The International Atomic Energy Agency: Fifty Years of Managing the Nuclear Dilemma

Vienna, Austria

by David Waller, IAEA Deputy Director General

I begin with a question.

Why should the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum - in the middle of its 40th Annual Conference - devote this day, this entire day, to the IAEA?

Please keep that question in mind as I highlight and provide "snapshots" of key events in the Agency´s history. Those snapshots, taken together, will, hopefully, provide an overall picture of the IAEA - and thereby an answer to my question.

I´ll start with a bare timeline. As you can see, it spans the Agency´s 50 years of existence... and a bit more.

That´s because the story actually begins several years earlier. It´s a grim beginning - but one that, however painful the memory, we cannot afford to forget. That beginning, of course, took place here - in Japan - in August 1945, when the destructive horror of nuclear weapons was so vividly, and tragically, demonstrated.

In the years immediately following World War II, there was increasing concern as additional countries mastered, or were working to master, the technology to develop such weapons. By 1953, the Soviet Union had tested its first hydrogen bomb. The cold war had begun, and was getting colder by the day. I remember well in the 1950s, as a schoolchild in the US, practising what to do in the case of a nuclear attack. As naïve as that was, the nuclear threat hanging over the world was, indeed, real.

During that same post-war period, however - on a parallel track - the peaceful use of nuclear science was coming to be seen as a futuristic, "high tech" field - one that held great promise of transforming the way we live. There were predictions that electricity would become too cheap to meter, and other far-fetched dreams such as the use of an "atomic pill" to power cars. But, in fact, real nuclear applications had been or were being developed - in medicine, agriculture, industry, and, of course, for the generation of electricity. Technologies with great potential to save lives, reduce suffering, and advance economic development.

So the pressing issue was how to further develop and promote these peaceful applications, while at the same time prevent the spread of weapons technology. That was - and, indeed still is - the "nuclear dilemma".

General Dwight Eisenhower, who had served as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II - was elected President of the United States in 1952. Having served throughout that horrible war, his first priority was to maintain world peace. And, in particular, he was determined to solve the nuclear dilemma.

He wasted no time. In his first year as President, he made an inspired appeal before the United Nations General Assembly — a proposal called Atoms for Peace. In it, he advocated the worldwide pursuit of peaceful uses of this energy source; and the reduction of nuclear weapons stockpiles.

And to lead this effort he called for the establishment of "an International Atomic Energy Agency". Just four years later, in the spirit of "Atoms for Peace", the IAEA was, in fact, created.

Its mission? On the one hand to develop and facilitate the application of those promising beneficial applications of nuclear technology, and, on the other, to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons - that is, to manage the nuclear dilemma.

As regards the nuclear weapons-related part of the mission, the world soon began to realize that an additional legal mechanism was needed. Some way of getting each country, individually, to commit to nuclear non-proliferation or disarmament. And, after years of negotiation, this led, in 1970, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons - commonly known as the NPT. It´s based on a bargain: put at its simplest, countries get access to peaceful nuclear technology provided they renounce the development of nuclear weapons.

It soon became, and remains today, the most widely adhered to treaty in the world. Indeed, the only countries that have not signed it are India, Pakistan and Israel. North Korea - the DPRK - signed in 1985, but announced its withdrawal in 2003. I´ll come back to that in a few minutes.

In any event, the NPT gave the IAEA unique powers of inspection. Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, reflecting on those powers, recently commented: "States have assigned to us the task of verifying the peaceful nature of their nuclear activities. In doing so, however, we sit in judgement of those States; despite the fact that they are our masters and provide us with the money we need to perform those very tasks." I mention this because, as you can imagine, situations arise where we are called upon to speak truth to power.

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

Iraq signed the NPT back in 1970. And, as required by that Treaty, it then entered into a "safeguards agreement" with the IAEA. Under that agreement it provided the mandatory "declaration" or inventory of all of its nuclear material and facilities, and it permitted IAEA "verification" activities - including routine on-the-ground inspections - to "safeguard" against any misuse of those nuclear facilities or material for weapons purposes.

But two decades later, in the early 1990s, in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War, a secret Iraqi programme to produce nuclear weapons was uncovered. This led to the first occasion on which the Agency´s 35 Member Board of Governors - its key policy-making body - concluded that an NPT State had blatantly violated its safeguards obligations.

To solve the immediate situation, the UN Security Council in 1991 granted the Agency special, expanded inspection authority within Iraq — to go anywhere, anytime, and speak to anyone. We were assigned to locate, map out and destroy all components of Iraq´s weapons programme; and to remove any nuclear material that could be used for weapons production. We did the job!

But the discovery of Iraq´s secret programme was also a wakeup call. It had clearly demonstrated that a country supposedly in compliance with its NPT Treaty obligations could nonetheless simultaneously pursue a hidden nuclear weapons programme. Thus, it was clear that if IAEA verification or safeguarding was to be credible, the system had to be reinforced!

The IAEA already had the ability to monitor and provide assurance that a country´s declared nuclear facilities and material were being used exclusively for peaceful purposes. The challenge was to enable it to also provide assurance that a country had no undeclared, hidden nuclear weapons activities.

After lengthy debate, in 1997 a new mechanism was established. We called it the "additional protocol" to safeguards agreements - a supplementary agreement that requires a country to provide the Agency with much broader information, and grant its inspectors expanded access to locations and facilities. Now - ten years later - 78 countries have additional protocols in force. Japan was among the first to sign and did so in 1999. But 78 countries is still less than half. To be fully effective this key feature of the nuclear non-proliferation regime must become universally accepted. Japan has been a leader in the effort to accomplish this.

But, returning to Iraq, as you know, there is another chapter in the story. Beginning in 1998 Iraq refused all IAEA inspections. That situation continued for four years until - in the tense months leading up to the outbreak of the second Gulf war - the pressing question became: Did Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction? So, in November 2002 the Security Council mandated that Agency inspectors be allowed back in, and that they seek to determine whether Iraq had restarted a nuclear weapons programme. And, this was no small task. Think about it: in terms of land mass, Iraq is larger than Japan.

After only a few months´ opportunity to inspect, in March 2003 - on the eve of threatened war - we were asked to brief the Security Council at a highly charged, televised session. We reported that our inspectors had found no evidence of a renewed weapons programme.

That, of course, was contrary to the prevailing pre-war intelligence and it was not the answer some expected - or perhaps wanted - to hear. But, our conclusion has been shown to have been correct.

The rest of the story is well known - despite our report, the invasion went forward, and now, four years on, the conflict continues.

Of more immediate and current concern in this region of the world, is the nuclear programme in the DPRK. This story, too, has several chapters; indeed, it is still being written.

The DPRK, as I said, signed the NPT in 1985. Thereafter, in 1992, serious questions arose regarding the completeness and correctness of the initial "declaration" or inventory of its nuclear material provided to us. In particular, there were questions regarding what quantities of plutonium had been separated at Yongbyon before our inspections had begun.

Initially some Member States were not convinced of the necessity to take action. But then, in 1993 there was a particularly dramatic session of the Board. You could have heard a pin drop as a series of satellite photographs, of a location in Yongbyon, were projected onto the large screen. The photos, in time sequence, showed construction of a suspect additional facility, and then concealment of both the facility and any trace of its construction. Trees suddenly appeared where the day before there had been a service road. That information, together with other inspection results, made the case and convinced the Agency´s Board to authorize a "special inspection" of that facility.

And when the DPRK denied our inspectors access, the Board found it to be in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement, and reported the matter to the UN Security Council. Eventually, in 1994, there was a negotiated deal between the DPRK and the US - the "Agreed Framework" - under which the Agency had only the limited authority to monitor the "freeze" of nuclear activities at Yongbyon. We had no access whatsoever to the remainder of the country.

The Agreed Framework remained in place until 2002, when questions arose as to whether the DPRK was pursuing enrichment capability elsewhere in the country. And in December of that year the DPRK abruptly disabled our surveillance cameras and other equipment in Yongbyon and, on New Year´s Eve, ordered the inspectors to leave. Very shortly thereafter, early in January 2003, it announced its withdrawal from the NPT.

So, now, for the past four years the DPRK has been a "black box" - with no inspections whatsoever. And, just last October, of course, the DPRK confirmed - in a most dramatic way - its earlier claim that it had, indeed, developed a nuclear explosive.

Recent progress in the Six-Party Talks, and the visit last month of Director General ElBaradei to the DPRK, have given some reason for optimism. And we sincerely hope that, eventually, 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. That country maintained a secret nuclear programme, hidden from the world, for over two decades. Despite our determined efforts these past few years, some questions about those past activities still remain unresolved - and those lingering questions fuel concerns about the exclusively peaceful nature of its present activities.

Our inspection authority and our access to facilities in Iran aren´t nearly as extensive as the special expanded authority we were granted in Iraq. And, the level of Iran´s cooperation with our inspections has often appeared to be calibrated in response to the latest decisions taken by the Agency, or by the Security Council - including the imposition of sanctions last December and again just last month.

Nonetheless, the IAEA has amassed extensive information regarding the Iranian nuclear programme. And, our inspectors continue their work - impartially and objectively - and, in doing so, keep alive the opportunity for a diplomatic solution.

Although the Agency´s safeguards or verification work attracts the greatest share of attention in the media, it represents only part of the overall Agency picture. There is also our work in safety, security and the beneficial applications of nuclear techniques. Let me deal with each.

In April of 1986, the world was hit with the shock-wave news of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union. At that time I was working in Washington, and was in the midst of moving from the White House, where I had served for several years, to the Department of Energy. But before I could even unpack my boxes, I was dispatched to Vienna, to the IAEA, as part of the US delegation, to consider, together with delegations from capitals around the world, the implications of the Chernobyl tragedy.

The outcome of the disaster was, of course, the recognition that insistence on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy was not enough. What was also needed was international collaboration and transparency in the operation and safety of nuclear power and other technologies. An accident at a nuclear reactor in any country could not only have tragic consequences for human health and society but also severely undermine the nuclear industry worldwide.

In the aftermath of Chernobyl, the Agency´s comprehensive reports of the accident helped to move the international nuclear community to recognize the need for a global - not just a national - approach. What followed were safety conventions, or treaties, peer reviews of national safety regimes, strengthened safety standards, and, more recently, regional safety networks.

And that momentum has never stopped. As the Director General has repeatedly stressed, the struggle to ensure safety is never won — it must always be considered a work in progress.

Part of that struggle, of course, is to win the hearts and minds of the public. And that requires being open, being transparent.

In that regard, let me switch to 1999 - the 1st of October of that year. Ministers, nuclear regulators and industry heads were gathered in Vienna for the General Conference of the IAEA - its annual meeting of all Member States. It was Thursday of an event-filled week.

But overnight had come the dramatic news of an accident at the fuel conversion plant in Tokaimura. And, the first media reports were dramatic and alarmist. Through the night Agency staff, in our Emergency Operations Centre, had communicated with Japanese experts at the facility, and gathered all available information.

At the opening of the Thursday session, the Director General asked for the floor and made a calming statement. And, he then arranged a press conference at which an Agency expert explained all the facts as we knew them. The initial exaggerated media reports were quickly tempered to reflect reality. The Agency had served as an independent source of reliable and credible information.

That task remains one of our key responsibilities.

That is not the only drama I have witnessed in meetings of the IAEA. Just two years later on the 11th of September 2001, the Agency´s Board was in an afternoon session. By a remarkable coincidence we were discussing the Agency´s modest programme on nuclear security - to protect nuclear material and facilities against malicious acts. Word filtered through the Board room of first one, and then a second, plane crash into the World Trade Center in New York.

With the consent of the Chairman, the session was interrupted and CNN Breaking News was projected onto the large screen behind the podium.

That terrorist act itself, of course, did not threaten nuclear facilities, but the IAEA had learned a lesson from Chernobyl: Don´t wait for an accident to put preventive measures in place.

Within just a few months, a significantly strengthened security plan - to defend against nuclear terrorism - had been developed, approved and initially funded. And, since then, assistance to Member States - to prevent terrorists from gaining access to nuclear material and facilities, and radioactive sources - has become a significant part of our 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, especially in developing countries.

The Agency´s efforts to transfer these technologies were initiated in 1958, with a modest annual budget of $125 000. And that included a donation of $2.01 presented to the Agency´s first Director General by a New York schoolboy and his classmates! Today the annual budget for this effort is over $75 million.

This work is facilitated by the Agency´s two laboratories - one in Austria and the other right on the harbor in Monaco. That facility - founded in 1961 and generously supported by the Principality - is known as the Marine Environment Lab. It deals with the health of the world´s oceans.

In fact, just last year, our Monaco Lab participated in a Japanese study entitled Southern Hemisphere Oceans. The study is aimed at measuring the absorption of carbon and heat in this critical region of the world, so vulnerable to the effects of climate change. And it does so by using radionuclides deposited by past nuclear weapons testing. As a result of the study, new concepts of ocean circulation are being developed, which are advancing insight into the relationships between oceans and climate.

Let me cite another 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 that are superior in various ways, such as having greater resistance to drought or salty water. The agricultural economies of many countries have benefited from these radiation induced mutant varieties. One example is the successful new strains of rice being grown in Thailand, Vietnam, China, and here in Japan.

Our hundreds of 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 Bangladesh, to using radiation sterilization to help eliminate insect pests, such as the tsetse fly, that kills livestock and humans in Africa. And 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.

Let me now turn briefly to a major interest of Japan and a focus of your conference: nuclear power.

After years of post-Chernobyl stagnation, there are now, of course, undeniable signs of a rebirth of interest in this source of energy. You know the compelling reasons: greater safety, better economics, growing fears about energy security, sharp growth in energy demand - particularly in the developing world. And, of course, the overwhelming concern over global warming.

Nuclear power growth in the near term, based on current construction plans, will be greatest in China and India. But, Japan, with its ambitious ten year plan for 13 new nuclear units, will remain a leader.

But, I´ll leave it there because the Agency´s role in nuclear power will be covered this morning by my colleagues who will be speaking about challenges we see in the future and our plans to address them.

Mr. Chairman, before concluding, I want to repeat the question I posed at the beginning. Why should JAIF want to play host to the IAEA? And to celebrate its 50th anniversary?

I hope the highlights I have presented have provided some answers, but 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 nuclear technology. It is a driving force for nuclear safety and security. In short, by managing the nuclear dilemma 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. Some in Japan may feel, at first glance, that it gets little immediate gain from the IAEA´s efforts to install radiotherapy machines in sub-Saharan Africa; or from our efforts in Israel, Jordan and Palestine to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly and bring healthier apples and grapes to market; or our search through Georgia for potentially dangerous abandoned radioactive sources. But, in fact, each of these activities is a very high priority for that particular country or region. 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.

I began with a question. I will end with another, related one. Why would the IAEA send five of its most senior people to this meeting, when it has a rather firm policy that rarely should more than one senior officer attend overseas meetings?

The answer is simple. It is because Japan is a critical part of the global nuclear community: needless to say, its nuclear industry is one of the most advanced and impressive in the world, and it has ambitious plans for future growth. Japan is the biggest "customer" for our safeguards activities. It contributes 20% of our regular budget. And, it is an equally generous donor to our development assistance activities, not to mention a valuable source of experts and lecturers to support projects, both in the Asia and Pacific region, and beyond.

Our staff in Vienna includes valued colleagues from Japan. But, we would like to increase the level of this representation. I will speak to that issue later today.

Japan has supported the Agency in countless other ways. Last year, for example, we were exploring how to improve our management culture and we were seeking the insight of a world recognized expert. We called on the Chairman and CEO of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the former CEO of Toshiba. Mr. Nishimuro came to Vienna and spent hours giving our senior managers the benefit of his vast experience.

Japan was a founding member of the IAEA. It has a permanent seat on our Board of Governors. No country has held the Chair of that Board more often. As the only country to have suffered nuclear attack, and having since developed an extensive nuclear industry, Japan has a unique and respected voice on the Board. And, fittingly, when the IAEA and its Director General were awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, the Chairman who accompanied us to Oslo was Japanese Ambassador Yukiya Amano.

Of course, throughout the years, JAIF has frequently been the IAEA´s "counterpart" in Japan. JAIF was represented at the Agency´s second General Conference in 1958 and has attended every year since. JAIF was awarded "consultative status" by the Agency in 1960.

Well, I hope I´ve justified bending the Agency´s policy and the sending of five of our senior staff to this meeting.

So, on behalf of my colleagues, both those here today, and the 2 300 back in Vienna, I sincerely thank JAIF for honouring the Agency by hosting this symposium on the occasion of our 50th anniversary. And we, in turn, congratulate you on your 50th anniversary celebrated just last year, and on this, your 40th annual meeting. We cherish, and look forward to, your continued support.

Last update: 13 November 2014