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14 September 2009 | Vienna, Austria
Fifty-Third Regular Session of the IAEA General Conference 2009

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Looking to the Future

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

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When I look back at my first statement to the General Conference as Director General in 1998, I am proud that the IAEA has made considerable progress in many areas, from improving access to energy, food and water for people in need, to helping to enhance the safety and security of nuclear materials and facilities.

But I am troubled that so many of the issues I raised back then are still with us today - nuclear verification in the DPRK, the lack of any significant progress in nuclear disarmament and the perennial problems of inadequate Agency funding and legal authority.

The world changed dramatically after the atrocities of September 11, 2001.

We have had to respond to the uncovering of a sophisticated covert network dealing in sensitive nuclear technology, which made it alarmingly easy to acquire nuclear weapons knowledge and technology.

Nine states now possess nuclear weapons and there are a growing number of "nuclear weapons capable" countries which, because of their mastery of uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing, could manufacture nuclear weapons within a few months if their security perceptions change.

A major cause for regret was the fact that, despite the Agency and the United Nations providing impartial and factual information that pointed to the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a war was launched against that country, with tragic consequences.

Back in the 1990s, some world leaders used to stumble over the letters "IAEA" because they were unfamiliar. Now, we have become a household name. The ultimate recognition of our work, of course, came with the award of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Agency has a proud story to tell when it comes to efficiency. The UN Secretary General´s High Level Panel described the Agency in 2004 as an "extraordinary bargain." The staff of this organization can take pride in their achievements.

I will use my last General Conference speech to take stock of what has been achieved in the past 12 years, to consider what lessons we need to learn and to offer my perspective on the challenges that lie ahead.

Nuclear Power

Let me start with nuclear power.

When I addressed the General Conference in 1998, nuclear power had stopped growing in Western Europe and North America.

The outlook was quite uncertain in other parts of the world. The Chernobyl accident was still fresh in people´s memories. Public opinion associated nuclear power with the possibility of a major disaster and worries about the disposal of radioactive waste.

Today, by contrast, the world seems set for a significant expansion in the use of nuclear power, with scores of countries having told the Agency that they are interested in introducing it.

Not surprisingly, most of these are from the developing world, where annual electricity consumption per capita can be as low as 50 kWh compared with an average of 8,600 kWh in OECD countries.

For many countries, nuclear power, with its good performance and safety record, is a way to meet their surging demand for energy, reduce their vulnerability to fluctuations in the cost of fossil fuels and combat climate change.

The Agency is not a lobbyist for nuclear power. Our role is to provide objective, comparative information.

If a country makes the decision to add nuclear power to its energy mix, we work to ensure that it is done effectively, in the safest and most secure manner and exclusively for peaceful purposes.

A considerable expansion in the number of nuclear power reactors throughout the world will create extra work for the Agency.

We have already adjusted our priorities to focus more on the nuclear power programmes of newcomers.

Nuclear Applications

I will now turn to other aspects of the development side of our mandate - making nuclear techniques available to developing countries to help them meet the basic needs of their peoples.

When I addressed the General Conference in 1998, the size of the Agency´s Technical Cooperation Programme was modest at around $80 million per year.

Ten years later, in 2008, the programme disbursed $96 million - still disappointingly modest, especially considering the growth in Agency membership in that period from 127 countries to the present 150, and the increasing development needs of Member States.

Demand for our help greatly exceeds our ability to provide it. We can and should do much more, but that requires a dramatic increase in funding which regrettably has not been made available to us.

I believe this is short-sighted.

We should all concentrate on delivering assistance where we can, to help provide energy for development, feed the hungry and heal the sick.

We should also recognise the link between the security which we all seek and development.

Improving life for the two billion people - one third of humanity - who live on less than $2 per day is not just the right thing to do morally; it is also the smart thing to do.

By helping to address the root causes of instability and insecurity, including poverty, poor governance and endemic conflicts, we make it less likely that countries will feel the temptation to seek weapons of mass destruction.

It has been an uphill battle to get more developed Member States to recognize the importance of the Agency´s development activities, and accept the need to fund them adequately.

This should not be perceived as an act of largesse, but a commitment to development. In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to make our assistance as effective as possible.

One project dear to my heart is our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy.

This is an innovative effort to bring our radiation medicine activities into comprehensive national and regional cancer control programmes.

The incidence of cancer is increasing dramatically in developing countries. Their need is great.

Twenty-seven of the 53 countries in Africa, for example, have no operating radiotherapy services at all: no prevention, no screening, no early diagnosis, no palliative care programmes.

I sincerely hope that PACT will attract more governmental and non-governmental donors to help save millions of lives.

Our technical cooperation activities have made a significant difference.

Induced crop mutations using nuclear techniques, for example, have in many countries provided better nutrition and greater food security and improved economic prospects for farmers, while isotope data are helping to ensure reliable supplies of groundwater.

Nuclear Verification

The global non-proliferation landscape has changed radically in the last two decades.

In response, the way in which the Agency implements safeguards has undergone a metamorphosis.

We have moved beyond simple verification of declared nuclear material at declared facilities to assessing information on a State´s entire nuclear programme and, most importantly, verifying the absence of undeclared activities.

Our ability to detect possible clandestine nuclear material and activities depends on the extent to which we are given the necessary legal authority, technology and resources.

Regrettably, we face continuing major shortcomings in all three areas, which, if not addressed, could put the entire non-proliferation regime at risk.

As far as our legal authority is concerned, the hope I expressed to the General Conference in 1998 that all States would have concluded safeguards agreements and an additional protocol by 2000 now looks wildly optimistic.

Today, there are still 25 NPT non-nuclear-weapon States without comprehensive safeguards agreements in force, which means the Agency cannot draw any non-proliferation conclusions for these countries.

There are 73 countries with comprehensive safeguards agreements, but no additional protocols in force.

For these countries, our ability to detect possible undeclared activities is severely limited.

Universal adherence by all non-nuclear-weapon States to comprehensive safeguards agreements and additional protocols is a prerequisite for an effective verification and non-proliferation system.

Our credibility depends on our independence.

It is vital that we have state-of-the-art technology so that, for example, we can independently validate environmental sampling analyses.

The burden on our safeguards staff is growing steadily, along with the number of facilities they have to inspect. Continuing with budgets that fall far short of our essential needs in the coming years is not a viable option.

Back in 1998, the two main countries on the proliferation radar were Iraq and the DPRK.

As you will recall, I reported to the Security Council two months before the Iraq war that the Agency "had found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons programme."

I asked for a few more months as a "valuable investment in peace" to let us complete our verification work.

Unfortunately, the Agency´s assessment, and that of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, were ignored and a war was waged, which has cost the lives of possibly hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

It gives me no consolation that the Agency´s findings were subsequently vindicated.

In the case of the DPRK, the Agency sounded the alarm and reported the country to the Security Council for non-compliance with its non-proliferation obligations as far back as 1993.

Sixteen years later, the DPRK has moved from the possession of undeclared plutonium to acquiring nuclear weapons.

The on-again, off-again nature of the dialogue between the DPRK and the international community has stymied the resolution of this issue. In my view, the DPRK is a glaring example of the fragility and shortcomings of the non proliferation regime.

Important lessons need to be learned from Iraq and the DPRK.

The first is that we must let diplomacy and thorough verification take their course, however lengthy and tiresome the process might be.

We must keep open the channels of communication with those with whom we have issues that need to be resolved rather than seeking to isolate them.

We must act within the framework of international institutions - in this case, the IAEA and the Security Council - and empower them, rather than bypass them through unilateral action.

Force should never be used unless every other option has been exhausted, and then only within the bounds of international law, as codified in the United Nations Charter.

The Agency cannot do its work in isolation. It depends on a supportive political process, with the Security Council at its core.

The Council needs to develop a comprehensive compliance mechanism that does not rely only on sanctions, which too often hurt the vulnerable and the innocent.

More importantly, it must focus more on conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacemaking, and address the insecurities that lie behind many cases of proliferation, such as mistrust and conflict.

As we - hopefully - move towards nuclear disarmament, states should expand and strengthen the Agency´s verification mandate.

Six years have passed since Iran was reported to the Board of Governors for failing to declare material and activities to the Agency, in violation of its safeguards agreement.

Throughout this period, as a result of difficult and painstaking work, the Agency acquired a better understanding of Iran´s civil nuclear programme.

Nevertheless, a number of questions and allegations that cast doubt on the peaceful nature of that programme are still outstanding.

If we are to restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme, Iran needs to engage substantively with the Agency to clarify these issues, especially the difficult and important questions regarding the authenticity of information relating to alleged weaponization studies.

I call on those who provided the information to enable the Agency to share with Iran as much information as possible to assist the Agency in moving forward with the verification process.

It is also essential that Iran implement the Additional Protocol so the Agency is able to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.

Addressing the concerns of the international community about Iran´s future intentions is primarily a matter of confidence-building, which can only be achieved through dialogue.

I therefore welcome the offer of the US to initiate a dialogue with Iran, without preconditions and on the basis of mutual respect.

It is my hope that such a dialogue will begin as soon as possible.

One of my preoccupations as I reflect on the future of Agency safeguards is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to call on non-nuclear-weapon states to renounce such weapons in perpetuity, and accept new measures to strengthen non-proliferation, if nuclear-weapon States continue to modernise their nuclear arsenals and almost glorify them.

As President Obama pointed out in his landmark Prague speech, serious nuclear disarmament is essential if the nuclear-weapon States are to have the moral authority to deal with the challenges facing the non-proliferation regime.

There were times in the past 12 years when I felt like one of a few lonely voices calling for nuclear disarmament, not least when I started to see the non-proliferation regime losing some of its legitimacy in the eyes of public opinion, most notably in the Middle East.

Fortunately, after two largely lost decades since the end of the Cold War, the tide now seems to be turning.

This primarily reflects a realization that, with the technology out of the box and an increasing risk of terrorism, the danger of nuclear weapons being used has increased considerably.

The recent commitment by Presidents Medvedev and Obama to cut their countries´ nuclear arsenals by as much as a third is very encouraging.

Assurance of Supply

In 2003, I expressed my belief that the fuel cycle could prove to be the Achilles Heel of the non-proliferation regime and raised the idea of putting the fuel cycle under multinational control.

I recently put proposals before the Board of Governors to establish a low enriched uranium (LEU) bank, and an LEU reserve in Russia, under Agency auspices.

No country would have to give up any of its rights under the NPT, including the right to develop its own fuel cycle. Our ultimate goal should continue to be the full multinationalization of the sensitive parts of the fuel cycle to guarantee supply of nuclear fuel and consolidate our efforts to move to a world free of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Safety and Security

Turning to nuclear safety, the Agency was proud last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the IAEA Safety Standards programme.

Nuclear safety has improved significantly since the shock of Chernobyl in 1986, but the risk of accidents can never be eliminated completely.

In some countries we still see a troubling combination of old reactors and weak regulators.

It is in all our interests to ensure that the highest safety standards are upheld everywhere.

The Agency´s activities in nuclear security date back to the 1970s, when we began a modest program that provided training courses on the physical protection of nuclear materials.

After the 9/11 attacks, however, it became clear that more needed to be done urgently, and the Agency initiated a comprehensive programme to combat the risk of nuclear terrorism.

I am proud of the speed and efficiency with which the Agency has turned a small programme, with a budget of a quarter of a million dollars per year, into a major asset for Member States, which has provided $50 million in equipment, training and other assistance in the last three years.

But it is disconcerting that nuclear security is still funded almost entirely from voluntary contributions, which come with many conditions attached and are both insufficient and unpredictable.

The gravest threat faced by the world is of an extremist group getting hold of nuclear weapons or materials.

Management of the Agency

As I said in my introduction, the Agency has a proud story to tell in terms of efficiency.

Keeping the Secretariat lean has been a management priority throughout my tenure.

Unfortunately, despite our proven record of effectiveness and efficiency, we find ourselves fighting exactly the same battles for resources at the start of every budget cycle.

I am baffled that some Member States believe they can continue, year after year, to enjoy the benefits of the Agency´s programme without putting in much, if any, additional resources, and without loss of quality, especially against a background of zero growth budget policies for most of the past two decades.

None of us can see everything that is coming down the line towards us.

But we can see that it is imperative that we are properly equipped to deal with the unexpected, as well as with what is foreseeable.

The sums needed to put Agency funding on a secure footing for the coming decades are insignificant, especially compared to the magnitude and range of risks the Agency has to address.

Future of the Agency

Looking to the future, it is clear that tremendous challenges, but also tremendous opportunities, lie ahead for the Agency.

Nuclear disarmament is finally back on the agenda.

If it proceeds successfully, as I hope it will, this could create a significant additional verification role for the Agency. This would be a natural extension of the Agency´s work.

In 50 years´ time, there may be several dozen additional countries with nuclear power programmes, mostly in what today is known as the developing world.

Most of the 30 countries which already have nuclear power will build additional plants. That means more work for the Agency in helping with capacity-building, quality assurance, verification, safety and security.

Demand for nuclear techniques in medicine, agriculture and other areas will continue to grow. For developing countries, the Agency will remain the first port of call.

The IAEA´s dual mandate of security and development is unique. We are part of a complex web of international security mechanisms which need to work in harmony if we are to effectively serve the people who put their trust in us.

I certainly do not share the prevailing cynicism about international organizations.

Like all human endeavours, they have their weaknesses. But they are capable of great things if properly resourced and empowered, and competently led.

The IAEA is one of the finest and most effective organizations in the world today, with staff of exceptionally high calibre. Its strength lies in its objectivity and its outstanding technical competence. I urge you to invest in this organization and to cherish it.

Conclusion

The Egyptian-born poet Constantine Cavafy once wrote: "When you set out on your journey... pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge."

My journey with the IAEA has been long and there have been many adventures.

It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as Director General of the IAEA for 12 years.

I am deeply grateful to all of my colleagues throughout the Agency, past and present, for their sterling professionalism, their loyalty and their dedication.

Without them, we would not be where we are today.

I thank you, the Member States, for honouring me with your confidence.

I congratulate my successor, Director General-designate Amano, wish him every success and offer him my full support. I trust that he will lead the Agency with vision, impartiality and courage.

After a lifetime as a diplomat and international civil servant, I know - as all of you do - that diplomacy and negotiation can be tedious.

But if history has taught us anything, it is surely that force rarely solves problems. So we had better stick to diplomacy.

For diplomacy to succeed, we must act as one human family, with the conviction that all human beings have a right to live in dignity and peace, free from fear and free from want, under a global security system that does not rely on inhumane weapons and is rooted in fairness and equity.

I end by recalling the concept of Ubuntu, the essence of the spirit of the continent of Africa from which I come and to which I owe a debt of gratitude.

Ubuntu, which has much to teach us all, is the recognition of the inextricable bonds that link us as human beings. It acknowledges that none of us exists in isolation.

"I am, because you are."

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