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Statements of the Director General

17 September 2007 | Vienna, Austria
IAEA General Conference

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Statement to the Fifty-First Regular Session of the IAEA General Conference 2007 (Abridged Version)

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

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Fifty years ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency was entrusted with the mission of ensuring that nuclear energy would not become a cause for the destruction of humanity, but rather an engine for peace and prosperity.

If one were to recall our history since that time, a number of milestones would stand out. The rapid expansion of nuclear power in the 1960s and 1970s. The landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 - and the development of the Agency´s comprehensive verification regime. The evolution of the technical assistance programme as a key vehicle for the transfer of nuclear science and technology to developing countries. The development of international nuclear safety and security regimes.

Throughout its history, the Agency has also faced a number of challenges and painful experiences, necessitating change, adjustment and innovation. The 1986 accident at Chernobyl. The discovery of Iraq´s clandestine nuclear weapons programme in the early 1990s. Or the nuclear security challenge revealed in the aftermath of 11 September 2001.

Today, I would like to discuss some recent developments and current challenges. But in doing this, we should not lose sight of the goals and ideals that have guided the Agency since its inception. They remain as relevant and meaningful today as they were to the founders of the IAEA.

Nuclear Power Technology

Changes in Nuclear Power
I have spoken in recent years of rising expectations for nuclear power. But forecasting is always difficult. In my view, the role of the Agency is not so much to predict the future as to do its utmost to plan and prepare for it. What seems clear today is that there are three strong factors driving a renewed global interest in nuclear power: the steady growth in energy demand; the increasing concerns about energy security; and the challenge of climate change.

There are currently 439 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries. These reactors supply about 15.2% of the world´s electricity. To date, the use of nuclear power has been concentrated in industrialized countries. But in terms of new construction, the pattern is different: 15 of the 30 reactors now being built are in developing countries.

Support for Energy Studies and Nuclear Infrastructure
The Agency has seen a substantial increase in requests for assistance with national energy studies. We are currently supporting studies in 77 Member States - and 29 of these studies are exploring nuclear energy as a potential option.

Innovation in Nuclear Power Technology
Technological and institutional innovation is a key factor in ensuring the long term sustainability of nuclear power. By institutional innovation, I refer to creative policy and infrastructure approaches. In some cases, a shared regional approach to nuclear power infrastructure, construction and operation may be feasible. A good example is the ongoing cooperation among the Baltic States on energy strategies, which now includes collaboration with Poland on plans to construct a nuclear power plant to help meet regional electricity demands.

On the technology innovation front, I should note that the Agency´s International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) has grown to 28 members. INPRO is now considering collaborative projects on specific technological issues that need to be addressed for improved economics, safety, proliferation-resistance and other characteristics. INPRO is also continuing to work closely with the Generation IV International Forum.

Given the fundamental importance of energy for development, it is important that we actively pursue the design and production of small and intermediate sized reactors. Successful production of safe and affordable reactors in this size range will be essential if nuclear power is to be a feasible option for countries and regions with small electrical grids.

Assurance of Supply and Multinational Control of Fuel Cycle Operations
The expected expansion in nuclear power will drive a commensurate increase in demand for nuclear fuel cycle services and the need for an assurance of supply mechanism. This could also increase the potential proliferation risks created by the spread of sensitive nuclear technology, particularly if more countries decide to create independent uranium enrichment and plutonium separation facilities. These trends point clearly to the urgent need for the development of a new, multilateral framework for the nuclear fuel cycle, both the front and the back end.

With respect to the front end, some parties have proposed the creation of an actual or virtual reserve fuel bank of last resort, under IAEA auspices, for the assurance of supply of nuclear fuel. This bank would operate on the basis of apolitical and non-discriminatory non-proliferation criteria. Others are proposing to convert a national facility into an international enrichment centre. Still others are proposing the construction of a new, multinational enrichment facility under IAEA control. The Secretariat has examined these proposals and their associated legal, technical, financial and institutional aspects. In June, I made a report to the Board on "options" for assurances of supply of nuclear fuel, which I trust will be of help to you in considering this important issue.

Controlling nuclear material is a complex process; yet if we fail to act, it could be the Achilles´ Heel of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. In my view, an incremental approach is the way to move forward, beginning with the establishment of an equitable system for assurance of supply. The next step would seek to bring any new operations for uranium enrichment and plutonium separation under multinational control. Over time, these multinational controls would also be extended to facilities that already exist - to ensure that all countries are treated equally in terms of their nuclear capabilities.

Nuclear Applications

The Agency directs much of its scientific activity to peaceful nuclear applications related to health, agriculture, industry, water management and preservation of the environment. I will offer a few examples.

PACT
Since last September, the fundraising efforts of our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) have secured pledges, grants and donations amounting to over $3 million. And working with our international partners, we have continued to implement PACT Model Demonstration Sites to develop multidisciplinary cancer control capacity in Albania, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, the United Republic of Tanzania, Vietnam and Yemen. As these projects mature, they will serve as platforms for larger scale regional fundraising. As with many other PACT activities, IAEA collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) has been steadily expanded through the development of these sites.

Food and Agriculture
For more than 40 years, the Agency has benefited from an active partnership with FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, through the Joint Division established in 1967. With more than 820 million hungry people in the world, efforts to enhance food security and safety and increase crop productivity have never been more relevant.

With thousands of new varieties of food crops released in dozens of countries over the past half century, plant breeding has been one of the real success stories of Atoms for Peace. A recent regional project in Asia used plant breeding to develop more than 20 new food crop varieties. For example, farmers in areas of Sri Lanka affected by the December 2004 tsunami are now growing a high yielding, salinity tolerant variety of mung bean, a nutritious type of green bean.

Nuclear Safety and Security

The safety and security of nuclear activities around the globe remain key elements of the Agency´s mandate. With the renewed interest in nuclear power generation, comparable attention and commitment must be given to ensuring the nuclear safety and security infrastructure that must go with it.

Safety Culture and the Nuclear Safety Regime
The primary responsibility for safety rests with the operator of a nuclear facility or the user of a nuclear technique, as well as with the national government overseeing that operation or use. Technology can be transferred, but safety culture cannot; it must be learned and embedded. For those countries embarking on nuclear power programmes, it is essential that they become part of the global nuclear safety regime and share responsibility for its sustainability.

The strong, steady safety performance of recent years is reassuring. But complacency, an overemphasis on cost savings, the impulse to cover up problems, or even falsification are hazards against which both operators and regulators must constantly guard. The recurrence of events with these characteristics makes clear that the promotion of a strong safety culture should always be viewed as a "work in progress".

Safety Review Services
The Agency´s safety review services use the IAEA Safety Standards as a reference point, and play an important part in evaluating their effectiveness. Last year we began offering, for the first time, an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS), which combined previous services ranging from nuclear safety and radiation safety to emergency preparedness and nuclear security.

The Agency conducted the first full scope IRRS in France in November 2006, covering all regulated nuclear and radiation facilities, activities and practices. The Agency also conducted IRRS missions to Australia and Japan in June 2007. With its modular approach, the IRRS is contributing towards a more active exchange of knowledge among senior regulators and harmonized regulatory approaches worldwide.

Nuclear Security and the Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism
The Agency´s Nuclear Security programme has maintained its rapid pace of programme delivery. Implementation activities in 2006 increased considerably over the previous year and the indications are that implementation will again be high in 2007.

Among other efforts over the past year, the Agency assisted in improving physical protection at facilities in nine States, helping to fix weaknesses in security systems at those facilities. We have also begun a project to help improve the security of research reactors that were supplied through IAEA assistance, and we have started to address the security of transports of radioactive materials. We have been able to assist 29 countries to improve their border detection capability with handheld and fixed radiation detection instruments, with training in detection techniques and instrument use for all related staff.

The Agency has started a process of transitioning from a situation in which strengthening nuclear security has been addressed as an ad hoc reaction to the prevailing threat of nuclear terrorism to a situation in which nuclear security will be addressed in a normative, sustainable manner.

Nuclear Verification

The nuclear non-proliferation and arms control regime continues to face a broad set of challenges. Effective verification must be supported by four essential elements: adequate legal authority; state-of-the-art technology; access to all relevant information; and sufficient human and financial resources.

Status of Safeguards Agreements and Additional Protocols
It is now more than ten years since the Model Additional Protocol was approved by the Board of Governors. Just over half of the 162 States with safeguards agreements now have additional protocols in force. This includes more than two thirds of the countries with nuclear material under safeguards. But I would not call this satisfactory progress. More than 100 States have yet to conclude additional protocols, and 31 States party to the NPT have not even brought into force their required comprehensive safeguards agreements with the Agency.

I repeat that without safeguards agreements, the Agency cannot provide any assurance about a State´s nuclear activities, and without the additional protocol, the Agency cannot provide credible assurance regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material or activity. I would therefore urge all States who have not done so to bring into force a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol.

Application of Safeguards in the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea
At the invitation of the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (DPRK), an Agency team visited in June to work out agreed modalities for verification and monitoring by the IAEA of the shutdown and sealing of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. These modalities were implemented in subsequent visits. As of 17 July, we have been able to verify the DPRK´s shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

I welcome the return of the DPRK to the verification process. I also welcome the active cooperation the IAEA team has received from the DPRK. The Agency looks forward to continuing to work with the DPRK as the verification process evolves.

Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Regarding the implementation of Agency safeguards in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I would make four brief points.

First, the Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has continued to provide the access and reporting needed to enable Agency verification in this regard.

Second, Iran has provided the Agency with additional information and access needed to resolve a number of long outstanding issues, such as the scope and nature of past plutonium experiments.

Third, contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, calling on Iran to take certain confidence building measures, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities, and is continuing with its construction of the heavy water reactor at Arak. This is regrettable.

Fourth, while the Agency so far has been unable to verify certain important aspects relevant to the scope and nature of Iran´s nuclear programme, Iran and the Agency agreed last month on a work plan for resolving all outstanding verification issues. These verification issues are at the core of the lack of confidence about the nature of Iran´s programme, and are what prompted actions by the Security Council. Iran´s agreement on such a work plan, with a defined timeline, is therefore an important step in the right direction. Naturally, Iran´s active cooperation and transparency is the key to full and timely implementation of the work plan. If the Agency were able to provide credible assurance about the peaceful nature of Iran´s past and current nuclear programme, this would go a long way towards building confidence about Iran´s nuclear programme, and could create the conditions for a comprehensive and durable solution.

Application of Agency Safeguards in the Middle East
Pursuant to the mandate given to me by the General Conference, I have continued my consultations with the States of the Middle East region on the application of full scope safeguards to all nuclear activities in the Middle East, and on the development of model agreements as a necessary step towards the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. The absence of such a zone reflects a major gap in the nuclear non-proliferation regime. However, I regret to say that, as in the past, I have no progress to report on either front.

Technical Cooperation Programme

Fifty years ago, the Agency´s technical cooperation programme - or the technical assistance programme, as it was then known - looked very different. Member States lacked basic nuclear capacities, and the programme focused on building up nuclear expertise and helping give birth to the institutions and facilities that would support the safe introduction of nuclear technology.

Today the picture has changed, due to the evolution of skills, infrastructure and needs in the Member States themselves. Several Member States are leaving behind their developing country status. The development of nuclear capacities and infrastructure in some regions has paved the way for South-South cooperation, stimulating an increase in regional self-sufficiency and an expansion in collective, specialized expertise. Opportunities for cooperative ventures - such as shared multinational management of common underground water aquifers, transborder programmes for the elimination of disease vectors such as insect pests, and jointly owned and managed nuclear power plants - are coming to the drawing board, adding new significance to technical cooperation. These are positive trends.

Management of the Agency

Budgetary Matters
After prolonged discussions, the Board of Governors recommended in July a budget for 2008-2009. This process has once again highlighted the urgent need for adequate resources to ensure effective delivery of the Agency´s programme as mandated by the Statute and as requested by its Member States. The Agency remains under-funded in many critical areas, a situation which, if it remains unaddressed, will lead to a steady erosion of our ability to perform key functions.

This is not a sustainable approach to meeting the Agency´s financial needs.

To remedy this untenable situation, I have tasked the Secretariat with conducting a detailed review of the nature and scope of our programme in the next decade - in light of our statutory obligations, decisions of the Policy-making Organs and foreseen high priority activities - and what resources would be needed to fund these activities. We have given a name to this study - "20/20" - reflecting our effort to look ahead to the year 2020 with the clearest possible vision. I intend to set up a high level panel of experts to review the report, including providing guidance on appropriate funding levels and mechanisms. The report and the recommendations of the panel of experts will be presented to the Board of Governors for its consideration.

I believe that this study, and the panel´s work, will help to clarify expectations about the Agency´s mission in the coming years and how these expectations can be matched by the necessary financial and human resources in a predictable and assured manner. The Agency´s critical missions in the fields of development, safety and security, and verification deserve no less.

New Framework for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

As I stated last year: fifty years after the Atoms for Peace initiative, the time has come to think of a new framework for the use of nuclear energy - a framework that accounts both for the lessons we have learned and the current reality. This new framework should in my view include swift and concrete action to achieve:

  1. robust technological development and innovation in nuclear power and nuclear applications;


  2. a new multinational framework for the fuel cycle, both the front and the back end, to assure supply and curb proliferation risk;


  3. universal application of comprehensive safeguards and the additional protocol as the standard for nuclear verification, to enable the Agency to provide assurance about declared activities as well as the absence of undeclared activities;


  4. recognition of the linkage between non-proliferation and disarmament and therefore the need for concrete and rapid progress towards nuclear disarmament - through deep cuts in existing arsenals, downgrading of alert levels for deployed nuclear weapons, and the resuscitation of multilateral disarmament efforts;


  5. a robust international security regime, in light of the diverse threats we face;


  6. an effective and universal nuclear safety regime, a cornerstone for any expansion in the use of nuclear power; and


  7. sufficient funding for the Agency to meet its increasing responsibilities in an effective and efficient manner.

Tribute to Austria

Before concluding, I would emphasize, with gratitude, that with regard to all three pillars of Agency activity - technology, safety and security, and verification - international cooperation is key. We have been fortunate to be based in a country that places a high value on dialogue and multilateralism. It is no small compliment that this has become known as the Spirit of Vienna. Throughout our 50 years, Austria has been an exceptionally gracious host. Today I would like to pay tribute, on behalf of the Agency and its Member States, to the fifty years of generous hospitality of the Republic of Austria.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this statement, I highlighted some of the challenges and achievements that stand out from a review of the Agency´s history.

If one were to step closer, and review that history in greater detail, there would be many other challenges and achievements, less dramatic perhaps, but equally reflective of our commitment to the Atoms for Peace ideal. We might notice the progress and setbacks in achieving our verification mission, and the development of the additional protocol. We would see the eradication of the tsetse fly in Zanzibar. We would note the assistance of international experts in helping country after country improve their radiotherapy and nuclear medicine programmes. The development of nuclear safety networks and a host of safety conventions. The sharp increase in assistance to IAEA Member States in tightening border controls, enhancing the safety and security of radioactive sources, or improving the radiation protection of patients.

And yet if one were to step even closer, one would see the day-to-day efforts of the IAEA staff: scientists, engineers, support staff, lawyers, managers, technicians - specialists and generalists of every description. We would also see the day-to-day efforts of Member State representatives - those of you here today and in capitals, policy makers, scientists, diplomats and civil servants - working in support of Agency goals.

Those efforts may be less dramatic. But in my view, it is when we view the picture of our history in its totality that we really understand Atoms for Peace. Our mission is a continuous mission, in good times and bad, and our professionalism, impartiality and independence are crucial both publicly and behind the scenes.

As I said in Oslo, when we were honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize - another landmark in our history - "a durable peace is not a single achievement, but an environment, a process and a commitment." It is with this understanding that we look to the future.

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