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29 September 2008 | Vienna, Austria
Fifty-Second Regular Session of the IAEA General Conference 2008

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IAEA At a Crossroads

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

» Abridged Version

Tradition requires that, at the start of every IAEA General Conference, the Director General stands before you and reports on the work the Agency has done in the previous year. The work of my colleagues has been excellent in the past 12 months. I am very proud of them. But I must stand here today and let you know that all is not well with the IAEA. As I told the Board of Governors in June, there is a disconnect between what you, the Member States, are asking us to do, and the legal authority and resources available to us. This will hamper our effectiveness, sooner rather than later, if it is not addressed.

I will elaborate on this in a moment. First, however, I would like to give you a general overview of the work of the Agency in the year since the last General Conference so you can see where we stand today. I will start with nuclear applications.

Nuclear Applications

The surge in global food prices has pushed millions of people deeper into poverty and hunger. A new report from the World Bank last month showed that there are more poor people in the world than previously thought. Some 1.4 billion people in the developing world live on less than $1.25 per day. The number of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa has nearly doubled since 1981 to around 380 million.

This makes the work done by the Joint Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the IAEA even more important. Its work includes using nuclear techniques to make food crops more resistant to disease, to boost crop yields and to combat pests and animal diseases. In Africa, for example, technical support from the Joint Division has helped 24 countries to eradicate the deadly cattle disease rinderpest. Our work in combating the fruit fly in Latin America has created a large area free of this pest, stretching from Chile into southern Peru and all the way north to Guatemala.

Regrettably, the FAO has taken steps towards ending its involvement in the Joint Division. 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.

Cancer claims millions of lives every year. The work of the IAEA´s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) has helped to ensure that cancer patients in developing countries have access to radiation treatment. The Agency also assists countries in developing the capacity to produce their own radiopharmaceuticals, used in nuclear imaging procedures, which can significantly reduce costs. The need for cancer treatment is vast and we are only scratching the surface, but for the individual cancer patients who benefit, the limited assistance we are able to provide can mean the difference between life and death. Naturally, we could do so much more to help vulnerable people if adequate funding was provided.

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.

Nuclear Power

Let me now turn to nuclear power. There are now 439 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries and the number of new plants under construction stands at 36. The Agency´s updated projections continue to show a significant increase in the use of nuclear energy by 2030, with nuclear power capacity possibly doubling. However, total electricity generation from all sources could well double also, in which case nuclear power´s share of total generation would hold steady around the current level of about 14 percent.

Nuclear power has obvious attractions for both developing and developed countries. Developing countries need access to electricity to help lift their people out of poverty and many are turning to the Agency for guidance on how to proceed. They are concerned about the fluctuating prices of oil and other fossil fuels and about uncertainty of supply, as well as about climate change.

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.

Last year, we issued a guidance document entitled Milestones in the Development of National Nuclear Infrastructure, which attracted considerable interest. We will develop further practical guidance to help countries meet these milestones. 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. For this we have established a practice of integrated missions, involving all parts of the Agency Secretariat, to identify national infrastructure preparedness and develop a work plan for Agency assistance.

The use of these review services should be a prerequisite at every stage of a State´s nuclear power development. Naturally, we are not the sole source of expertise, but for many countries our impartial advice is essential. I should emphasize, however, that the primary responsibility always lies with the individual Member States. The countries which make the greatest progress are those which commit their own national resources, including people, to developing their infrastructure.

Decommissioning needs will also grow. Our updated projections show that between 80 and 150 power reactors will be retired by 2030. An additional 100 to 150 research reactors will also be retired in this period. A year ago, we launched a Network of Centres of Excellence for Decommissioning to improve the flow of knowledge and experience.

An expansion of nuclear power will also create new demand for spent fuel management and waste disposal. The management of spent fuel and disposal of high level radioactive waste remain key challenges for the nuclear power industry. Experts agree that the geological disposal of high level radioactive waste is safe and technologically feasible. However, public opinion will remain sceptical at least until the first deep geological repositories are operational in a decade or so. In the meantime, the trend has been to use above-ground interim storage facilities. The Agency plays a key role in facilitating the flow of information from States which are most advanced in developing disposal facilities to others which are less advanced.

Nuclear Verification

The world of nuclear safeguards has changed considerably over the last few years. We have seen non-State actors playing an active role in several proliferation cases, while a number of States have made efforts to clandestinely develop their nuclear fuel cycle. The focus of safeguards therefore continues to shift from mechanistic verification of declared nuclear material to an information driven system aimed at understanding and assessing the consistency of information on a State´s nuclear programme as a whole.

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.

To start with legal authority: it is more than ten years since the Model Additional Protocol was approved by the Board of Governors. Of the 163 States with safeguards agreements, 88 now have additional protocols in force - not much more than half. Regrettably, progress has not been as fast as we would have expected. It is also disconcerting that 30 States party to the NPT have not even brought into force their required comprehensive safeguards agreements with the Agency. As I have said repeatedly, without safeguards agreements, the Agency cannot provide any assurance about a State´s nuclear activities, and without additional protocols, we cannot provide credible assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities. I therefore urge all States that have not yet done so to bring their comprehensive safeguards agreements and additional protocols into force without delay.

In order to develop and deploy appropriate state-of-the-art technologies, we need more funding for safeguards related research and development. This would enable us to continuously improve our in-field verification of declared nuclear material and to better detect undeclared nuclear material and activities.

I have voiced my concern on several occasions regarding the ageing technical infrastructure and equipment at our Safeguards Analytical Laboratory, which is key to the Agency´s effectiveness and independence in performing its verification mission. With the support of the Board of Governors, a project to renovate the Laboratory has been initiated. However, full funding to complete the project has still not been secured. This is core Agency business which must be put on a sound long term financial footing.

Our safeguards staff do an excellent job, but they are increasingly overstretched. Although there has been a reduction of inspection effort in the field due to the implementation of integrated safeguards and other efficiency measures, there has been a substantial increase in activities at headquarters in connection with the assessment of additional protocol declarations, information analysis and State evaluations, as well as additional activities in connection with new facilities coming under safeguards.

The shift to information driven safeguards also underscores the increasing need for an up-to-date information system. I am pleased to note the completion of the first stage of the ISIS Re-engineering Project (IRP), which will upgrade the information systems used to collect, store, analyse and evaluate safeguards data. But I must again draw attention to the shortage of funding to complete this project.

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.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea
Monitoring and verification of the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities in the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has continued, with the cooperation of the DPRK. The DPRK authorities last week asked our inspectors to remove seals and surveillance equipment to enable them to carry out tests at the reprocessing plant. They also informed the inspectors that they planned to introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing plant in one week´s time - that means this week - and that the inspectors would have no further access to the reprocessing plant.

Nevertheless, I still hope that conditions can be created for the DPRK to return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty at the earliest possible date and for the resumption by the Agency of comprehensive safeguards.

Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Six years have elapsed since the Agency began intensive work aimed at clarifying Iran´s nuclear programme. Substantial progress has been made, especially regarding the scope and nature of Iran´s uranium enrichment programme. We have been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.

However, I regret that we are still not in a position to make progress regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. Although Iran has so far produced only a limited quantity of low enriched uranium, which remains under Agency safeguards, this is still a cause for concern for the international community in the absence of full clarity about Iran´s past and present nuclear programme. This concern has been expressed by the Board of Governors and in a number of Security Council resolutions.

I urge Iran to implement all the transparency measures, including the additional protocol, required to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme at the earliest possible date. This will be good for Iran, good for the Middle East region and good for the whole world.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Socialist People´s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
As you will recall, Libya has acknowledged that its past nuclear programme, from the mid 1980s until 2003, was aimed at the development of nuclear weapons. But it stated that it did not proceed with the design of nuclear weapons, nor did it have a complete fissile material production capability. Libya provided the Agency unrestricted and prompt access, beyond that required under its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, to locations, information and individuals requested by the Agency.

The Agency did not find any indications of actual work related to nuclear weapons development. I am pleased that the Agency is now able to implement safeguards in Libya in a routine manner. We will continue to work to reach a conclusion about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in the country.

The Agency was disturbed to learn that sensitive information provided by the clandestine supply network to Libya, some of which related to uranium centrifuge enrichment and - even more worrisome - nuclear weapon design, existed in electronic form, making it easy to disseminate. Clearly, this is a matter of serious concern. It makes it all the more important for the Agency to have the legal authority, through the additional protocol, to provide assurance that there is no undeclared nuclear material in a country with a comprehensive safeguards agreement. We will continue, in cooperation with Member States, to investigate the activities of the clandestine network, insofar as they relate to the Agency´s mandate.

Application of Safeguards in the Middle East
In line with the mandate given to me by the General Conference, I have continued my consultations with the States of the Middle East on the application of full scope safeguards to all nuclear activities in the region, and on the development of model safeguards agreements as a necessary step towards establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region. Once again, I regret to say that I cannot report progress on either front.

Following recent consultations with Member States in the Middle East, it seems that a convergence of views is emerging on the convening of a forum on the experience of other regions with existing nuclear-weapon-free zones, and on the relevance of this for the Middle East. But there is still no consensus on the agenda and the issues which such a forum would need to address. I will continue my consultations with Member States in the Middle East with a view to convening a productive forum as early as practicable.

Nuclear Safety and 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.

Overall, nuclear safety has improved significantly but the risk of accidents persists. It is essential to ensure that a true safety culture takes root worldwide, not least in countries new to nuclear power.

The Agency is proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the IAEA Safety Standards programme. We continue to upgrade our safety standards, including addressing threats to nuclear installations from extreme natural hazards such as volcanoes and tsunamis. In response to increasing Member States´ concerns, we established an International Seismic Safety Centre, which will pool expert knowledge and assist nuclear operators and regulators in the aftermath of major seismic events.

The Agency has also strengthened its programme to protect medical patients and staff from exposure to medical radiation. Together with the World Health Organization, we are now in a leading position in training health professionals in radiation protection.

During the past year, we have focused on enhancing physical security arrangements at nuclear facilities and other locations with nuclear or radioactive materials. The Agency provided assistance to States in repatriating high enriched uranium research reactor fuel and vulnerable radioactive sources, establishing effective border controls, and developing comprehensive approaches to national nuclear security. We also supported security for major public events, including the Beijing Olympic Games.

We know that the potential for a malicious act involving nuclear or other radioactive material remains real. The IAEA´s Illicit Trafficking Database programme, whose membership has now risen to 100 countries, contains information on incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive material. The number of incidents reported to the Agency indicates ongoing weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

One waste management issue which is also closely related to nuclear security is the management of disused radioactive sources. We need to increase our efforts to recover and secure orphan sources, in particular. The Agency has developed special transportable hot cell equipment that can now be used to make such sources safe, even in difficult locations.

Emergency Preparedness and Response

As the use of nuclear energy expands, the international community must enhance its ability to respond to nuclear and radiation emergencies caused by accidents or malicious acts. The Incident and Emergency Centre was created in 2005 to meet this challenge. In addition, a new Response Assistance Network (RANET), designed to coordinate Member State assistance in the event of a radiation incident or emergency, has now become operational.

However, I am concerned 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.

Technical Cooperation Programme

No sustainable human development is possible without security and no lasting security is achievable without development. Development activities remain central to our work. Demand for technical cooperation from developing countries continues to grow. Our resources have long been insufficient to keep pace with requests for support, and we have increasingly made use of partnerships with other organizations, regional collaborations and country to country support.

A new three year Technical Cooperation Programme has been finalized. There is an emerging trend, especially in Europe, for Member States to focus less on national projects and more on regional activities. In general, regional programming has been strengthened and is more clearly targeted on common priorities. Member States with more developed nuclear sectors play a key role in supporting regional projects, sharing their expertise with other countries in the region. The new programme contains an emphasis on food and agriculture, human health and natural resources. Requests for support for energy planning and nuclear energy projects are also increasing and safety is a constant element in all projects.

The agreement on a Technical Cooperation Fund target of $85 million is welcome, but the process of establishing the target could be made more efficient and less time-consuming if it was based on agreed criteria. This would speed up the negotiations and enhance transparency. The Secretariat will prepare proposals on how this could be done.

I again emphasize that technical cooperation is not a bargaining chip, part of a political "balance" between the development and safeguards activities of the Agency. Our development work is founded on technical expertise and driven by comparative advantage. Nuclear applications provide immense benefits and show clearly measurable results. The Agency has shown itself to be a reliable partner across a wide range of activities.

Management Issues

To turn briefly to management issues, I am pleased that agreement has been reached to fund the introduction of an Agency-wide Information System for Programme Support (AIPS). This will improve efficiency and accountability, bringing greater transparency and improved internal control to our financial and procurement operations. It will also enable us to introduce International Public Sector Accounting Standards within a few years.

Report of Commission of Eminent Persons

I will now return to the subject of the future of the Agency.

In its first 50 years, the Agency has proven its value as a key instrument, both for enabling developing countries to use science and technology for development, and for maintaining international security. It has shown itself capable of adapting to changing circumstances and the diverse needs of Member States.

But we really have reached a turning point. Years of zero growth budgets have left us with a failing infrastructure and a troubling dependence on voluntary support, which invariably has conditions attached. For example, no less than 90 percent of our nuclear security programme, which is aimed in part at stopping terrorists from obtaining nuclear material, depends on voluntary funding. I repeat - 90 percent of our nuclear security programme depends on voluntary funding. In nuclear safety, the figure is 30 percent and in verification it is 15 percent. Technical cooperation funds continue to lag well behind the pressing needs of developing countries.

All of these are core Agency activities and it is imperative that they should have adequate, stable and predictable resources. Put that together with our insufficient legal authority in key areas such as verification, safety and security and it is clear that our ability to do our job properly is being seriously compromised.

I have voiced these concerns on many occasions. Last year, I appointed an independent Commission of Eminent Persons to examine our work and make recommendations for the future of the Agency up to 2020 and beyond. This was an experienced and knowledgeable panel, comprising former heads of government, ministers, top scientists and diplomats, from both developed and developing countries.

Their report was published in May. The Commission members, under the able leadership of former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, did not disappoint. They produced a report which is compelling, thoughtful and profound. Their recommendations - some of them bold and far-reaching - concern all aspects of the Agency´s work. My aim in appointing the Commission was to trigger discussion among Member States on how the Agency can best contribute to achieving their common goals of development, peace and security in the decades ahead. The Commission´s proposals provide an excellent starting point and deserve serious scrutiny. I will highlight just a few.

First, the Commission says the Agency, working with supplier and donor States, should help "newcomer" States to put in place the necessary infrastructure to launch nuclear energy programmes safely, securely and peacefully. The Agency should also give high priority to establishing multilateral fuel cycle arrangements, covering both the front and the back end of the cycle. That means everything from developing an assurance of supply mechanism for nuclear fuel to taking care of waste disposal and plant decommissioning.

Second, the Commission says the Technical Cooperation Fund should be increased substantially. Our technical cooperation programme, focusing on using nuclear applications in food and agriculture, human health and natural resources, needs to be expanded. That means doing more to address global food security and water shortages, as well as fighting cancer.

Third, in order to help address the threat of nuclear terrorism, the Commission urges you, the Member States, to negotiate binding agreements to set effective global nuclear security standards and to give the Agency the tools and authority to help ensure they are implemented.

A fourth key proposal is that the Agency should lead an international effort to establish a global nuclear safety network, also based on binding agreements. Countries should submit to mandatory international nuclear safety peer reviews.

Fifth, the Agency´s safeguards activities should be strengthened. That means better equipment, more staff and funding, as well as more legal authority.

In connection with safeguards, I should note that nuclear disarmament, the core of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has been on the back burner for far too long. As the Commission says, "States must recommit to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons." The Commission notes that the IAEA is not the lead Agency for nuclear disarmament, but adds: "Progress towards disarmament, or the lack of it, will deeply affect the success of the IAEA´s non-proliferation mission." One of the Commission members, former Senator Sam Nunn, put it succinctly when he said: "Whenever non-proliferation is discussed, nuclear disarmament is the elephant in the corner that´s hard to ignore."

As the Commission acknowledges, this is a bold agenda. It is now up to you to decide what kind of Agency you want. If we carry on with business as usual, the Agency´s effectiveness and the value of the services we provide to you will gradually be eroded.

The sums proposed by the Commission to put things right are modest - a once-off injection of 80 million euros to refurbish our laboratories and emergency response capability, and a gradual doubling of the budget by 2020. Weighed against the costs of a nuclear accident - which can total untold billions of dollars, as in the case of Chernobyl - or of a terrorist attack involving nuclear materials, this is insignificant. Likewise, the potential benefit to developing countries from using nuclear applications is huge.

This is not just about money. The Agency does not work in a vacuum. Political commitment to the goals of the Agency needs to be renewed at the highest level to encourage the transfer of nuclear technology to the developing world and to strengthen safety and security, non-proliferation and disarmament.

It is nearly four years since the UN Secretary General´s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change described the IAEA as an "extraordinary bargain." Sadly, since then, almost nothing has changed as far as our resources and authority are concerned. The problems facing the world in the nuclear arena are plain for all of us to see. The Agency can do much to address them, if given the authority, resources, personnel and technology. It would be a tragedy of epic proportions if we fail to act until after a nuclear conflagration, accident or terrorist attack that could have been prevented.

Making the Agency more effective is therefore critical to international security and to development. The report of the Commission of Eminent Persons spells out what needs to be done. It is time to think big and to think long term.

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