthen support and collaboration.

Nuclear Power: "Every country has the right to introduce nuclear power, as well as the responsibility to do it right. In the last two years, some 50 Member States have expressed interest in considering the possible introduction of nuclear power and asked for Agency support. Twelve countries are actively preparing to introduce nuclear power. Increased demand for assistance has been particularly strong from developing countries, which seek expert and impartial advice in analysing their options and choosing the best energy mix."

Dr. ElBaradei underlined the importance of a national nuclear infrastructure for countries interested in the nuclear power option. "If countries decide to proceed with nuclear power, the Agency can help them in building up the infrastructure, legislation and regulations, and provide guidance on soliciting bids, choosing sites and starting construction."

Nuclear Verification: "Effective nuclear verification, as I have said many times, requires four essential elements: adequate legal authority, state-of-the-art technology, timely access to all relevant information, and sufficient human and financial resources. Despite some progress, we still have shortcomings in all four areas... Despite the challenges, I am pleased to note that we have been able to make considerable progress in clarifying complex issues concerning the peaceful nature of the nuclear programmes of some States, such as the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, which had previously been reported to the Board. Furthermore, we are now implementing integrated safeguards in 29 States compared with 20 last year.

Dr. ElBaradei further reviewed safeguards developments concerning Iran and the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea.

Nuclear Safety & Security: "A global nuclear safety and security regime is in place to promote high levels of safety and security worldwide through robust national infrastructures, IAEA standards and review services, supported by international conventions and codes of conduct. Nevertheless, both safety and security require continued vigilance and should always be considered works in progress. We must work together to close the gaps that exist today in the coverage of international conventions and codes of conduct."

The Director General noted that the Agency is marking the 50th Anniversary of the IAEA Safety Standards Programme for nuclear installations this year. In the area of emergency planning, he expressed concern about the Agency´s ability to respond effectively to a major nuclear accident. "The Incident and Emergency Centre needs additional capacity to respond to a possible large scale accident and to assist more Member States to build their own emergency response capability. Funding for this is urgently required."