50 Years of Successful Cooperation

Vienna, Austria

Yury Sokolov, IAEA Deputy Director General, Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy

It is a pleasure and honor for me to be here in Varna at the Bulgarian Atomic Forum. Two years ago I also addressed this forum. It was on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of nuclear power in Bulgaria. Today your Forum examines the future of nuclear power in the context of national, regional and global development, and addresses the key issues of this development such as energy needs, energy supply security, multilateral cooperation and others. The International Atomic Energy Agency was and is an active player in this arena. In my presentation later today I shall consider the Agency´s role in this perspective from the past to the future. I shall do this taking into account that in this year we also mark two 50th anniversaries: the International Atomic Energy Agency´s and Bulgaria´s Membership and cooperation with the Agency. And I thank you again for the opportunity to reflect on, and to interpret, the topical issues of this Forum through the perceptive lens of historical development.

The main topic of your conference, "energy security," is a very important one. And let me start by defining "Global Energy Security" as a mean to fulfilling the energy needs of all countries. Why do I define it in this way?

Human development depends on energy, and the alternative to development is poverty, disease and death. Now 1.6 billion people live with no access to electricity, 2.4 billion use primitive forms of energy. Imbalance creates instability and the potential for widespread violence. In a globalized world, if we ignore insecurities of others, they eventually become our own. Imbalance and insecurity have a fundamental impact on international relations.

A key factor in development is the ongoing growth in energy demand. It is estimated that global energy demand will increase by at least 50% in the next 25 years; about 70% of this growth will occur in developing countries. Meeting energy needs is currently affordable by rich countries, but the growth in price has a stronger affect on developing countries.

Leading the way to improve access to affordable and clean energy is and will be vital to security. All these issues are under discussion in many international forums and, let me mention only one - last year´s G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg where the action plan identified seven areas for enhancing global energy security.

When we speak about energy security there is a need to pursue a common approach for expanding energy supplies and access to energy technologies, finding ways to weaken vulnerability to price volatility and its use for political pressure, fostering energy efficiency and the safe use of nuclear power, strengthening physical security and non-proliferation of weapon-grade materials and technologies used for military purpose, and supporting regional and global cooperation.

Nuclear energy - essentially a clean source of energy - can provide large amounts of energy. There are a number of pro and con factors that have to be considered. For example: advantages include a vast resource base that is geographically widely spread; minimal CO2 emissions; small and manageable waste volumes (though final repositories remain to be demonstrated); favourable economics and good safety records. Among problematic topics we usually deal with risks - risks of safety, security and proliferation; the need for significant infrastructure in developing countries and public trust.

All of these factors relevant to energy supply security and energy demand for development - including factors I mentioned at the outset like the humanitarian component in the struggle against poverty, hunger and disease through promoting beneficial nuclear applications - are within the Agency´s mission and the focus of its current activities. They have historically been the focus of Agency efforts and will continue to be so in the future.

Let me focus especially on a topic which is very relevant to energy supply security, has distinctive complexities, and which has recently placed the Agency in the centre of many international discussions. I refer to multilateral approaches to the assurance of supply.

As I have said, energy supply security and mechanisms for assuring supply are very much linked. But in establishing mechanisms for energy supply security, one has to ask what kind of assurance will they provide? And in this question you can see the difference between these two topics.

There are both many similarities and many differences among the drivers of energy supply security mechanisms in the past and in the future. Among the drivers for establishing national policies in the area of energy supply security, one that is frequently mentioned is the need to protect against fuel price volatility, particularly for oil and gas, and the use of these prices as an instrument of political pressure, for example, through cutting off supplies for political reasons.

The development of nuclear power is considered by many countries as a mechanism for increasing the security of supply. But NP can also suffer from possible supply cut-offs for similar reasons and in similar ways, through cut-offs in the supply of technologies, enrichment services, fuel assemblies, etc. And some countries can be reasonably expected to contemplate, as a possible solution for nuclear energy security, indigenous capacities that can lead to the spread of sensitive materials and technologies. As I have said before, insecurities of others can become your own.

A root cause in many of these cases is a lack of trust, confidence and cooperation. Regional and multilateral approaches can increase such confidence. Another way to increase confidence and trust would be to rely on the authority and impartial position of the Agency, for both verification and the assurance of supply.

The Agency is looking forward with interest to regional approaches like we see in Lithuania and can expect also in the construction of the Belene NPP in Bulgaria.

An assurance of supply could be provided through multilateral approaches to fuel cycle services. Such services, under IAEA control, are a topic with a long history. This is, as I mentioned, the 50th anniversary of the IAEA, and discussions of assurances of fuel supply have almost as long a history, for example, in connection with the IAEA´s Committee on Assurances of Supply and the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation in the 1980s.

But the real political tensions of those years that made progress difficult have passed. We´re more experienced now; we live in a different world with different opportunities; and it´s still a noble cause.

In concluding, let me quote the IAEA Director General, Dr. ElBaradei: "If we succeed, it will be a major achievement. It is not going to happen overnight. We need to build consensus, to be clear in our minds as to where we are heading and to make sure that we are in no way prejudicing anyone´s right, or impacting negatively on the ability to use nuclear energy. I see it as a win–win situation for everybody."

Thank you for your attention.

Last update: 13 November 2014