Statement at 50th Anniversary of NA Laboratories at Seibersdorf

Vienna, Austria

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Vienna, Austria | 50th Anniversary of NA Laboratories at Seibersdorf

Distinguished Ambassadors, Governors, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you all to this celebration marking 50 years of the IAEA nuclear applications laboratories.

The IAEA is unique in the UN family in having dedicated specialist laboratories that support our activities, developing innovative technologies and providing training.

The laboratories are central to our efforts to fulfil one of our core responsibilities, which is to help Member States gain access to nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes.

They help us to make an important contribution to tackling fundamental global problems such as food security, water and energy shortages, human and animal health and climate change.

This side of the Agency's work does not get the same public attention as our activities in nuclear safeguards, nuclear safety and nuclear security. But it is just as important.

As you may know, there are a total of eight nuclear applications laboratories in Seibersdorf.

Five are agriculture and biotechnology labs, which we operate jointly with our partners at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. They specialise in insect pest control, soil and water management, animal health, plant breeding and genetics, and food and environmental protection.

In addition, the Dosimetry Laboratory works on quality assurance aspects of the use of radiation in medicine. The Nuclear Spectrometry and Applications Laboratory helps Member States to use nuclear techniques in environmental pollution monitoring and other areas. Finally, the Terrestrial Environment Laboratory helps countries to understand and protect the land.

Nearly two thousand IAEA technical cooperation fellows and scientific visitors have passed through Seibersdorf over the past 50 years. They benefited from top-class training and expertise. They took away with them not only new knowledge and capacity, but also enduring positive memories of working in some of the most international laboratories in the world. In Seibersdorf, professional contacts and friendships are established that will last for life.

I am proud of the high calibre of the scientists and engineers from many disciplines, and from many countries, who work in the laboratories.

Thanks to their professionalism and ingenuity, we are able to make sophisticated scientific techniques available in robust, practical ways in the field. This improves the lives of millions of people.

You will see many examples in the exhibition.

To take just one example, our Animal Production and Health Laboratory created an easy-to-use, portable laboratory which is making a huge difference in controlling animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth in more than 30 countries in Africa and Asia.

Vets can carry out diagnostic tests on animals in remote areas. The results are known within an hour. Each test costs less than two US dollars. Vets can give immediate advice to farmers, inform the authorities if necessary and help prevent the spread of disease to neighbouring farms and other countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since I became Director General three years ago, I have attached great importance to the IAEA's work in making nuclear technology available to developing countries for peaceful purposes.

When I visit Member States, I always try to see IAEA projects in action. The people I meet - scientists and scholars, farmers and fishermen - express great appreciation for the work of the Agency. It is touching to see how much impact our work can have on individual lives.

When I went to the High Andes of Peru, I met farmers who now grow abundant crops of barley thanks to help from the IAEA. Our scientists helped scientists in Peru to develop new strains of barley which grow at high altitude. Farmers can continue to use their traditional farming techniques. They can feed their families and have enough grain left to sell at the market.

In Ecuador, I visited a region which has long suffered from severe water shortages. The IAEA worked with local communities to help identify the best sources of underground water. Wells were dug in the right places and there is now plenty of water. So much, in fact, that tourism is taking off in the region.

It was great to hear ordinary people talking about how nuclear technology had changed their lives. The Seibersdorf laboratories play a vital role in making that technology available.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A half a century is a long time. Like all of us, the laboratories have aged. Time has taken its toll on the buildings. Space is severely limited and the equipment is not well adapted to our present needs.

That is why, at the General Conference in September, I announced plans to carry out a complete modernization of the laboratories within a few years. My proposal was supported in a resolution of the General Conference, which called upon us to establish state-of-the--art facilities and equipment at Seibersdorf.

The goal, according to the resolution, must be to "ensure that maximum benefits in terms of capacity-building and technology enhancement are made available to Member States, particularly developing countries."

Planning work is at an advanced stage and I will present detailed proposals in due course.

Member States want us to do more in almost all areas of nuclear applications. This includes climate-smart agriculture, with priority on helping countries to adapt to climate change while improving food security.

It includes improving preparedness for responding to nuclear emergencies and especially for dealing with radiological contamination in food and agriculture. We will contribute more to controlling mosquitoes which transmit malaria by integrating the sterile insect technique into integrated pest control programmes.

And Member States want more assistance in the provision of radiotherapy services, particularly in the treatment of cancer. My expansion plans for Seibersdorf include establishing a new Cancer Training Centre. This will provide specialist training for health professionals from Member States, using advanced teaching technologies to complement training already offered by the Dosimetry Laboratory.

The GC resolution urges the IAEA to further strengthen our efforts to seek extrabudgetary funding for the modernization of the laboratories. I appeal to all countries which are in a position to provide financial support to do so. This is a very worthy cause which deserves your support. The benefits will be felt by many hundreds of thousands of people in the coming decades.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will conclude by expressing my gratitude to Austria for being a model host country and a steadfast supporter of the IAEA in all areas of our work.

I am grateful to our partners at the FAO. Our cooperation is a model of best practice within the "one UN" approach. I thank the network of more than 500 national and international research institutions and experimental stations which work closely with our laboratories.

Finally, I thank all the staff of the nuclear sciences and applications laboratories - past and present - who have helped to make the labs an invaluable asset to this organization and to our Member States.

I wish you an enjoyable day. I look forward to working with all of you to modernize the laboratories. I encourage you to visit Seibersdorf for yourselves and to visit the exhibition here in the VIC. I am sure you will enjoy it.

Thank you.

Last update: 21 October 2014