Statement To the Fifty-Ninth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Vienna, Austria

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

1 November 2004 | New York, USA

Every year brings new challenges and opportunities, and the past twelve months at the IAEA have been no exception. The outlook for nuclear power is evolving, with increasing attention to its benefits as an environmentally clean source of electricity, but with concerns remaining related to waste disposal, safety and security. Nuclear applications in human health, agriculture and other fields are increasingly contributing to global sustainable development initiatives, and the Agency has redoubled its efforts to support these initiatives by improving the efficiency and extending the reach of its technical cooperation programme. Global cooperation in matters of safety and security has resulted in sustained improvements overall, but there is still much to be done. In the area of verification, the Agency’s activities remain at the centre of efforts to curb nuclear proliferation, and we have continued to prove our ability to conduct objective and credible safeguards — but the international community still faces a number of difficult challenges, and has intensified its focus on how to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Today I welcome this opportunity to review with you some of the Agency´s work in each of these areas.

Nuclear Technology

Nuclear Power
This year marks the 50th anniversary of civilian nuclear power. With 439 power reactors worldwide, nuclear energy continues to account for about 16% of the world´s electricity production, keeping pace with the steady growth in the global electricity market.

Near-term growth in nuclear capacity remains centred in Asia and Eastern Europe, due to a combination of factors — including the rise in electricity demand, the existence of a well developed industrial infrastructure in these regions, and the lack of indigenous alternatives in some countries.

Over the longer term, it is clear that the need for sustained human development will require a substantial investment in energy generation in the coming decades. Given its capacity for emissions-free electricity generation, nuclear energy has strong potential as a reliable baseline energy source. However, the degree to which nuclear energy is used will be shaped by the way a given nation balances the risks associated with a nuclear accident against other risks — such as air pollution or energy dependence. Clearly, not every country shares the view that improved economics and safety performance warrant a revival of nuclear power. These are matters of complexity and legitimate debate, and the IAEA will continue its efforts to provide comprehensible, accurate information to ensure that the benefits and risks of nuclear technology are clearly and fairly understood.

Nuclear Fuel Cycle
The IAEA also continues to encourage and stimulate technological innovation, related to power reactors, research reactors and other parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, to address concerns related to safety, proliferation and waste disposal. More than 20 IAEA Member States are currently involved in projects related to new reactor and fuel cycle designs.

Regarding the long term management of spent fuel and radioactive waste, progress continues to be slow, but steady. More than 50 countries now have spent nuclear fuel, including fuel from research reactors, stored in temporary sites, awaiting disposal or reprocessing. At an International Conference on Geological Repositories held last December in Stockholm, experts agreed that the majority of technological issues have been satisfactorily addressed, but that social issues — such as public acceptance and political endorsement — are still problematic. The IAEA has been assisting many Member States in developing nuclear waste management and disposal strategies, and I am pleased to report renewed interest in multinational approaches to spent fuel management and disposal.

Applications of Nuclear Technology
A major part of the IAEA´s scientific and technical work involves the transfer of peaceful nuclear technology in a variety of fields. Many of these applications are proving important tools for social and economic development.

Food and Agriculture: An excellent example is the application of nuclear technology to one of the basic elements in human survival: the food supply chain. Over the past four decades, the use of isotopes and radiation in food and agricultural research and development has yielded rich results: millions of hectares of higher yielding crops all over the world; disease resistant plants, developed with radiation induced mutation, providing economic benefits worth billions of dollars every year to the world´s farmers; improvements in livestock production and health; and the control and eradication of many insect pests through radiation sterilization techniques.

Water Resources Management: Another crucial factor in development is access to safe drinking water — a basic necessity unavailable to more than one sixth of the world´s population. Isotope hydrology is being used in a broad variety of IAEA projects to map underground aquifers, detect and control pollution, and monitor the safety of dams.

Human Health: Another key area of IAEA work relates to human health, including our efforts to combat the growing cancer threat in the developing world. Of the estimated 260 million new cancer cases expected in the next 20 years, approximately 175 million will require radiation therapy, and 100 million of those will be in developing countries that have neither the resources nor the expertise to deal with this impending crisis. The Agency has been working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners to provide the training, expert missions and equipment needed to support national and regional cancer therapy programmes. But the size of the problem far outstrips our resources, and we have launched the Programme of Action for Cancer Radiotherapy (PACT) to attract additional funding and resources from both governmental and non-governmental sources.

Technical Cooperation Programme: The IAEA´s technical cooperation (TC) programme provides roughly $80 million of assistance per year in these and other fields, and is a principal mechanism for implementing the Agency´s basic mission: "Atoms for Peace." As more developing countries become Member States, the number of countries that benefit from assistance under the TC programme continues to grow. This year we have an all time high of 111 Member States participating in national, regional and interregional projects. To ensure the effectiveness of TC strategies, the IAEA Secretariat develops thematic plans to highlight nuclear technology benefits in key areas, assists States in developing individually tailored country programme frameworks, and ensures strong government commitment to TC projects before they are launched. And we continue to build and expand partnerships with other international organizations and development partners, in some cases drawing on their technical expertise to enhance the impact of a nuclear technique.

Nuclear Safety and Security

The safety and security of nuclear activities around the globe remain key elements of the Agency´s mandate. Nearly two decades after the Chernobyl accident, it is gratifying to see that the Agency’s efforts have been of tangible and sustained benefit, including: our emphasis on defence in depth, risk management and international cooperation; our concerted drive to upgrade facilities with older design features; our assistance to developing Member States in establishing a solid radiation protection infrastructure; our emphasis on safety and security in transport; and particularly in recent years, our dual focus on strengthening physical protection at nuclear facilities and enhancing the security of nuclear material and radioactive sources worldwide. Considerable progress has been achieved through these efforts. Nevertheless, the need to maintain an effective and transparent global nuclear safety and security regime remains a matter of high priority.

Status of International Conventions
The development and adoption of legally binding international agreements has proven to be a powerful mechanism for enhancing safety worldwide. Since the Chernobyl accident, four safety related conventions have been concluded under the IAEA’s auspices. The so-called Early Notification and Assistance Conventions serve to enhance international preparedness for — and response to — nuclear and radiological emergencies. The Convention on Nuclear Safety commits States party to operate their nuclear power plants in accordance with international benchmarks designed to maintain a high level of safety. And the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management seeks to ensure that spent fuel and radioactive waste is managed and disposed of in a manner that will protect people and the environment from radiological and other hazards. However, many States are not yet party to these conventions, and certain key areas of the nuclear fuel cycle are still not subject to conventions.

The process towards strengthening the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) has made some progress. In July, at the request of the Government of Austria and 24 co-sponsoring States, I circulated proposed amendments to the CPPNM to all States Parties. The aim of these amendments, as proposed, is to extend the scope of the Convention to cover nuclear material used for peaceful purposes not only in international transport and storage, but also in domestic transport, storage and use, as well as the protection against sabotage of nuclear material and facilities used for peaceful purposes. While consultations are ongoing to resolve a few outstanding issues, it is my hope that we can convene a diplomatic conference early next year to amend the Convention and expand its scope. This is an important part of our efforts to enhance protection against nuclear and radiological terrorism.

Safety Standards
The Agency promotes the acceptance of the entire corpus of IAEA safety standards as the global reference for protecting people and the environment against nuclear accidents and the harmful effects attributed to radiation exposure. We are making good progress on the revision of these standards, and on filling in the remaining gaps in coverage. The establishment of regional safety networks — such as the Asian Nuclear Safety Network and the Ibero-American Radiation Safety Network — will also promote the use of international safety standards and the sharing of expertise on a more regional basis.

Safety Missions
The IAEA´s safety review and appraisal services assist Member States in the application of Agency safety standards, and provide useful feedback on their effectiveness. While these services originated predominantly in the field of nuclear installation safety, they now extend to cover many areas of radiation, radioactive waste and transport safety as well. We are still assisting some Member States with safety upgrades at older installations with design vulnerabilities. As more Member States consider the extension of licences for nuclear power reactors, we are also giving increased attention to services that can identify and address equipment ageing and relevant operational issues. And as we work towards the global acceptance of IAEA safety standards, safety reviews will be integrated into fewer categories and focused increasingly on the review of national self-assessments.

Nuclear Security and Protection Against Nuclear Terrorism
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 2001, the IAEA moved swiftly to conduct a thorough review of its existing programmes related to preventing acts of nuclear and radiological terrorism, and to develop a comprehensive plan for upgrading nuclear security worldwide. Our work since that time has been focused on measures to guard against thefts of nuclear and radioactive material, and to protect related facilities against malicious acts.

Agency efforts to help Member States improve their protection against nuclear and radiological terrorism are continuing at an exceptionally fast pace on multiple fronts. In a relatively short span, much work has been completed on assessing the security needs of Member States and providing necessary training. Since September 2001, working in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa, we have conducted more than 50 advisory and evaluation missions, and convened more than 60 training courses, workshops and seminars. The IAEA also has strengthened its co-operation on nuclear security issues with other international organizations, including the UN and its specialized agencies, Interpol, Europol, the Universal Postal Union, the World Customs Organization and the European Commission.

We have made significant progress in many aspects of nuclear security, but much remains to be done. While significant work remains on the development of international legal instruments, as well as relevant guidelines and recommendations, the greatest emphasis is now being placed on addressing equipment needs and other tangible improvements, and on helping States take the steps needed to make their nuclear security programmes sustainable and self-reliant.

Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources: The IAEA has also been assisting Member States in ensuring that their radioactive sources are safe and are either secured within their own countries or shipped back to suppliers. Information in the Agency database of illicit trafficking makes it clear that a market continues to exist for obtaining and using radioactive sources for malicious purposes. We have been working with many countries to identify and secure sources that are the most vulnerable and of the highest risk. These assistance efforts have been given high priority, and we expect the volume of these efforts to increase.

Verification of Nuclear Non-Proliferation

The verification challenges that the Agency has faced in the past year further underscore the importance of the Agency’s role in combating nuclear proliferation, and the urgency of providing the Agency with all the necessary means to perform its verification responsibilities in an effective and credible manner.

The IAEA´s verification activities are designed to provide assurance that nuclear material and facilities are used exclusively for peaceful purposes. In the early 1990s, after the discovery of the clandestine nuclear-weapon programme in Iraq, the international community committed itself to provide the Agency the authority to strengthen its verification capability — using a mechanism referred to as the "additional protocol" — to provide assurance not only that declared nuclear material has not been diverted for non-peaceful purposes, but equally important, that no undeclared nuclear material or activities exist.

Since my report to you last year, the number of States with additional protocols in force has increased appreciably, from 36 to 60. This broader authority, however, is still far from universal; 133 States remain without an additional protocol in force, and 42 States party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) still have not even fulfilled their Article III obligation to bring into force comprehensive safeguards agreements with the Agency. I strongly urge all States that have not done so to conclude and bring into force the required safeguards agreements and additional protocols at an early date.

Implementation of Safeguards in the DPRK
The situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues to pose a serious challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Since December 2002, the Agency has not performed any verification activities in the DPRK, and cannot therefore provide any level of assurance about the non-diversion of nuclear material. We have continued to emphasize the need for a comprehensive settlement of the Korean crisis through dialogue that addresses all the underlying issues, and it is my hope that the six-party talks will lead to such a settlement. I trust that any future settlement will ensure, inter alia, the return of the DPRK to the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and that the Agency will be given the necessary authority and resources to be able to fulfil its verification responsibilities in a credible manner.

Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
The Agency´s verification activities in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya over the course of this year have confirmed that, for many years, Libya pursued an undeclared nuclear programme which aimed to enrich uranium, and which included the receipt of nuclear weapons design documents. Over many years, Libya failed to meet many of its obligations under its safeguards agreement. However, last December, Libya renounced its programmes for nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. In this connection, Libya has signed and implemented an additional protocol, and has actively cooperated with the IAEA’s efforts to verify its renunciation of its former nuclear weapon programme.

Our assessment to date is that Libya´s declarations of its past nuclear related activities appear to be consistent with the information available to, and verified by, the Agency. Further investigation is still needed, however, in order for the Agency to verify the completeness and correctness of Libya´s declarations of its nuclear activities. We will continue to pursue these questions as part of our routine inspection activities in Libya.

Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran
The IAEA has continued to devote considerable attention to the implementation of safeguards in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the IAEA Board of Governors has adopted several resolutions relevant to Iran´s past undeclared nuclear programme and its failure over an extended period of time to meet many of its obligations under its safeguards agreement. The Board has urged Iran, inter alia, to cooperate fully with the Agency in the verification process.

Since February 2003, when the IAEA started its verification of Iran´s undeclared programme, the Agency has made steady progress in understanding its nature and extent. Last December, Iran signed an additional protocol and has been acting as if the protocol were in force, pending its ratification. Iran´s earlier interactions with the Agency were regrettably marked by the provision of information that was at times changing, contradictory, and slow in coming, a situation that led to repeated expressions of concern by the Board. Iran´s cooperation since that time, however, has improved appreciably. IAEA inspectors have been provided access to requested locations, and Iran has provided information requested by the Agency — although in some cases Iran´s response has continued to be slow.

As a result of the Agency´s investigations, some issues have reached the point where any further follow-up needed will be carried out as part of routine safeguards implementation. One issue remains central to understanding Iran´s nuclear programme: namely, the extent and nature of Iran´s uranium enrichment activities. Additional investigation is still ongoing, and I expect to be able to provide a comprehensive report on progress to our Board of Governors later this month.

As of November of last year, the IAEA Board of Governors has also asked the Agency to monitor Iran´s voluntary suspension of enrichment related and reprocessing activities. However, Iran has reversed some of the suspension measures initially undertaken in November 2003, and the Board has called on Iran again to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities as a confidence building measure. I have continued to stress to Iran that, in light of serious international concerns surrounding its nuclear programme, it should do its utmost to build confidence through these voluntary measures. I have also asked Iran to pursue a policy of maximum transparency, so that we can bring the outstanding issues to resolution and, over time, provide the required assurance to the international community. This is clearly in the interest of both Iran and the international community and should, in my view, lead to a dialogue among all interested parties with a view to reaching a comprehensive settlement of all the underlying issues.

Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions Relating to Iraq
The IAEA’s mandate in Iraq under various Security Council resolutions still remains in effect. As I reported to you last year, at the time the Agency was asked to cease its Security Council verification activities in Iraq in March 2003, we had found no evidence of the revival of nuclear activities prohibited under relevant Security Council resolutions. Naturally, the international community is reassured that these findings have since been validated.

Security Council resolution 1546, inter alia, reaffirmed the intention of the Council to revisit the mandate of the Agency in Iraq. I hope that the Council will soon provide guidance on the future of this mandate. It is clearly important to bring the whole question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to closure as early as possible, and for the Agency to resume the necessary verification and monitoring activities in Iraq as soon as the security situation permits – particularly in view of the dual-use items that have been under IAEA custody in Iraq that would be susceptible to misuse.

Application of Agency Safeguards in the Middle East
Pursuant to the mandate given to me by the IAEA General Conference, I have continued my consultations with the States of the Middle East region on the application of full scope safeguards to all nuclear activities in the Middle East, and on the development of model agreements. Once again, I regret to report that I have not been in a position to make progress on these fronts.

The General Conference has also asked me to organize a forum on the relevance of the experience of other regions with existing nuclear-weapon-free zones — including confidence building and verification measures — for establishing such a zone in the region of the Middle East. Based on my consultations with States of the region, including during my recent visit to Israel, I intend to organize such a forum early next year, and further consultations are in progress towards that end. I earnestly hope for this forum to be the beginning of a much needed dialogue among States of the region on a security structure that would undergird efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement in the region.

Strengthening Nuclear Non-Proliferation
The recent experience of the IAEA in verifying undeclared nuclear programmes has yielded a number of important lessons, which are worth noting in this context. Perhaps the most important lesson is that verification and diplomacy, used in conjunction, can be effective. When inspections are accompanied by adequate authority, aided by all available information, backed by a credible compliance mechanism, and supported by international consensus, the system works. The Iraq experience demonstrated that inspections — while requiring time and patience — can be effective even when the country under inspection is providing less than active cooperation.

Perhaps the most disturbing lesson to emerge from our work in Iran and Libya is the existence of an extensive illicit market for the supply of nuclear items, which clearly thrived on demand. The relative ease with which a multinational illicit network could be set up and operated demonstrates clearly the inadequacy of the present export control system, which relies on informal arrangements that are not only non-binding, but also do not include many countries with growing industrial capacity, and do not provide for any systematic sharing of information with the IAEA.

A related lesson involves the accessibility of nuclear technology. The technical barriers to mastering the essential steps of uranium enrichment — and to designing weapons — have eroded over time, which inevitably leads to the conclusion that the control of technology, in and of itself, is not a sufficient barrier against further proliferation. This also leads to the important conclusion that ways and means should be found to better control the sensitive parts of the fuel cycle — namely, the production of enriched uranium and the reprocessing of plutonium.

The concept of multilateral control or oversight over proliferation sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle has been the subject of many studies and initiatives over the years. Recent non-proliferation and security challenges make it important and appropriate that we revisit this subject. Several months ago, I appointed a group of senior experts to look into various options for multilateral control. The group plans to submit a report next March on the results of its study.

In addition to the various components of the nuclear non-proliferation regime that, as I mentioned, need strengthening — including better control over sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, increased efforts to secure and protect nuclear material and facilities, a more inclusive and integrated export control system, and the need for all States to conclude additional protocols — I should stress the importance of working collectively to address the sense of insecurity and instability that persists in many countries and regions. It is instructive that nearly all nuclear proliferation concerns are in areas of longstanding conflict and instability.

As we proceed, it is important, in my view, to recognize both the value and the limitations of the IAEA´s verification role. While the Agency can work effectively to bring to closure questions of compliance with legal and technical requirements, the long term value of these efforts can only be realized to the extent that they are supported and reinforced by other components of the non-proliferation regime, such as export controls and compliance mechanisms. Equally and perhaps more importantly, these efforts should be followed by the necessary political dialogue among concerned States, to address underlying issues of insecurity, and to build confidence and trust.

Conclusion

This overview of the past year highlights achievements and challenges in all areas of Agency activity — and reflects the dynamic nature of our programme in anticipating and responding to change. Whether a specific activity contributes to strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime, enhancing the transfer and application of nuclear technologies, or ensuring safety and security in their use, our commitment is always to respond to the needs and priorities of our Member States.

I would like to conclude by expressing my continuing gratitude to the Government of Austria, which has now served for over four decades as a most gracious and welcoming host to the IAEA.

Last update: 13 November 2014