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29 September 2011 | Monaco
50th Anniversary of IAEA Environmental Laboratories

50th Anniversary of IAEA Environmental Laboratories

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Thank you, Mr. Calcagno.

Your Serene Highness, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Colleagues,

It is a great pleasure to be here today on this special occasion - the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the IAEA laboratories in Monaco. And where better to celebrate than in this magnificent building overlooking the Mediterranean, which houses one of the most eminent and prestigious oceanographic institutions in the world?

I thank Mr. Calcagno and the Oceanographic Museum for being our hosts today. I also thank the Principality of Monaco for being an excellent partner for the IAEA since 1961. My special gratitude goes to His Serene Highness Prince Albert, who has always taken a strong personal interest in our work. I would like to add a personal note of thanks to the Principality for despatching a specialist search and rescue team from the Fire Brigade to help Japan in the immediate aftermath of the March earthquake and tsunami.

The opening of the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories, the only such laboratories in the United Nations system, marked the start of a new era for research into the marine environment.

Today, the work of the laboratories is vital to help protect the world's greatest natural resource - our oceans and seas. Hundreds of scientists from all over the world have been trained by the Agency in advanced methods for assessing marine radioactivity and pollution.

The reference materials and methods produced by the laboratories have helped to improve the quality and reliability of analytical data in Member State laboratories for the past 50 years. Our scientists have participated in collaborative research and assessment work on sites impacted by pollution throughout the world.

For example, the laboratories have been in the front line of the battle against harmful algal blooms, which are highly toxic to fish, shellfish and other marine life. They also represent a threat to human health and endanger the livelihoods of fishermen.

Almost every coastal region in the world has suffered from these algal blooms. The Environment Laboratories have successfully promoted the use of a nuclear-based technique using receptor-binding assay for early detection and monitoring.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have taken a special interest in this part of the world since my student days in Nice in 1974/1975. I learned about the laboratories from a Japanese scientist who was working in Monaco at the time. My first professional contact with the laboratories came 20 years later, when I was working for the Japanese Foreign Ministry. I asked for the assistance of the laboratories in monitoring the effects of the dumping of liquid radioactive waste. I was very satisfied with the results.

I was therefore pleased to be able to focus on the important work of the laboratories at the 2011 IAEA Scientific Forum, which took place during our General Conference in Vienna last week. The Forum was devoted to nuclear techniques related to water. One of the four sessions was on Protecting the Oceans, which allowed us to showcase the work of the laboratories.

In addition to their regular research work, the laboratories can respond quickly to sudden and urgent needs of Member States. This was demonstrated most recently after the Fukushima Daiichi accident. The Environment Laboratories worked actively with Japan, and with the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre in Vienna, making staff available and analysing samples collected by IAEA radiation monitoring teams.

The laboratories also assisted the Department of the Environment of the Principality in monitoring atmospheric radioactivity in Monaco, as we did 25 years earlier after the Chernobyl accident.

We work closely with numerous UN partners. This year, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, the UN Environment Programme and the IAEA which marked an important step in our collaboration on environmental issues.

At present, more than 80 technical cooperation projects are led by the laboratories, including a highly topical one on the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi radioactive releases in the Pacific Region. The laboratories also manage several projects funded by the Peaceful Uses Initiative on sustainable development as related to the environment.

During the last few years, the Environment Laboratories have become active on issues related to consequences of climate change that can be better understood through the application of nuclear techniques and isotopes.

This year, the laboratories hosted several important meetings, including a major International Symposium on Isotopes in Hydrology, Marine Ecosystems, and Climate Change Studies. More will follow before this 50th anniversary year comes to an end.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The work carried out in Monaco by the IAEA laboratories has benefited people all over the world. Tomorrow, the Resident Representatives to the IAEA in Vienna, who have joined us on this special occasion, will have a chance to see some of that world-class research for themselves when they visit the laboratories. I am sure you will be impressed.

I thank Your Serene Highness and the Principality for your unwavering support for the work of the laboratories during the last 50 years.

I also thank the Resident Representatives for their commitment and for joining us in this celebration.

And I express my deep appreciation to the staff of the Environment Laboratories for their hard work and dedication. I know that demand from our Member States for the unique services you provide will continue to grow in the coming years and I wish you all continued success.

Thank you.