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1 November 2011 | New York, USA
United Nations General Assembly

Statement to Sixty-Sixth Regular Session of United Nations General Assembly

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Mr. President,

Since March 11 this year, the IAEA has been working on the very serious accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. I will therefore begin by reflecting on that accident and its aftermath, before talking about other aspects of our work.

As you know, the accident at Fukushima Daiichi was caused by an earthquake and tsunami of unprecedented severity, which struck eastern Japan on 11 March. The IAEA has been doing everything it can to help Japan bring the situation at the site under control and to mitigate the consequences of the accident. The Japanese authorities and the operator have been working steadily to stabilise the reactors and are now confident that so-called "cold shutdown" will be achieved by the end of the year. The IAEA will continue to assist Japan as it tackles the challenging work of decontamination and remediation in the affected areas.

In September, our 151 Member States endorsed a 12-point IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety. Key elements of the Action Plan include an agreement that all countries with nuclear power programmes will promptly undertake what have become known as "stress tests" of their nuclear power plants. The framework for expert peer reviews by the IAEA of operational safety at nuclear power plants is being strengthened. The effectiveness of national and international emergency preparedness and response arrangements, IAEA safety standards and relevant international conventions will also be reviewed. The Action Plan represents a significant step forward. It is vital that it is fully implemented in all countries with nuclear power and that the right lessons are learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

I would like to express my gratitude to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for convening a High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Safety and Security in September and bringing UN-system organizations together to collaborate on this issue. Nuclear safety is the responsibility of individual countries, but the IAEA - the only international organization with expertise in all aspects of nuclear energy - will play the leading role in shaping a safer nuclear future throughout the world.

Mr. President,

Despite the accident, the IAEA's latest projection is that the number of operating nuclear reactors in the world will continue to increase steadily in the coming decades, although less rapidly than was anticipated before the accident. Most of the growth will occur in countries that already have operating nuclear power plants, such as China and India. Many developing countries still plan to introduce nuclear power in the coming years. The factors contributing to increasing interest in nuclear power have not changed: these include increasing global demand for energy, as well as concerns about climate change, volatile fossil fuel prices and security of energy supply.

Mr. President,

Nuclear security remains an extremely important issue for all States. In September, we marked the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. In the wake of those attacks, the Agency significantly expanded its nuclear security programme to help countries protect nuclear and other radioactive material and associated facilities against malicious acts.

The number of States participating in our Illicit Trafficking Database programme continues to grow. It now stands at 113. In the year to June 2011, 172 incidents were reported to the Database. Fourteen involved activities such as unauthorized possession and/or attempts to sell or smuggle nuclear material or radioactive sources. Another 32 incidents involved the theft or loss of nuclear or other radioactive material. Incidents of this nature demonstrate that security weaknesses continue to exist and must be addressed. I look forward to attending the second Nuclear Security Summit, to be hosted by the Republic of Korea, next March.

I note once again that progress towards entry into force of the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material remains slow, six years after its adoption. Adherence to the Amendment can significantly reduce the risk of nuclear material falling into the wrong hands. I encourage the parties to the Convention to work towards accelerating the entry into force of the Amendment.

Mr. President,

In the area of nuclear applications, one major success story deserves special mention: the worldwide eradication of the deadly cattle disease rinderpest. Rinderpest is, in fact, the first animal disease ever to be eliminated. This is a momentous achievement which is of enormous economic benefit to many developing countries. The net benefit to Africa alone is estimated at more than one billion US dollars per year. Together with the FAO, the World Organisation for Animal Health, the African Union and other partners, the IAEA played an important part in eliminating this highly contagious viral disease. Our role included making available affordable diagnostic techniques and training veterinary staff.

The same technologies used to eliminate rinderpest are now being successfully applied to diagnose and control other transboundary animal diseases. In Mongolia for example, the Agency assisted in the successful control of a devastating outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that threatened the entire livestock population of about 50 million animals.

The Agency has paid special attention this year to nuclear techniques related to water. This was the subject of our annual Scientific Forum in September, which was attended by leading scientists and government officials. Nearly a billion people lack access to adequate drinking water. The Agency can help countries to undertake comprehensive assessments of water resources by making available unique information provided through the techniques of isotope hydrology. I will say more about this in a moment.

In September, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco. The Laboratories have made an outstanding contribution to protecting our oceans and seas by developing advanced analytical methods and reference materials for assessing marine radioactivity and pollution.

Mr. President,

The IAEA technical cooperation programme provides essential support to Member States in every region. Through the programme, Member States address national development priorities in fields where nuclear techniques offer advantages over other approaches, or can usefully supplement them. For example, our projects combat child malnutrition, support breastfeeding programmes and address child mortality from preventable water-borne diseases.

New resources for the technical cooperation programme as a whole rose to 127.7 million dollars in 2010 from 112.2 million dollars in 2009. Nuclear safety was the largest area of activity overall, followed by human health, and then food and agriculture.

In September, the General Assembly held a high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases. IAEA human health projects, as well as technical cooperation projects on water management and identification of pollution sources, help countries to address non-communicable diseases including cancer, diabetes and water-borne illnesses.

In the field of water, I would like to mention a very promising technical cooperation project in El Salvador, where the Agency has helped to establish a permanent monitoring system to provide early warnings of Harmful Algal Blooms. If undetected, these can enter the food chain and cause serious - sometimes fatal - illness. El Salvador's fishing communities are benefiting directly from nuclear technologies that provide faster, more accurate warnings of algal blooms, and make it possible to close selected fishing grounds during danger periods.

In Kenya, a drip irrigation project supported by the IAEA has helped the Maasai people to grow more crops for both animal and human consumption. In addition to conserving precious water resources, the project has made it possible for more parents to afford schooling for their children.

Mr. President,

Turning to nuclear verification, I am pleased to note that 112 countries have brought additional protocols to their safeguards agreements with the IAEA into force. This is very encouraging. The additional protocol is an essential tool for the Agency to be able to provide credible assurance not only that declared nuclear material is not being diverted from peaceful uses, but also that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities in a country. I strongly hope that remaining States will conclude additional protocols as soon as possible. I also ask the 14 non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the NPT without safeguards agreements in force to bring such agreements into force without delay.

I have continued to report regularly to our Board of Governors on implementation of Agency safeguards in a number of countries. IAEA reports on the implementation of safeguards in Iran have been sent to the United Nations Security Council since 2006. In my recent reports, I stated that Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the Agency to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities. I urge Iran to take steps towards the full implementation of all relevant obligations in order to establish international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.

In the case of Syria, the Agency recently came to the conclusion that it is very likely that a building destroyed at the Dair Alzour site in 2007 was a nuclear reactor which should have been declared to the Agency. In June, the IAEA Board of Governors found Syria to be in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations and reported this non-compliance to the Security Council and the General Assembly.

The nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea remains a matter of serious concern. As you may know, the Agency has not been able to implement any safeguards measures in that country since April 2009. Last year's reports about the construction of a new uranium enrichment facility and a light water reactor in the DPRK are deeply troubling. I continue to urge the DPRK to fully implement all of the relevant resolutions of the IAEA General Conference and the Security Council.

Our efforts to improve the analytical capability and security of the Agency's safeguards laboratories have made excellent progress. The new Clean Laboratory Extension, near Vienna, was completed on time and slightly under budget and has been operational for several months. It greatly improves the Agency's ability to independently analyse environmental samples for safeguards.

Mr. President,

In September 2000, the IAEA General Conference tasked the Director General to make arrangements to convene a Forum in which participants from the Middle East and other interested parties could learn from the experience of nuclear-weapon-free zones already established in other regions. My consultations with Member States showed that conditions are now favourable for the holding of such a Forum. I have therefore decided to convene a Forum in Vienna on 21-22 November. It will consider the relevance to the Middle East of the experience of Africa, the South Pacific, South-East Asia, Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean in establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones. I hope that this will be a successful meeting.

Thank you, Mr. President.