Statement to the 51st Regular Session of the IAEA General Conference 2007

IAEA General Conference

Vienna, Austria

H.E. Dr. Ursula Plassnik, Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria

Mr. President, Mr. Director General, dear Colleagues, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me welcome you to this General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency. In particular, let me welcome very cordially the states that we just newly admitted to this important organisation.

When the first IAEA officials started work in August 1957 in Vienna´s Grand Hotel, they broke new ground. They were part of an organisation with a novel mandate, designed for a new political era. They took office in a city at the centre of a divided Europe, very much a symbol of the times.

Today, with an impressive track record, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, the Agency has become an indispensable institution in the global security architecture.

Anniversaries are a cause for celebration and we shall do so tonight. But this morning, let me focus on two issues in which the IAEA currently assumes core responsibilities and urgently needs political support:

  • The first issue is the need for a worldwide partnership to control sensitive nuclear technologies, in particular enrichment and reprocessing;
  • The second issue is the need to strengthen the Agency even more as an instrument to contribute to international peace and confidence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In his "Atoms for Peace" speech in 1953, President Eisenhowerr proposed the creation of an Atomic Energy Agency out of concern about the accumulation and the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons. When the states attended the first IAEA General Conference in the Vienna Konzerthaus - the famous concert hall where we will meet again tonight - the world faced a nuclear arms race.

Today, the immenent threat of nuclear war has somehow moved backstagein our minds and as a matter of immediate political concern. However, we simply cannot afford to neglect the dangers of nuclear weapons being developed or traded in black markets and we cannot exclude nuclear material to end up in the hands of terrorists.

The core issues of the late 50ies are still relevant: There are expectations about the peaceful use of the atom, in particular as a source of energy. And there is the need to address the risks for human safety and international security that may arise from this technology as well as from its abusive use for weapons.

Over the past 50 years, the IAEA has made vital contributions to many important projects related to the development agenda. Nuclear technologies have been developed to increase food production, fight diseases and manage groundwater resources. A core function has been assistance in energy planning: The Agency has advised more than 100 countries in developing their appropriate national energy strategy.

At a time of revival of interest in nuclear energy - last week´s Economist for example speaks of a "new age" for nuclear power - we must also acknowledge that many people across the globe continue to have strong and serious reservations about nuclear energy. People are deeply worried about the effects of nuclear radiation on health and on the environment. They are upset about accidents in nuclear power plants and about possible misuse of nuclear material and technology.

Such concerns have convinced a number of states to renounce nuclear power altogether. Austria as others believes the risks by far outweigh the advantages of atomic energy. In view of the high environmental and financial costs over time and the lack of a sustainable solution to the nuclear waste problem, we also do not see nuclear energy as a valid and sustainable contribution to the efforts directed against climate change.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am aware of the fact that may of you see this point differently. Austria is aware of the global rise in energy demand and recognizes the right of every state to choose its energy sources.

However, in whichever way we assess the use of nuclear power for energy purposes, we should be united on the following: We must urgently address - and prevent - the potential misuse of peaceful nuclear programmes to develop nuclear weapons. Today, about a dozen countries have or are building uranium enrichment facilities. Approximately 40 countries are said to have the technical expertise necessary to produce nuclear weapons.

By developing safety standards and monitoring instruments, such as the Additional Protocol, the IAEA has significantly contributed towards containing the risks involved with nuclear energy. It is our duty to ensure that these standards are fully implemented.

But we need more than that. We need a global partnership that on one hand enables access to energy while at the same time ensures safety and security.

Such a partnership must be based on a multilaterization of the nuclear fuel cycle. There have been several proposals to this effect. I welcome the recent report of Dr. ElBaradei on this issue and look forward to the opportunity to discuss it in detail.

At the first NPT-Preparatory Committee in Vienna in May of this year I proposed a regime in which the fuel cycle facilities should be placed under multilateral control. All transactions regarding nuclear fuel would be made through a "Nuclear Fuel Bank". This would ensure that all countries receive the fuel they need. There would be no need to individually develop national fuel cycle facilities and technologies. Through the IAEA we would all together share control of the facilities as partners.

This can work: Just take a brief look back in time. After the disastrous experience of World War II, the European States agreed to multilateralize the production of war sensitive industrial sectors. Thus, the European Community for Coal and Steel multilateralized control over the steel industries of its founding Members. EURATOM placed the nuclear facilities under shared control. The decisions to do so were radical but the prospect of lasting peace and lasting trust made it worthwhile to offer shared control. Today, five decades of peace and ever closer relations among a growing membership prove the EU founders were right. A divided continent has become a zone of freedom, peace and prosperity.

Over the next months we will discuss such a multilateral system for the nuclear fuel cucle and how it can be established in concrete and preactical terms. Political initiatives later this fall will complement this process. I encourage you to fully engage in this debate - and to treat it as what it is: a fundamentally political issue, a means to improve international security and stability that requires first and foremost political will. To avoid the proliferation of sensitive technology we must not only create the technical parameters but also develop a genuine and sustainable global partnerships of political determination.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now turn briefly to my second point: the need to support the Agency as an instrument for peace.

Referring to international threats, former Un Secretary General Kofi Annan once said, and I quote: "The one area where there is a total lack of any comon strategy is the one that may well present the greatest danger of all: the area of nuclear weapons." End of quotation.

This assessment came after years of failure in the Conference on Disarmament and a lack of progress at the last NPT review cycle. We have since embarked on a new review cycle for the NPT. Though there are some new ideas and a generally positive spirit there is still no sign of any such common strategy.

Indeed, the non-proliferatioon regime is increasingly under pressure. Several states have developed nuclear weapons programmes and some now possess such weapons. That is a direct challenge to the NPT-system. There are other problems as well: black market proliferation, illicit trade, and alarming rise in military spending and the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Most disappointing to a country like Austria is the stagnation in nuclear disarmament. I was heartened by the call by important US statesmen, among them Henry Kissinger and George Shulz, to re-ignite the vision of a world without nuclear weapons. But the sheer number of weapons today - reportedly 27.000, of which 12.000 are actively employed - are still so ludicrously high that this vision is far from becoming a reality.

In this difficult situation the IAEA represents a positive constant and assumes its tasks with quiet reliability, proficiency and independence. It serves as a forum for debate, a centre of technical expertise and a global nuclear watchdog. Over the years, the Agency has gained the recognition it has today - one that it undoubtedly deserves.

This is, of course, due to the conscientious and insistent work of Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, his predecessors and the many thousand employees at the Agency over the last 50 years. It was through their dedication that the Agency has acquired something that is so badly needed in today´s world: a reputation of trust.

It is clear that the Agency serves a specific functional purpose: we need an independent monitoring and verification institution - and on this, the IAEA delivers. But the IAEA manages to go beyond its strict function and directly addresses a crucial need in today´s world:

We need institutions that not ony fulfil their mandates. We need institutions that contribute directly and persuadively towards international confidence building. And the IAEA does that.

Thereby the Agency is not only important, but truly relevant.

It is not only reliable, but trusted.

This is a service to us, the Member States, a service we are grateful for. It is a very precious good that must not be squandered. It is in our very interest to let the Agency do its work, as it has done these many years, without outside interference.

In building a comprehensive strategy against nuclear weapons we will rely to a large extent on the firm and solid foundation of the IAEA. With political determination, an openness to new multilateral partnerships and the reliable, trusted help of the Agency we can achieve progress over the next years.

The "new age" of nuclear energy, it it really comes about, must also become an age of safety and security, an age of cooperation and trust.

This is not a choice, but a dire necessity.

Thank you.

Last update: 27 October 2014