Statement at International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy

Vienna, Austria

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

New Delhi, India
International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy

It is always a great pleasure to visit India. I am especially honoured to speak at this International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, part of the commemoration ceremonies to mark the centenary of the birth of Dr. Homi Bhabha.

Dr. Bhabha was an outstanding scientist and a great visionary, who built from scratch a comprehensive nuclear energy programme, based on self-reliance. Within little more than a generation, he made India a significant player in the world of peaceful nuclear energy.

His far-sightedness in launching systematic training for nuclear scientists and engineers is still showing results today. Indeed, in this very room we see some of the most distinguished alumni of the training school established by Dr. Bhabha in 1956 at the institution that now bears his name - the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). They include my friend Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission.

Dr. Bhabha also had the foresight to build capacity in other areas of nuclear science, including in medicine and agriculture. He was an influential figure in the birth of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which I have had the honour to lead for the past 12 years. He was Chair of the first International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, held in Geneva in 1955, that laid the foundation for the launch of the IAEA two years later. Legend has it that Dr. Bhabha cast his vote in favour of Vienna as the seat of the Agency´s headquarters because of his great love for opera. As a music lover myself, I have special reason to be grateful to him. India has been a Member of the Board of Governors since the IAEA was established and many BARC alumni have served with distinction on the staff of the Agency.

Globally, the fortunes of nuclear energy have fluctuated since Dr. Bhabha´s untimely death in 1966. The low point was undoubtedly the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, which effectively halted the expansion in nuclear power in its tracks. However, the pendulum has swung back in the past 10 years or so and we look set for a significant expansion in global use of nuclear energy in the next 20 to 30 years. There are a number of reasons for this. The urgent and ever-growing need for energy, particularly in the developing part of the world, fluctuations in fossil fuel prices and climate change are major factors.

The world has accumulated more than 13,000 reactor-years of experience. Considerable improvements in safety since Chernobyl have been matched by improvements in efficiency. Nuclear plants are more economical to run, productivity has increased and there is less down-time for maintenance. The long-term stability of the cost of electricity generated by nuclear power is an important attraction. Public attitudes towards nuclear energy have become more positive in the past decade. But the nuclear industry needs to remain open and transparent in order to generate and maintain public trust.

Despite the global economic crisis, the IAEA´s latest projections continue to show a significant increase in nuclear generating capacity in the medium term. The low projection is now for 511 GW(e) of generating capacity in 2030, compared to 370 GW(e) today. The high projection is for 807 GW(e), more than a doubling from present levels.

Most of the 30 countries already using nuclear energy plan to expand their output. Scores of countries - mostly in the developing world - have informed the IAEA that they might be interested in launching nuclear power programmes. Of these, 12 countries are actively considering nuclear power. Growth targets have been raised significantly here in India, as well as in China and in the Russian Federation. Asia remains the focus of growth in nuclear power, not least because of this region´s robust economic growth.

Every country has the right to add nuclear power to its energy mix, as well as a duty to do it responsibly. That means adhering to the highest safety and security standards and ensuring that nuclear material is not diverted from peaceful to military purposes. Demand for the IAEA´s services in all three areas - safety, security and safeguards - has grown exponentially in the past two decades and will continue to increase as more and more countries build nuclear power reactors.

But in addition to the use of nuclear energy for power generation, nuclear techniques have been making a difference in detecting and treating cancer, producing more robust and higher-yielding food crops and maintaining supplies of fresh water. I am especially proud of the Agency´s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, which is helping to make radiation medicine available for cancer diagnosis, treatment and palliative care in developing countries, many of which have no radiotherapy services at all.

Another area in which the IAEA has made a significant difference is induced crop mutations using nuclear techniques, for example to produce salt-tolerant rice and drought-resistant wheat. These have increased food production and boosted farmers´ incomes in many countries. Likewise, isotope data provide a unique tool to determine the availability and vulnerability of groundwater systems and ensure that reliable supplies can be developed in the long term.

On a more sombre note, the number of states that possess nuclear weapons has risen to nine since Dr. Bhabha´s death. This is nine too many as far as I am concerned. After a couple of what I consider to be wasted decades, I am gratified that nuclear disarmament has now moved back to the top of the international agenda. Russia and the United States are negotiating significant cuts in their nuclear arsenals. There is increasing global recognition that nuclear weapons are a threat to us all and growing momentum for their complete abolition.

India called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons as far back as 1948. It is important that India´s voice should continue to be heard as a leading advocate for nuclear disarmament. I believe there is reason to hope that we could achieve a world free of nuclear weapons in my children´s lifetime, if not in mine. But if we want to turn our hopes into reality, we have to start laying the groundwork for a global security system that does not depend on nuclear weapons; a system built on human solidarity and equity; a system based on cooperation and not confrontation; on inclusion and not exclusion.

Let me say a few words on India´s current role in using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and the lessons it can teach other countries. India undertakes a lot of research into advanced fuel cycles based on thorium fuel, as it has abundant natural thorium resources and a comparative shortage of uranium. India continues to set the agenda for research and development in the field of sodium-cooled fast breeder reactors.

Experts from India participate in IAEA activities on innovative small and medium sized reactors. India is also a very active member of the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) and is on the cutting edge of development in many waste management technologies, especially for high level waste from reprocessing. Cooperation with the IAEA is expected to increase in the area of decommissioning in the coming years as many older installations in India will require either refurbishment or decommissioning.

In the area of nuclear applications, India is making radiation and nuclear medicine increasingly available in rural areas. And Indian specialists are actively deploying nuclear techniques in agriculture, as evidenced by the large number of varieties of crops produced through radiation-induced mutation which are now on the market, including chick peas and oil seeds.

India´s remarkable economic dynamism in the past two decades has made it a role model for many developing countries. It is ideally placed to share its technological expertise and economic know-how with less advanced countries. In the nuclear field, it is vital that countries planning to build nuclear power reactors understand the need to ensure the highest safety standards and avoid problems faced by some countries which already have nuclear power. These problems include ageing reactors, operators which are poorly managed or under-funded and weak regulators. A strong focus on safety and security should be seen as enablers for the further development of nuclear energy rather than as hindrances.

Let me conclude by saying that nuclear power, while not a panacea for all the world´s energy problems, can play a major role in overcoming the huge energy deficit we face. Energy is the engine of development and nuclear techniques contribute to accelerating development.

I wish you every success in your deliberations in the next few days.

Last update: 17 November 2014