Statement to the Sixty-First Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly

New York, USA

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

In the coming year, the International Atomic Energy Agency will commemorate its 50th anniversary. There is much to be learned by looking back on this half century of Atoms for Peace in its many applications - from the days of the first power reactor operations, safeguards inspections and safety standards, all the way to our programme today.

As we commemorate this anniversary, our goal is to broaden awareness of the scope of the IAEA´s mission and activities - our contributions to development, nuclear safety and security, and nuclear non-proliferation - and to provide forums to review the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Nuclear Power Technology

Growing Expectations for Nuclear Power
For the past five decades, the role of nuclear power has been shaped by many factors such as growing energy needs, economic performance, the availability of other energy sources, the quest for energy independence, environmental factors, nuclear safety and proliferation concerns, and advances in nuclear technology.

In the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, the continued viability of nuclear power was viewed with skepticism for almost two decades. But recently we have seen rising expectations regarding the future role of nuclear power, particularly among many developing countries. The rapid growth in global energy demand is putting a premium on all energy sources. Climate change concerns have highlighted the advantages of nuclear power in terms of its minimal greenhouse gas emissions. And the sustained nuclear safety and productivity record over the past twenty years has made nuclear operating costs relatively low and stable.

There are currently 442 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries, and they supply about 16 per cent of the world´s electricity. To date, the use of nuclear power has been concentrated mostly in industrialized countries. But of the 28 new reactors currently under construction, 16 are in developing countries. And while the highest percentage of existing reactors is in North America and Western Europe, recent expansion has been primarily in Asia and Eastern Europe.

Energy for Development and Global Energy Security
Recently, the IAEA has begun emphasizing the role of "energy for development" - since it is becoming more and more clear that without energy there can be no development, and without development there is misery that can often lead to violence. The energy shortage in developing countries is a staggering impediment to development. To give you some perspective, it is enough to mention that the countries of the OECD, on average, consume electricity at a rate roughly 100 times that of the world´s least developed countries.

The IAEA offers energy assessment services that build a State´s capability for energy analysis and energy planning, taking into account the country´s economic, environmental and social development needs. These services treat all energy supply options equally. They are in increasingly high demand, and we have been expanding our capacity to offer them.

The G8 Summit in St. Petersburg this summer emphasized the importance of "global energy security". During my participation at the expanded summit there, I emphasized that, in my view, global energy security means fulfilling the energy needs of all countries and peoples - including the 1.6 billion people who have no access to electricity, and the 2.4 billion who continue to rely on traditional biomass fuels.

I also emphasized at that meeting that, in my view, the current global organization of energy resource management and distribution is quite fragmented - in terms of both geographical coverage and the types of energy resources managed. Global structures for setting norms, oversight and management exist in most other key areas of human activity - such as trade, civil aviation, labour relations and health. However, no similar structure currently exists for energy.

It is important to note that, as a sophisticated technology, nuclear power requires a correspondingly sophisticated infrastructure. For new countries considering nuclear power, it is essential to ensure that such necessary infrastructure will be available. This infrastructure includes many components - from industrial infrastructure such as manufacturing facilities, to the legal and regulatory framework, to the institutional measures to ensure safety and security, to the necessary human and financial resources. The IAEA recently published guidance on the infrastructure needed for countries to introduce nuclear power, and we are working to define a set of milestones for the development of this infrastructure, to assist us in prioritizing our support for those Member States.

Naturally, nuclear energy might not be the choice of all countries - and some, such as Germany and Sweden, have decided to phase out their nuclear power programmes. Other countries have also adopted a policy against the use of nuclear power. However, for those Member States that choose to use nuclear power as part of their energy mix, there is much the Agency can do to make this option accessible, affordable, safe and secure.

Technical Cooperation Programme

For fifty years, technical cooperation (TC) has been a principal mechanism for implementing the IAEA´s basic mission of Atoms for Peace. But fifty years ago, many of the Member States that participated in the Technical "Assistance" Programme lacked all but the most rudimentary capabilities for applying nuclear science and technology. The IAEA role involved a one-way transfer of technology to developing Member States to help them establish basic scientific and technical capabilities.

Today, our technical cooperation programme has evolved to a partnership that hinges on cooperation - the sharing of knowledge and expertise to promote sustainable growth and human security, in ways that contribute to many of the Millennium Development Goals. Many Member State institutions now have capabilities equal to or exceeding those of the Agency. As a result, experience gained in one Member State is often shared with other Member States through a variety of mechanisms. In Asia, Latin America and Africa, countries that were once heavily dependent on the Agency for advanced scientific expertise are now regional leaders in helping other countries in their regions to make use of the varied peaceful nuclear applications.

Nuclear Applications

Much of the IAEA´s scientific work is focused on the transfer of peaceful nuclear technology in the fields of health, agriculture, industry, water management and preservation of the environment. The Agency works to build up Member State scientific and technical capacities in a manner that supports their national development priorities. The IAEA also has projects that are designed to support regional priorities, such as the New Partnership for Africa´s Development (NEPAD).

These efforts are making a difference. Let me offer two brief examples.

Combating Cancer: An Integrated Approach
For many years, IAEA assistance in the field of radiotherapy has been used to cure or mitigate the effects of cancer. Recently, however, the Agency began working on an ambitious scale, through its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), to integrate radiotherapy into a broader "cancer control" framework encompassing cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Over the past year, relationships have been built with the leading organizations in the field of cancer control and research - including the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research in Cancer, the International Union Against Cancer, and other national and international bodies and professional societies - in order to assist Member States with comprehensive cancer control programmes. Collaborative efforts are now underway to create model demonstration sites for cancer control in five countries. These sites will be used to attract additional donors, by raising the profile of cancer as a global health concern.

Water Resources Management
With Agency assistance, Member States are using isotope hydrology to address problems of water shortages and the depletion of groundwater resources through overuse. An excellent example is the active participation of Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay last year in a regional TC project for managing groundwater resources in Latin America. As a result of this project, hydro-geological maps were developed, conceptual models were validated, and associated databases were made available and are now in use in participating institutions.

Nuclear Safety and Security

The safety and security of nuclear activities around the globe remain key elements of the IAEA´s mandate. It is clear that the sustained effort to build a global nuclear safety regime is paying off. Operational safety performance at nuclear power plants remains strong. Occupational radiation protection indicators once again showed improvement over the past year. And we are continuing to make strides in strengthening physical protection at nuclear facilities and enhancing the security of nuclear material and radioactive sources worldwide.

But nuclear safety is not an issue that can ever be regarded as "fixed". The strong, steady safety performance of recent years is reassuring. But the sporadic recurrence of events of concern make clear that the promotion of a strong safety culture - for both operators and regulators - should always be viewed as a "work in progress".

Radiological Protection of Patients
The IAEA has for some time been emphasizing the need to better protect medical patients from inadvertently receiving excessive radiological doses. In the past three years, the number of Member States participating in projects in this area has increased more than threefold, from 21 to a current total of 78 States. The Agency is continuing its efforts to promote better safety performance in this area, including through improving access to related training.

Nuclear Security and Protection Against Nuclear Terrorism
The IAEA´s nuclear security programme continues to progress at a rapid pace. The Agency is helping Member States to implement the new strengthened regime of nuclear security. Capacity building activities in the past year have included: nuclear security training courses, with participation from 88 States; the supply of detection and monitoring equipment; the procurement of physical protection equipment to improve the security of nuclear power plants and other installations; and assistance in protecting locations containing highly radioactive sources.

The Agency´s Illicit Trafficking Database now has 93 States participating. Analysis of this database is providing insight into trends, risks, and trafficking methods and routes. The number of incidents - more than 100 per year for the past three years - demonstrates a persistent problem with trafficking, thefts, losses and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear or radioactive material. The number of incidents involving detection of materials at borders has increased substantially in recent years. This is clearly due, in part, to the increased deployment by States of detection and monitoring equipment.

Nuclear Verification

The nuclear non-proliferation and arms control regime continues to face a broad set of challenges.

The number of States with safeguards agreements and additional protocols under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has steadily increased. We now have a total of 78 States with additional protocols in force. However, over 100 States - including 25 with significant nuclear activities - have yet to bring additional protocols into force. And 36 non-nuclear-weapon States party to the NPT have not yet fulfilled their obligation to bring into force safeguards agreements with the Agency. For the nuclear verification regime to be effective and credible, we must have the necessary authority. I would urge all States to bring these instruments into force.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea
Since the end of December 2002, when IAEA verification activities were terminated at the request of the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Agency has been unable to draw any conclusions regarding the DPRK’s nuclear activities.

The reported nuclear test carried out earlier this month by the DPRK is a matter of deep and serious concern. The breaking of a de-facto global moratorium on nuclear explosive testing that has been in place for nearly a decade and the addition of a new State with nuclear weapon capacity is a clear setback to international commitments to move towards nuclear disarmament. The Security Council has made it clear that the DPRK should abandon its nuclear weapons programme in a verifiable manner. This event also reemphasizes the urgent need to establish a legally binding universal ban on nuclear testing through the early entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty. It also underscores the importance of finding a negotiated solution to the current situation. The resumption of dialogue between all concerned parties is indispensable and urgent.

The IAEA stands ready to work with the DPRK - and with all others - towards a solution that addresses the needs of the international community to ensure that all nuclear activities in the DPRK are exclusively for peaceful purposes, while addressing the security and other concerns of the DPRK.

Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran
The implementation of the NPT safeguards agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been on the agenda of the IAEA Board of Governors for more than three years, and lately also on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. On 31 July 2006, the Security Council adopted resolution 1696, in which it called upon Iran to take the steps required by the Board in its resolution of 4 February 2006. These steps included the necessity of the IAEA continuing its work to clarify all outstanding issues relating to Iran’s nuclear programme, and the re-establishment by Iran of full and sustained suspension of all its enrichment related and reprocessing activities. In my report of 31 August to the Board and to the Security Council, regarding Iran´s fulfillment of the requirements of that resolution, I stated that Iran had not suspended its enrichment related activities, nor was the IAEA able to make progress on resolving the outstanding issues, issues that require certain transparency measures on the part of Iran. The IAEA continues therefore to be unable to confirm the peaceful nature of Iran´s nuclear programme, which is a matter of serious concern.

In this context, I still hope that, ultimately, through dialogue between Iran and its European and other partners, conditions will be created to engage in a long overdue negotiation to achieve a comprehensive settlement that would, on the one hand, supplement IAEA verification efforts in addressing international concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran´s nuclear programme, while on the other hand addressing Iran´s security and other concerns.

New Framework for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

The increase in global energy demand is driving a potential expansion in the use of nuclear energy. And concern is mounting regarding the proliferation risks created by the further spread of sensitive nuclear technology, such as uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

The convergence of these realities points to the need for the development of a new framework for the nuclear fuel cycle.

For the last two years, I have been calling for the development of a new, multilateral approach to the nuclear fuel cycle, as a key measure to strengthen non-proliferation and cope with the expected expansion of nuclear power use. The establishment of a framework that is equitable and accessible to all users of nuclear energy acting in accordance with agreed nuclear non-proliferation norms will be a complex endeavour that needs to be addressed through progressive steps.

The first step would be to establish mechanisms for assurances of supply of fuel for nuclear power reactors - and, as needed, assurance of supply for the acquisition of such reactors. The second step would be to limit future enrichment and reprocessing to multilateral operations, and to convert existing enrichment and reprocessing facilities from national to multilateral operations.

A broad range of ideas, studies and proposals have been put forward on this topic. At the IAEA General Conference last month we organized a special event, in which experts from all relevant fields discussed ways and means to move forward. A report on this special event was submitted to the General Conference, and the IAEA Secretariat, in consultation with Member States, will continue to work on identifying options and alternatives to move this concept forward.

Fifty years after the Atoms for Peace initiative, the time has come to think of a new framework for the use of nuclear energy - a framework that accounts for both the lessons we have learned and the current reality. This new framework should in my view include:

  1. innovative nuclear technology that is inherently safe, proliferation resistant and more economical;
  2. universal application of comprehensive safeguards and the additional protocol;
  3. concrete and rapid progress towards nuclear disarmament;
  4. a robust international security regime; and
  5. an effective and universal nuclear safety regime.

Conclusion

Wherever we turn in today´s world, it is evident that the intertwined issues of security and development continue to be the most daunting challenges facing humanity. And it is becoming more evident that the International Atomic Energy Agency has an important role to play in both fields.

The staff and management of the IAEA continue to do their utmost to make the Agency effective and efficient in carrying out its mission. But in all its areas of activity, the IAEA also remains dependent on your shared commitment and partnership. I look forward to continuing that partnership in the years to come.

I would like, in closing, to express my appreciation to the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, for the vision and leadership he brought to the United Nations and its organizations over the past ten years. His support for the IAEA and its mission has been greatly appreciated, and I wish him well for the future.

Let me conclude by expressing my sincere appreciation to the Government of Austria, which continues to be a welcoming and gracious host to the IAEA.

Last update: 24 October 2014