Statements of the Deputy Directors General

18 May 2007 | Budapest, Hungary
Celebration Meeting - 50th Anniversary of the International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency:
Managing Nuclear Energy: From the Past to the Future

by Mr. Yuri Sokolov
IAEA Deputy Director General, Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy

It is a pleasure and honour for me to be here in Budapest to mark two 50 years´ anniversaries: the International Atomic Energy Agency´s activities and Hungary´s Membership and cooperation with the Agency. Let me start by acknowledging your host country Hungary, which organized this event.

I shall highlight "snapshots" of key events in the Agency´s history, the history of managing nuclear energy in all its aspects, as well as some perspective for the future.

That´s because the story actually begins several years earlier before the establishment of the IAEA. Nuclear fission was discovered in 1939. To sustain chain reactions in a nuclear reactor Leo Szilárd proposed that thin rods should be made of uranium and placed in a carbon moderator. This was achieved by Enrico Fermi and his team in December 1942.

Nuclear energy´s grim reality began in August 1945, when the destructive power of nuclear energy was tragically demonstrated and the nuclear weapons race started. As a parallel track - the peaceful use of nuclear science was developing with great promise to transform the way we live.

On 20 December 1951 electricity was first generated from nuclear power at Experimental Breeder Reactor-I in Idaho, USA. But real practical success for civilian nuclear power generation came in 1954 when a 5 MW(e) nuclear reactor at Obninsk, USSR was successfully connected to the grid. There were a lot of predictions at that time that electricity would become too cheap to meter, and that an "atomic pill" would power cars.

The IAEA was created in response to the deep fears and great expectations resulting from the discovery of nuclear energy. Its genesis was President Eisenhower´s "Atoms for Peace" address to the United Nations General Assembly on 8 December 1953.

A year later, on 4 December 1954 the General Assembly unanimously endorsed Eisenhower´s proposal for the creation of the new agency. The IAEA Statute, approved by 81 nations in October 1956, stated that its objective is "to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity" while ensuring that this assistance is not used for any military purpose. Now, by May 2007, the IAEA has 144 Members.

A new post-war international openness and exchange, triggered by United Nations conferences known as Geneva Conferences, the world´s largest gathering of scientists and engineers up to that time, confirmed that numerous uses of nuclear energy were now feasible. The Geneva Conferences marked the acceptance of the IAEA´s primary role in the civilian use of nuclear energy and demonstrated that the IAEA had also been accepted by governments and industry as the leading international body for promoting nuclear energy and nuclear safety.

As regards the weapons-related part of the nuclear energy, the world began to realize that a legal mechanism to assure nuclear non-proliferation or disarmament was needed. And in 1970, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons - commonly known as the NPT was signed.

Practically from the beginning the IAEA started brokering the supply of nuclear materials at the request of interested countries. Such transactions triggered application of IAEA safeguards and the NPT gave the IAEA additional unique powers for inspection.

Let´s look at some other noteworthy cases involving IAEA verification.

  1. The first I mention is Iraq. Iraq signed the NPT in 1970 then entered into a "safeguards agreement" with the IAEA that it provide the inventory of all of its nuclear materials and facilities. But later, IAEA "verification" activities revealed a secret Iraqi programme to produce nuclear weapons. This led to the first occasion on which the Agency´s Board of Governors concluded that an NPT State had violated its safeguards obligations. The UN Security Council in 1991 granted the Agency special, expanded inspection authority within Iraq - to go anywhere, anytime, speak to anyone to destroy all components of Iraq´s weapons programme. The job was done!

    But the discovery of Iraq´s undeclared programme led to the understanding that the Agency has to have extended authority. In 1997 a new mechanism, the so called "Additional protocol" to safeguards agreements, was established. Now - ten years later - 78 countries have additional protocols in force.

    In November 2002 the Agency inspectors returned back in Iraq to determine whether Iraq had restarted a nuclear weapons programme and in March 2003 reported that there was no evidence of a renewed weapons programme, and this conclusion has been shown to have been correct.

  2. The next well known stories are the nuclear programmes in the DPRK and Iran. These have several chapters and are still being written.

    Recent progress in the six-party talks, and the March visit of the Director General Mr. ElBaradei to the DPRK, have given some reason for optimism that the DPRK will once again become a full member of the IAEA family.

    The story of safeguards in Iran is also one that continues to play out. The IAEA´s inspectors continue their work keeping alive the opportunity for a diplomatic solution.

    Although the Agency´s safeguards attract the greatest share of attention in the media, it represents only part of the overall Agency picture. There is also our work in the beneficial applications of nuclear techniques, including safety and security.

  3. The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 was the first major accident at a civilian nuclear power station. In 1986 the Chernobyl accident proved to have an even broader global psychological impact. These accidents together with other factors put nuclear power development on a plateau for the next 20 years.The Chernobyl accident also radically changed the way in which Member States looked at the question of nuclear safety. They requested a strengthening of the Agency’s work on closer international cooperation in safety.

    The IAEA started a range of missions such as OSART, ASSET, IRRT and others. The International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group, INSAG, completed in 1988 Basic Safety Principles. The International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) which classifies incidents and accidents at reactors using seven levels was developed.

  4. The Agency had been also dealing with the security of materials and facilities. But life, as usual, sometimes forces corrections. On the 11th of September 2001, the Agency’s Board was discussing the Agency´s modest programme on nuclear security - to protect nuclear materials and facilities against malicious acts, when planes crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York. Within just a few months, a significantly strengthened security plan had been developed, approved and funded becoming a significant part of the Agency´s mission.

Of course, not all our work is driven by such startling events. More often we are involved in what are, unfortunately, "hidden" crises: concerning poverty, hunger and disease. And, this is where we implement the humanitarian component of our mission - promoting beneficial nuclear applications of nuclear technologies, especially in developing countries.

The Agency´s efforts to transfer these technologies were initiated in 1958, with a modest annual budget of $125000.Today the annual budget for this effort is over $75 million.

Let me cite one example. The Agency joined forces with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1967 to carry out joint work. One of the success stories from this collaboration has been in the area of plant breeding using radiation to induce mutant crop varieties. The agricultural economies of many countries have benefited from this radiation technique.

Our hundreds of TC projects using nuclear techniques are driven by unique and pressing needs in Member States. They cover a broad spectrum from helping locate desperately needed drinking water in Asia, to using radiation sterilization to help eliminate insect pests, such as the tsetse fly, that kills livestock and humans in Africa. We donated the monetary award that came with the Nobel Peace Prize to a project aimed at training cancer therapy specialists in developing countries.

As these examples demonstrate, the Agency brings different benefits to different Member States.

Now let me outline the 50 years history of cooperation between the Agency and Hungary. Hungary was one of the first founders of the Agency in 1957 and since that moment has been a very active member state of the IAEA. Hungary has concluded all agreements with the IAEA and signed all major treaties. Hungary was among the first to sign and implement the Additional Protocol.

There is a long list of examples of IAEA - Hungary cooperation. I will not provide the details of Technical cooperation activities (my colleagues form the Department of Technical cooperation will), but let me highlight some major milestones of IAEA - Hungary cooperation.

OSART 1988

The OSART review performed in 1988 was the first review in a socialist country. It had a big political and technical impact in the region and opened a door for other east European countries in terms of OSART reviews.

Maintenance Training Centre (MTC)

The MTC was established by the Agency as a Model project. In addition to the direct benefits for Hungary it generated an excellent opportunity for experts from China, Russia, Ukraine and Pakistan to benefit from the Hungarian knowledge and experience gained during the MTC establishment.

Technical Support in Paks Unit 2 Fuel Incident

The IAEA has sent several international missions to Hungary to perform an independent evaluation of the event and formulate recommendations for future improvements directed to both the utility and the regulatory body. The recommendations related to the recovery and clean-up actions at the power plant were highly appreciated by our Hungarian colleagues.

As I mentioned earlier Hungary was and is a very active Member State of the IAEA. It hosts major international conferences, workshops. It helps to implement technical and consultant meetings. Many Hungarian experts support the IAEA on a cost free basis and also help to host a great number of scientific visits and fellowships. It is clear that the cooperation between the IAEA and Hungary is based on open and effective communication.

The IAEA is confident that Hungary forwards all information and knowledge gained during cooperation with the IAEA to other Member States in the region and even beyond the European region.

In the remaining part of my presentation I shall speak on the Prospects and Challenges that face NP in the 21st Century and how we see the Agency’s role. This topic has many possible dimensions for consideration, I have chosen only those connected with principal global concerns and how NP can contribute to the solution of the nuclear dilemma: to contributing to the growing global energy supply and to strengthen confidence that NP is used only for peaceful purposes.

The beginning of the 21st century promises growing opportunities for the global development and prosperity of mankind if principal concerns such as eradication of poverty and hunger, environmental and climate sustainability, and universal access to fresh water and energy be resolved. The latter, energy, has a principal role. It is driven by continuing population growth, economic development and aspirations to provide access to modern energy systems to the 1.6 billion people now without such access. The growth in demand is accompanied by a focus on security of energy supply, greenhouse gas emissions, and the risk of climate change.

These factors raise the profile of nuclear power and revive interest to the nuclear source of energy. We can see the changes in national energy strategies in many countries. This map reflects, in addition to the countries that have nuclear programmes in operation and with fast growth, the countries that recently have expressed their interest to consider NP in their energy mix. The total population in these countries is more then 1 billion people.

To address the challenges of rising expectations of NP expansion, the use of NP should be beneficial, responsible and sustainable. Some Basic Principles, obvious and based on common sense, have to be shared by all countries intending to start NP programmes. They can be formulated as follows.

The peaceful use of NP in the 21st century should:

Keeping in mind all these Principles the Agency addresses the nuclear dilemma mentioned above through initiatives such as:


I hope the highlights I have presented have provided a holistic, although limited, picture on how the Agency has been managing Nuclear Energy from the Past to the Future. Let me summarize in this way:

The IAEA is central to the global nuclear enterprise. It is the caretaker of the NPT. It is a central hub from which developing countries gain access to peaceful and safe nuclear power and non-power technologies. It is an organization in which all countries have a stake.

Priorities in the nuclear arena, of course, vary from country to country or from region to region. Each of the Agency’s activities is a very high priority for particular countries or regions. And to the extent that their priorities are addressed, their commitment to the global nuclear enterprise is reinforced. In this way the IAEA provides the glue that holds the enterprise together.

So, on behalf of my colleagues, those who are 250 km from here, in Vienna, I sincerely thank the government of Hungary for honouring the Agency by hosting this event on the occasion of our 50th anniversary. And we, in turn, congratulate you on your 50th anniversary celebrated now. We look forward to our beneficial cooperation and your continued support.

Thank for your attention.