Statement to Argentine Council for International Relations

Argentine Council for International Relations

Buenos Aires, Argentina

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to speak at the Argentine Council for International Relations. I know I am addressing an audience that is very knowledgeable about the whole range of nuclear matters dealt with by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Argentina has successfully mastered nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. I got a glimpse of that myself today when I visited the site of the Atucha II reactor - very impressive.

Argentina is a leading exporter of reactors and radioisotopes. Together with Brazil, it is a partner in one of the most successful regional frameworks in the world in the nuclear field - the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC). I had the privilege of visiting ABACC in Rio de Janeiro earlier this week.

It is no exaggeration to say that the 1980 agreement between Argentina and Brazil on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the subsequent creation of ABACC in 1991 prevented a possible nuclear arms race in Latin America. They also helped to pave the way for the entry into force of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which created a nuclear-weapon-free zone that now covers all 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Treaty was an inspiration for four similar treaties in Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Nearly two-thirds of the countries of the world now belong to nuclear-weapon-free zones.

Today, I would like to speak to you about some of the challenges, as well as the opportunities, which we at the IAEA face in our work. The IAEA is widely referred to in the media as the world´s "nuclear watchdog." As many of you know, this does not do justice to the full range of our activities. Since its establishment in 1957, the Agency has pursued two fundamental goals: preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and helping to make nuclear technologies available for peaceful applications, which includes technical cooperation.

I would like to focus on three main areas: nuclear power, nuclear sciences and applications, and nuclear non-proliferation.

Nuclear Power

Let me start with nuclear power.

Nuclear power is enjoying growing acceptance throughout the world as a stable and clean source of energy that can help to mitigate the impact of climate change. More than 60 countries are considering introducing nuclear power to generate electricity. We expect between 10 and 25 new countries to bring their first nuclear power plants online by 2030.

While it is the right of each sovereign state to decide whether or not to opt for nuclear power, I firmly believe that access to nuclear power should not be limited to developed countries. It should also be available to interested developing countries to help them lift their people out of poverty.

For some years now, the Agency has been increasingly focussing on the needs of newcomers to nuclear power. Our goal is to assist them at every stage of the process. We provide them with advice on how to put the appropriate legal and regulatory framework in place and how to ensure the highest standards of safety, security and safeguards, as well as with know-how on the construction, commissioning, start-up and operation of nuclear reactors. The end-result, we hope, is that countries will be able to introduce nuclear power knowledgeably, profitably, safely and securely. I am grateful to Argentina for sharing its practical experience with countries which are starting out on the path to nuclear energy.

The Agency also continues to work closely with countries which have successful and well-established nuclear energy programmes as they expand their activities. I note that Argentina has decided to relaunch its own national nuclear programme with the completion of the Atucha II reactor and the construction of a fourth nuclear power plant. The Agency provides assistance to the more experienced countries in areas such as improving nuclear waste disposal, decommissioning uranium mines and planning the expansion of electricity generation capacity, to take just a few examples from this region.

If countries are to choose nuclear power, they need to have confidence that it will be sustainable. Continual innovation in nuclear technology is therefore essential. I take a keen interest in research and development in the nuclear field which will maximise energy efficiency, reduce risks to the environment and ease the burden on future generations of having to deal with nuclear waste.

The IAEA plays an active role in contributing to technological development. A good example is the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO), in which Argentina is an active participant. Argentinian experts also participate in Agency activities on innovative small and medium sized reactors and accelerator driven systems. I know that Argentina is developing a small reactor, the CAREM, of a type which is of particular interest to developing countries.

Reliable supplies of nuclear fuel are another important issue for countries considering nuclear power. Last November, the IAEA Board of Governors approved a Russian proposal to set up a low enriched uranium reserve available to Member States upon request from the Agency. The goal is to give countries confidence that they will be able to obtain nuclear fuel if their regular supplies are disrupted for non-commercial reasons.

Other possible assurance of supply mechanisms are under discussion. It is no secret that the views of IAEA Member States are divided on this issue. My own view is that nuclear fuel supply assurance arrangements should not place any constraint on the rights of states. Nor should they be discriminatory. But I also firmly believe that the IAEA is the best place to discuss this issue, because we can ensure full transparency and the Secretariat can provide assistance. It is for Member States to decide whether to or not to establish such a mechanism.

It is, of course, important that countries with new and expanding nuclear power programmes should ensure the highest standards of safety and security. The Agency is the custodian of the main international safety and security instruments and member states are strongly encouraged to participate actively in the global nuclear safety and security frameworks.

In fact, nuclear safety has improved considerably since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Great progress has also been made in making sites that house nuclear and radioactive materials more secure throughout the world.

But much more remains to be done. I look forward to participating in the Nuclear Security Summit which will be convened in Washington by President Obama in just a few days. I will have the honour of sharing that important occasion with President Cristina Kirchner. I hope that the Summit will have a successful outcome and will contribute to strengthening global efforts to improve the worldwide security of nuclear and radioactive materials and the associated facilities.

Nuclear Sciences and Applications

A lesser known area of the IAEA´s activities is making advanced nuclear science and technology available to help Member States meet the basic needs of their peoples.

Cancer therapy is a good example. For my first year as Director General, I have chosen to highlight the fight against cancer in developing countries. It is not widely known that cancer has reached epidemic proportions in developing countries, where it kills 665 people every hour - nearly three times as many as in developed countries. Because of the absence of early diagnosis, most cases are detected too late for life-saving treatment. In many low-income countries, there is not a single radiation therapy machine. As a result, around 70 percent of global deaths from cancer occur in developing countries.

Through our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, launched in 2004, the IAEA - working with partners such as the World Health Organization - has been playing an important role in improving cancer control in developing countries. The IAEA´s cancer expertise lies in radiotherapy and nuclear medicine. Since 1980, we have delivered over $220 million worth of cancer-related assistance to developing countries, providing equipment and training.

I have been grateful for the opportunity during my visit to Argentina to meet leading experts in nuclear medicine. I look forward to their contribution to the Scientific Forum devoted to cancer control, which the IAEA will host in Vienna in September. I feel strongly that the benefits of modern medical technology should be made available to all the people of the world and I will work hard as Director General to help make that happen.

Challenges in Nuclear Non-Proliferation

Nuclear non-proliferation is, of course, the area of the IAEA´s work which attracts most attention. Our job is to verify that States are fully complying with their non-proliferation obligations.

In the case of Non-Nuclear Weapon States under the NPT, the Agency´s authority is based on the comprehensive safeguards agreements which we conclude with individual States. The Agency seeks to verify that nuclear material has not been diverted from peaceful nuclear activities. In Argentina and Brazil, as you know, we do this in close cooperation with ABACC and with the authorities of the two countries.

In the case of Iran, while the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared material and activities, it has for some time been unable to confirm that all nuclear material is in peaceful activities because Iran has not provided the Agency with the necessary cooperation. In my report on implementation of Agency safeguards in Iran last month, I requested Iran to take steps towards the full implementation of its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA and its other obligations as a matter of high priority. By doing so, Iran would be able to re-establish the confidence of the international community.

It is clear that there is a limit to what the Agency alone can do to help achieve a satisfactory resolution of international concerns about the nature of Iran´s nuclear programme. For that to happen, it is crucial that international diplomacy and dialogue through the United Nations and frameworks such as the P5+1 function smoothly, which in turn would also help the work of the IAEA.

North Korea´s nuclear programme/ remains a matter of serious concern to the international community. I hope that every effort will be made towards an early resumption of a diplomatic dialogue in a framework such as the Six Party Talks. The IAEA is ready to contribute to future verification arrangements if given the necessary legal authority and resources.

The world faces increasing risks of nuclear proliferation. It is therefore important that the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and especially the IAEA safeguards system, should be strengthened. A very important measure to this effect would be the conclusion and implementation by as many countries as possible of an additional protocol to their safeguards agreements with the Agency. This instrument, introduced in the wake of the Gulf War, greatly enhances the IAEA´s verification capability by giving us expanded access to information and to sites. It can enable us to provide credible assurance not only about the non-diversion of declared nuclear material, but also about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.

Additional protocols are now in force for 95 States. I hope that other States will follow suit and that we will soon pass the milestone of 100 additional protocols in force.

There are still 22 countries which have not brought into force the comprehensive safeguards agreements required from them under the NPT. I encourage them to remedy this as soon as possible. This is of particular importance ahead of the NPT Review Conference in May.

In the area of nuclear disarmament, I welcome the commitment of the United States and the Russian Federation to making significant cuts in their nuclear arsenals and am pleased that they are reporting progress in their negotiations on a replacement for the START Treaty. Progress in disarmament will have a positive impact on non-proliferation efforts, and vice versa. Coming as I do from Japan, I strongly believe in the need to achieve a safe and peaceful world free from nuclear weapons.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have given you a very broad outline of the work of the IAEA.

I believe the Agency is most effective when it pursues its dual mandate - preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and supporting the peaceful use of nuclear technology, including technical cooperation - in a balanced manner. As Director General, I will strive to maintain that balance and ensure we meet the needs of all our Member States as effectively as possible.

Thank you.

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Last update: 21 October 2014