Statement at Lowy Institute for International Policy

Sydney, Australia

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure for me to address this distinguished audience.

The Lowy Institute for International Policy has established itself in less than a decade as a major contributor to serious thinking on foreign policy.

Coming, as I do, from Japan, I welcome your focus on issues that particularly affect the Asia-Pacific region. This region sometimes has a different perspective on global affairs from Europe and North America. The research programmes and events organized by the Institute help to focus fresh thinking on issues critical to this region, and indeed to the whole world.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been around quite a bit longer than the Lowy Institute - 55 years, in fact. I suppose that makes us middle-aged. But I can assure you that the Agency has lost none of its youthful vigour when it comes to tackling the challenging mandate entrusted to us by our 155 Member States.

Our mission is manifold, but can be summarised very simply. We help to make nuclear science and technology available to all countries for peaceful purposes - especially to countries in the developing world. And we work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Australia has been a very active member of the IAEA from the beginning.

It has an impeccable record in cooperating with us in the area of safeguards. These are the inspection and monitoring measures which we implement in Member States to ensure nuclear material is not being used to make weapons. As Chair of the Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network, Australia encourages all countries in the region to implement safeguards effectively.

Australia is one of the world's largest producers of uranium, but it applies strict rules limiting exports to countries which are in full compliance with their safeguards obligations.

Australia also contributes generously to the IAEA's technical cooperation programme. It actively supports regional projects, especially involving radiation protection and health care. Australia is providing major funding to a study on radioactivity in the seas and oceans of the Asia-Pacific region after the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

Technical cooperation is where I would like to start my remarks today.

The IAEA is active in areas which you may not be aware of. These include helping countries to improve cancer control and making nuclear techniques available to increase food production and manage water supplies. This is a high priority area for the Agency because it helps to meet basic human needs.

The IAEA is in a unique position within the UN system. We are the only organization with expertise in nuclear technologies and we help our Member States gain access to those technologies. We also have specialist laboratories which support our activities, developing innovative technology and providing training.

Cancer control in developing countries is high on the Agency's agenda and it is a major priority for me personally.

Cancer is reaching epidemic proportions in developing countries and most of them are ill-prepared to deal with it. For example, there is a shortage of around 5 000 radiotherapy machines in low- and middle-income countries. This means that hundreds of thousands of patients are denied diagnosis and treatment that could save their lives.

The Agency supports over 130 projects in cancer diagnosis, management and treatment. Oncology and radiotherapy centres are being established in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea and Mozambique. National capacity in radiotherapy is being strengthened in - for example - Albania and Kenya. Several regional projects are focusing on improving quality in radiotherapy services.

The IAEA Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy - PACT - has been working hard to try to make radiotherapy services available in all countries. We provide extensive training to health professionals. One of my major goals is to establish a Cancer Training Centre at our laboratory complex outside Vienna within the next few years.

We work with a number of Member States to improve global availability of the medical isotope Molybdenum-99, which is vital in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. I am grateful for Australia's efforts to significantly increase production of this important isotope in order to offset cuts in production elsewhere.

The Agency operates no fewer than eight nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna. They are doing pioneering work related to human and animal health, food security and safety, agriculture, and environmental monitoring. I plan a complete modernization of the labs within a few years so we can offer even better services to our Member States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear power remains the best known peaceful application of nuclear energy. When I became Director General three years ago, the talk was of a global nuclear renaissance. Then the Fukushima Daiichi accident happened, raising fundamental questions about the future of nuclear energy throughout the world.

The accident, the worst at a nuclear facility since Chernobyl in 1986, caused deep public anxiety and damaged confidence in nuclear power. It was a wake-up call for all countries with nuclear power plants.

Eighteen months after the accident, it is clear that nuclear power will remain an important option for many countries. Our latest projections show a steady rise in the number of nuclear power plants in the world in the next 20 years. Most of the expansion will be in Asia.

The factors contributing to increasing interest in nuclear power have not changed. These include increasing global demand for energy, as well as concerns about climate change, volatile fossil fuel prices and security of energy supply.

The Fukushima Daiichi accident prompted serious soul-searching and a recognition that safety could never be taken for granted anywhere. With that in mind, our Member States agreed the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety last year, which is now being implemented.

Progress has been made in many areas. Possible safety weak points at nuclear power plants have been identified and are being addressed.

For example, one of the key problems at Fukushima Daiichi was the loss of all electrical power as backup generators were disabled by the tsunami. After the accident, securing alternative reliable electricity supply during a prolonged blackout was recognized as an area requiring swift action by plant operators around the world.

We have expanded our programme of IAEA expert peer reviews. These involve assessments of plant safety, regulatory effectiveness or emergency preparedness and response. We have also reviewed IAEA Safety Standards.

I believe the right lessons from the accident are being learned in all countries with nuclear power programmes. Shortcomings are being addressed. As a result, we can make nuclear power safer than before.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the last few years, world leaders have given considerable attention to the threat of nuclear terrorism. They have recognized the Agency's central role as the global platform for strengthening nuclear security.

Our work focuses on helping to minimize the risk of nuclear and other radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists, or of nuclear facilities being subjected to malicious acts. We have unique technical competence in this field.

We help countries to strengthen physical security at nuclear, industrial or medical facilities where sensitive material is stored.

We make it more difficult for criminals and terrorists to traffic nuclear and radioactive material across borders by providing detection equipment at border crossings and training border guards. In the past decade, the IAEA has trained over 12 000 people in more than 120 countries in nuclear security.

We provide assistance at high-profile events such as the UEFA European Football Championships. Our Illicit Trafficking Database keeps track of thefts or other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and other radioactive materials.

We will significantly expand our nuclear security activities in the coming years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the IAEA's core functions is to verify that States are not working to acquire nuclear weapons.

The global standard is that all safeguards agreements between Member States and the Agency should be implemented fully. So should UN Security Council resolutions. That has been my approach since I took up office nearly three years ago.

The two main safeguards issues on our agenda in recent years have been Iran and North Korea. These are very different cases. What they have in common is the fact that both countries have failed to cooperate fully with the IAEA. This makes it very difficult for us to do our job effectively.

Iran gets most of the media attention in Europe and North America. But for the Asia-Pacific region, the nuclear programme of North Korea is just as important.

That programme remains a matter of serious concern. North Korea's statements about uranium enrichment activities and the construction of a light water reactor are deeply troubling.

Since April 2009, the Agency has not been able to implement any safeguards measures in the country. Earlier this year, it briefly appeared that a resumption of some Agency activities in North Korea might be possible. But, in the end, that did not materialize.

I believe the Agency has an essential role to play in verifying North Korea's nuclear programme. I call upon North Korea to fully comply with all of its international obligations and to cooperate fully with the Agency.

In the case of Iran, I reported last November that the Agency had credible information indicating that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. I requested Iran to clarify these issues. We intensified our dialogue with Iran this year, but no concrete results have been achieved.

The present situation is that the Agency can verify that nuclear material declared to us by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement is not being diverted to military purposes.

However, because Iran is not cooperating fully, we are unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities. Therefore, we cannot conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.

We will continue negotiations with Iran on a structured approach to resolving all outstanding issues. I hope we can reach agreement without further delay, to be followed by immediate implementation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you see, the work of the IAEA covers many very different fields. As Director General, I try to pursue the Agency's multiple objectives in a balanced manner. I am guided by our basic mandate, which is to contribute to the welfare and security of the world through peaceful nuclear technology, and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The IAEA is first and foremost a technical organization, although our work can have important political implications. I believe we contribute most effectively to addressing the challenges I have outlined when we approach them from a technical perspective.

I hope I have succeeded in giving you some insight into the fascinating nature of our work.

I will now be happy to take your questions.

Thank you.

Last update: 21 October 2014