Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors

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Vienna, Austria

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

Our agenda for this meeting covers a broad range of issues, once again touching on all three Agency pillars — technology, safety and verification. I will discuss a number of topics related to each of these pillars, as well as a number of management issues.

Nuclear Technology

You have before you the 2004 Nuclear Technology Review (NTR) — the third comprehensive edition of this new review. NTR-2004 covers the fundamentals of nuclear technology development, including: power applications; applications for food, water and health; and applications for environmental and industrial processes.

As can be seen from the Review, medium term projections for the future of nuclear power remain cautious. Current expansion and growth prospects are still centred in Asia, including 18 of the 31 plants now under construction. Five new plants are expected to be connected during the course of this year: two in China, one in Japan, one in the Republic of Korea, and one in the Russian Federation.

In North America, the focus continues to be more on the restart of shutdown units and the extension of licences for existing plants. These trends reflect a more positive climate for nuclear power. Nine additional 20-year licence extensions were approved in the United States of America in 2003, and 17 more applications are in the queue.

As I reported last week at a conference of the European Parliament on "Energy Choices in Europe", the case for nuclear power in Western Europe may be gaining new ground — due, in part, to the decision Europe has taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as concerns about the security of energy supply. In Finland, the contract has been signed for a new 1600 megawatt European Pressurized Water Reactor.

Energy decisions, however, cannot be made on a "one-size-fits-all" basis. Each country and region faces a different set of variables when choosing its energy strategy. Despite engineering analyses showing that public health risks from nuclear power are among the lowest of any energy technology, public perceptions of risk in many countries continue to be influenced by the memory of Chernobyl. How countries balance the risk of a nuclear accident against other factors — such as climate change, air pollution, dammed rivers, mining accidents, or dependency on foreign fuel supplies — are matters of complexity and legitimate debate.

The Agency continues to work to provide the most objective information possible to support a country’s decision on energy supply, to ensure that the risks and benefits of nuclear technology are clearly and fairly understood, and to assist those countries that choose nuclear power in operating their facilities safely and securely. We also continue to encourage, through our innovation activities, the development of new reactor and fuel cycle technologies that would ensure future cost competitiveness while incorporating, among other things, a greater reliance on passive safety features, enhanced control of nuclear materials through new fuel configurations, and design features that allow reduced construction times and lower operating costs.

Waste Management and Disposal
The demonstration of effective, long term solutions to the management and disposal of spent fuel and high level radioactive waste remains the most significant hurdle for the nuclear power industry. Current technology is fully capable of stabilizing nuclear waste in the form of glass or ceramic, encasing it further in corrosion resistant packages, and isolating it geologically in underground repositories.

The selection and construction of geological repository sites, however, are by their very nature slow processes. Progress is continuing on the Yucca Mountain repository in the USA and the Olkiluoto repository in Finland, as well as on the site selection process in Sweden. And Russia has passed legislation that would make possible the hosting of an international spent fuel storage facility — a welcome step that could have positive implications related to safety, economics and non-proliferation. Still, we expect it will be at least the end of the decade before the first civilian repository is ready to begin receiving waste.

As reflected in a conference in which I participated last December in Stockholm, an increasing number of countries are interested in ensuring waste retrievability for future flexibility — and also interested in the feasibility of longer term surface storage — meaning, for example, up to 100 years. These issues are already prompting additional technological research, and in all likelihood will also require considerable policy and safety work. Research is also progressing on complementary technology such as the use of accelerator driven systems to reduce waste volume and radio-toxicity.

Food and Agriculture
In the area of food and agriculture, nuclear techniques continue to play a significant role in improving crop production. Radiation has long been used to speed up conventional breeding; in addition, the latest advances in molecular techniques allow systematic screening to identify specific gene functions. Rice mutant strains with high tolerance to salinity are now targeted for over 4.3 million hectares of harsh environment in Asia; a mutant variety of breadwheat with improved nutrition and better performance during drought conditions is being cultivated extensively in Kenya; and many other radiation induced plant mutations are being used for increased yield, nutritional value or suitability for harsh environments.

A number of other developments are also relevant to the use of nuclear techniques for improved food safety and productivity. The biotechnology advances that allow gene identification are revolutionizing our research on livestock and draft animals with better resistance to disease. The development of genetic sexing strains that can produce male-only insects have greatly reduced the cost and increased the effectiveness of the sterile insect technique. And food irradiation continues to gain greater acceptance, with 70 irradiation facilities now in operation in 33 countries.

Human HealthM
Nuclear techniques related to medicine are also advancing. In the area of preventive health care, the Agency has been collaborating extensively with the World Health Organization (WHO) on building programmes to reduce malnutrition, particularly in children. Positron emission tomography (or PET) has emerged as a powerful — although still expensive — diagnostic tool. Molecular nuclear medicine is finding extensive application in rapid disease screening and, together with PET, guiding therapeutic decisions.

For the past six months, the Secretariat has been working on a new approach that would raise public awareness of the impending crisis of cancer in developing countries, due to the rapid increase in cancer rates and the relative scarcity of radiotherapy equipment and expertise. This approach would also seek to increase our capacity, working together with WHO, for assisting Member States in providing cancer treatment and care — in part by expanding our fundraising efforts with non-traditional donors. In the coming weeks, we will be holding a round table discussion with potential donors to provide seed money for this project. The Agency taskforce will provide a proposal for discussion for the June meeting of the Board.

Environmental Applications
The Nuclear Technology Review also describes how isotopic techniques are playing an increasing role in our understanding of the atmosphere and marine and terrestrial environments. A focus of coastal zone management has been on countering the harmful health effects of the spread of algae blooms in developing countries, by transferring technology that enables more rapid, sensitive and inexpensive assay techniques. Electron beam treatment of flue gases has now proven to be successful on an industrial scale, and we are using similar technologies to decontaminate and disinfect wastewater. And data on the isotopic composition of precipitation from global monitoring networks are helping scientists to understand atmospheric circulation, which in turn is enhancing our understanding of climate change.

IAEA Collaborating Centres
The Secretariat has recently begun the use of "IAEA Collaborating Centres" — an approach that has been used successfully by WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The approach is relatively simple: a participating institution, such as a laboratory or industrial facility, agrees to a work plan that supports the Agency’s programme activities but is cost free, and in return is designated an IAEA Collaborating Centre. This approach, which we are testing with ten institutions for an initial three years, is intended to leverage our programmatic resource base.

Nuclear Safety, Radiation Safety, and Waste and Transport Safety

The Nuclear Safety Review for 2003, which you have before you, provides an overview of current and emerging nuclear safety trends and issues. Nuclear power plant safety, as well as radiation safety in both power and non-power nuclear activities, has shown strong performance worldwide; however, I will highlight a number of areas that continue to need improvement.

International conventions are an important mechanism for the adoption and implementation of high safety standards worldwide. Unfortunately, many of these conventions are not widely adhered to; for example, the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management which held its first Review Meeting last November, still has only 33 members, despite the fact that nearly all countries have radioactive waste, and could benefit from participation in the Convention.

Safety Standards
The Agency, with the assistance of the Commission on Safety Standards, has been making every effort to raise awareness of Agency safety standards. We continue to promote the acceptance of the entire corpus of Agency standards as the global reference for protecting people and the environment against the harmful effects attributed to radiation exposure.

The same objective has driven the Agency’s recent efforts to support the establishment of regional safety networks — such as the Asian Nuclear Safety Network and the Ibero-American Radiation Safety Network — which will focus on promoting the use of international safety standards and the sharing of expertise on a more regional basis.

Safety Missions
The Agency’s safety missions and peer reviews continue to be in high demand. We are still assisting some Member States with safety upgrades at older installations with design vulnerabilities. In addition, as more Member States consider the extension of licences beyond original design lifetimes, we are giving increased attention to identifying and addressing a broad range of equipment ageing issues. And in a number of cases, we have identified the need for more thorough seismic reviews — an area in which the application of universally accepted standards has not been consistent.

In terms of operational safety, we remain concerned that, in some cases, events with similar root causes continue to recur, even in countries with well established nuclear programmes and extensive experience. For example, insights from events at nuclear power plants in 2003 reflect weaknesses in safety management related to human and organizational factors — such as practices during in-service inspection or maintenance, or the planning associated with minor plant modifications.

These problems can be compounded by a lack of transparency on the part of operators or Member States. The effective use of operational experience requires candid feedback and broad participation in information sharing systems. Both the IAEA and the OECD/NEA have expressed increasing concern that, worldwide, there has been a substantial decrease in the use of the Incident Reporting System (operated jointly by the two organizations) to provide details on significant events at nuclear power plants.

The insights gained through incident reports — as well as through associated safety missions — are of value to all. For example, Agency safety assistance missions to Hungary, following the incident last April at the Paks nuclear facility, gained insights that were relevant to many other facilities. These insights were greatly enhanced by a willingness to share experience on the part of the plant operators and the Hungarian regulators. Similar insights and benefits continue to accrue from our OSART missions, including our most recent OSARTs to Pakistan and China. By contrast, a reluctance to entertain peer review, on the part of an operator or a Member State, is counterproductive. Transparency is an essential ingredient of an effective nuclear safety culture. I urge all Member States therefore to fully support the Incident Reporting System — and likewise, to avail themselves of the benefits of the Agency’s review services, by integrating these reviews into their performance assessment programmes.

Research Reactor Safety
The safety of research reactors and the management of research reactor fuel continue to be areas of Agency emphasis. Last November, at an international conference on research reactors in Santiago, Chile, the Agency heard from research reactor designers, users and regulators on ways to strengthen physical security, improve the sharing of expertise, and enhance the Agency’s research reactor safety assistance missions. Strong support was expressed for adoption of the draft Code of Conduct on this topic, as part of an international effort to harmonize the laws, policies and safety practices related to research reactor management and operation. The Code, which has been discussed extensively with Member States over the past year, is before the Board for approval.

Transport Safety
Another area of Member State concern has been the safety of transport of radioactive material. The action plan before you for approval, as requested by last year’s General Conference, gives attention to concerns expressed regarding denial of shipments, transport of orphaned sources, emergency response to transport incidents, communication and liability, and other issues.

The Agency continues to assist individual Member States in evaluating and strengthening their transport safety programmes. TranSAS missions to Turkey and Panama were completed in 2003, and a TranSAS mission to France is scheduled for the end of this month. More Member States are also providing data to transport databases, as a mechanism for evaluating the effectiveness of their programmes.

Nuclear Verification

The past year has been a challenging period for the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Current challenges include: the continuing refusal by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to submit its nuclear activities to international verification; our ongoing efforts to verify the nuclear activities of Iran and Libya; the discovery of a sophisticated black market in nuclear technology and materials; the failure of some countries to fulfil their legal obligations to conclude and bring into force safeguards agreements; and slow progress on the conclusion and entry into force of additional protocols. For the nuclear non-proliferation regime to maintain its integrity, we must find a way to make tangible progress on all these fronts in the near future.

Status of Safeguards Agreements and Additional Protocols
Since my last report to the Board, the Secretariat has continued its intensified efforts to promote the conclusion of safeguards agreements and additional protocols, including two outreach seminars — one last November here in Vienna, and the other last week in Burkina Faso — and expanded consultations on the Model Additional Protocol with representatives from a number of governments.

Despite these efforts, progress remains limited. Since my last report, one safeguards agreement has entered into force, for the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, and one additional protocol, for the Republic of Korea. Additional protocols were also signed by Kazakhstan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the European Union, all 15 Member States have now notified the IAEA of their ratification of the additional protocol, but entry into force will occur only when the European Commission has notified us that the acceptance procedure by EURATOM, which is also party to the protocol, has been completed — which I hope will occur without delay.

Overall, 44 States have yet to fulfil their obligations under the NPT to bring safeguards agreements with the Agency into force, and even counting the addition of the European Union, additional protocols will have entered into force for only 54 States. I would reiterate my call on all States that have not done so to conclude and bring into force their respective safeguards agreements and additional protocols.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
The nuclear activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and its notice of withdrawal from the NPT, have set a dangerous precedent and thus remain a threat to the credibility of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Since 31 December 2002, when at the request of the DPRK the Agency’s onsite verification activities were terminated, the Agency has been unable to draw any conclusions regarding the DPRK’s nuclear activities.

Last month, the second round of six-party talks took place in Beijing, with the participation of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia, the USA and the DPRK. The agreement to continue these talks is a welcome development. The Agency is not party to these talks, however, and I am therefore not in a position to report on their outcome. The Secretariat nonetheless remains ready to work with all parties towards a comprehensive solution that strikes a balance between the security needs of the DPRK and the need of the international community to gain assurance, through international verification, that all nuclear activities in the DPRK are exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Islamic Republic of Iran
You have before you a detailed progress report on the Agency’s verification work in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I will limit myself, therefore, to a few broad observations.

First, I would like to note with satisfaction the marked progress in cooperation on the part of Iran since last October — in particular, by providing Agency inspectors access to requested sites, documentation and personnel, and by suspending reprocessing and uranium enrichment related activities, as a confidence building measure.

Second, I am seriously concerned that Iran’s October declaration did not include any reference to its possession of P-2 centrifuge designs and related R&D, which in my view was a setback to Iran’s stated policy of transparency. This is particularly the case since the October declaration was characterized as providing "the full scope of Iranian nuclear activities", including a “complete centrifuge R&D chronology”.

Third, it is vital that, in the coming months, Iran ensures full transparency with respect to all of its nuclear activities, by taking the initiative to provide all relevant information in full detail and in a prompt manner.

Fourth, it is essential that the Agency receive full cooperation on the part of those countries from which nuclear technology and equipment originated. This cooperation has already been forthcoming, and I hope it will continue and expand. This is particularly the case with respect to the major outstanding issue regarding the low and high enriched uranium contamination found at the Kalaye Electric Company workshop and Natanz. Hopefully, with no new revelations, and with satisfactory resolution of these and other remaining questions, we can look forward to a time when the confidence of the international community has been restored.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
On 19 December 2003, the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya announced its decision to eliminate all materials, equipment and programmes leading to the production of internationally proscribed weapons — including nuclear weapons. In the months since, we have been working closely with the Libyan authorities to gain a complete picture of Libya’s nuclear programme. The report before you summarizes the details of those efforts.

Libya’s failure, over many years, to declare to the Agency its nuclear material and activities represents a breach of its obligation to comply with the provisions of its safeguards agreement, and its acquisition of a nuclear weapon design is clearly a matter of utmost concern.

Following the disclosure of its undeclared nuclear activities, Libya has granted the Agency unrestricted access to all requested locations, responded promptly to the Agency’s requests for information, and assisted the Agency in gaining a full picture of its nuclear programme. Libya also agreed to conclude an additional protocol, and to act in the meantime as if the protocol is in force. I will be signing this additional protocol with Libya this week. This active cooperation and openness is welcome, and will facilitate the Agency’s ability to complete its verification of Libya’s past nuclear activities. As in the case of Iran, the Agency also requires the full cooperation of the countries from which the nuclear technology and material originated.

Implications for the Non-Proliferation Regime, and Additional Measures
As part of verifying the nuclear programmes and activities of Libya and Iran, the Agency has been investigating the supply routes and sources of nuclear technology, including related equipment, materials and expertise. As mentioned in our reports, we have found increasing evidence of a complex black market network. We are working with many governments, both to bring relevant findings to their attention and to request assistance in our further investigation. An important part of our investigation is to find out whether the sensitive nuclear technologies in question have been spread to any other countries or end-users. I will continue to keep the Board informed of developments.

In my view, one of the most important outcomes of our verification work in recent months is the lessons we have learned on measures that must be taken to adapt the nuclear non-proliferation regime to the new challenges.

First, it should by now be obvious that the additional protocol is a sine qua non for effective verification. Without an additional protocol in force, the IAEA has little prospect of uncovering the increasingly sophisticated clandestine nuclear weapons programmes. I believe that, for the Agency to be able to fulfil its verification responsibilities in a credible manner, the additional protocol must become the standard for all countries that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Second, it is clear that the system in place to control the export of sensitive nuclear technology must be broadened in its reach and tightened in its controls. A system that aims to strike proper balance — between necessary controls against abuse, on the one hand, and the importance of assured access to peaceful technology, on the other — is in the interest of all, and should command global support. While many aspects of export controls are not managed by the Agency, they are clearly of direct relevance to our verification mandate, and we should put in place mechanisms to ensure that the IAEA is informed of all sensitive nuclear or nuclear related technology exports.

Third, as I first outlined at last year’s General Conference, it is clear that the wide dissemination of the most proliferation-sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle — the production of new fuel, the processing of weapon-usable material, and the disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste — could be the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Here again, it is important to tighten control over these operations, which could be done by bringing them under some form of multilateral control, in a limited number of regional centres. Appropriate checks and balances could be used to preserve commercial competitiveness, to control proliferation of sensitive information, and to ensure supply of fuel cycle services. I am aware that this is a complex issue, and that a variety of views exist on the feasibility or possible modalities of such a multilateral approach. However, I believe that we owe it to ourselves to examine all possible options available to us. For that reason I will soon appoint a group of experts to examine in depth the feasibility of moving forward with such measures, and I will naturally share their findings with you.

In the meantime, existing facilities that use high enriched uranium (HEU) applications — for example, to produce medical radioisotopes — should continue, gradually but irreversibly, to be converted to low enriched processes. In this respect, I am pleased to note continued progress with Agency support on converting research reactors to use low enriched fuel.

Naturally, we must continue also to press for a more effective global regime for the physical protection of nuclear and radioactive materials and nuclear facilities, particularly in regions that remain vulnerable.

Finally, I hope that, at next year’s NPT Review Conference, parties to the Treaty will consider some of these urgently needed measures and agree on a specific course of action that will help re-engineer the non-proliferation regime and revive the stalling nuclear arms control and disarmament process.

Financing of the Technical Cooperation Fund

As I reported to you in February, we experienced a serious shortfall in contributions to the Technical Cooperation Fund (TCF) in 2003, resulting in a rate of attainment of only 77% for the year, well below the 90% minimum set by the General Conference. As outlined in my report on this subject, the Secretariat has had to take the unprecedented step of cutting the 2004 TC programme by $5 million as an immediate response to this shortfall.

The Secretariat remains hopeful that additional payments will be made to the 2003 TCF so that the rate of attainment for that year can be reached. Nonetheless, the current situation deserves the Board’s serious attention.

The TC programme is a major part of the Agency’s mandate. As such it should be a matter of concern for all Member States and I hope in that regard that the symbiotic nature of all parts of our mandate is understood by those who are not paying their target share. I should also remind all Member States that the TCF target and the rate of attainment were part of a good faith agreement that aimed to remove the shielding of safeguards expenses in the regular budget and ensure adequate funding for the TC programme, through the TCF. When Member States fail to contribute their dues, either to the regular budget or the TCF, the balance in Agency activities, as well as the bargains inherent in the non-proliferation regime, are placed in jeopardy — at a time when we can all ill afford it.

Poor payment records are not limited to one geographic region. The failure of large donor States to meet their contributions may have a more sizeable impact on the TCF, but the failure by large numbers of recipient States to contribute their share — in some cases paying nothing at all — has an equally detrimental effect on the programme and its objectives.

We are presently engaged in appraising all the project requests that have been submitted for the 2005–2006 TC cycle. The ability to reliably plan and deliver an effective programme — and to help Member States meet their developmental priorities — is dependent on whether all countries contribute their full share.

Naturally, the Secretariat remains committed to efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out the TC programme. In that regard, we have continued to benefit from the assistance and advice of the Standing Committee on Technical Assistance and Cooperation (SAGTAC). I should note that during its meeting last week, SAGTAC referred to the “significant progress already achieved within the TC Department in redirecting the Agency’s technical cooperation programme since 1997. Today this programme operates with significantly improved efficiency and more effectively addresses the identified priority needs of its Member States.” SAGTAC also noted that this progress had been achieved despite human and financial resource restraints. I should also mention that the Agency’s Office of Internal Oversight Services has also been carrying out a review of TC processes and needs, and a report on that review will be made available to the Board in June.

Security Upgrades at the Vienna International Centre

I should take this opportunity to inform the Board that, following the bombing of the UN offices in Baghdad last August, a global threat assessment was initiated by the UN Security Coordinator’s office. The UN Secretary-General will be submitting a comprehensive report to the General Assembly this month, with a request for the resources required to ensure that adequate security measures are in place.

The Agency and the other organizations in the Vienna International Centre are now also reviewing measures to improve physical security on our premises, as well as consulting with our Austrian hosts. A more detailed briefing, including implications for the Agency, will be provided at the upcoming Workshop on Financial and Administrative Matters in April, as well as at the next session of the Programme and Budget Committee.

Conclusion

The Agency’s verification role continues to be in the spotlight; the nuclear non-proliferation regime remains under stress, and a range of measures will be needed to restore confidence in its effectiveness. We have made solid progress in building an effective nuclear safety regime — but pockets of weakness remain, in both the nuclear and the radiation safety areas. Nuclear technologies provide significant opportunities for economic and social development — but we must work together to maximize their benefits and minimize their risks. And our effectiveness in delivering peaceful nuclear technologies to address development needs is dependent on all Member States contributing their financial share. I look forward to your continued support on all these fronts.

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Last update: 18 November 2014