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

New York, USA

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

We meet at a time of heightened anxiety and insecurity in the world. The global financial crisis is hitting rich and poor countries alike, but the poorest of the poor - the so-called "bottom billion" - are particularly vulnerable.

Concern about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the possibility of extremist groups getting hold of nuclear or radioactive material has not diminished in the 12 months since I last spoke to the General Assembly.

The work of the IAEA is at the nexus of development and security. In this context, I will give you an update on the work of the Agency in the last year and highlight some of the challenges which need to be addressed.

Technical Cooperation

The Agency´s work in technical cooperation is sometimes seen - wrongly - as an adjunct to our "real" work in nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation. This is unfortunate. Technical cooperation should not be seen as part of a "political balance" between the development and other activities of the Agency. Our role as a development agency is as important as anything else we do. To this end, we have established effective partnerships with agencies such as the WHO and FAO. Thanks to these partnerships, many thousands of people receive radiation therapy for cancer, grow higher-yielding food crops and have access to clean drinking water.

In the past year, the surge in global food prices has pushed millions of people deeper into poverty and hunger. This clearly increases the importance of the work done by the IAEA to boost food supplies and combat pests and animal diseases. In some areas, the IAEA´s role is unique. For example, the best technology to map water resources cannot be deployed without the IAEA because it involves nuclear techniques.

A recent World Bank report showed that some 1.4 billion people in the developing world live on less than $1.25 per day. The number of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa has nearly doubled since 1981 to around 380 million. The international community has a responsibility to ensure that these people and others like them are not cut off from technologies that will accelerate economic development and help to ensure that their basic needs are met.

Nuclear Power

Energy is the engine of development. Nearly every aspect of development requires reliable access to modern energy services. The global energy imbalance remains dramatic. The developed countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), on average, consume electricity at a rate per capita of 8600 kilowatt-hours per year - roughly 170 times more than is consumed in Africa. It is understandable that many developing countries should see nuclear power as a key source of the energy they need to lift their people out of poverty.

Nuclear power is undergoing something of a renaissance. This is a remarkable development. If we look back just 10 years, nuclear power had stopped growing in the developed countries and its future globally looked uncertain as fears about safety were predominant. Now, it is seen as offering part of the solution to surging global demand for energy, uncertainty about energy supply and concern about climate change. In the last two years, some 50 Member States have expressed interest in considering the possible introduction of nuclear power and asked for Agency support. Twelve of these countries are actively preparing to introduce nuclear power. Increased demand for assistance has been particularly strong from developing countries.

There are now 439 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries and the number of new plants under construction stands at 36. The IAEA advises countries considering the introduction of nuclear power, helping them to identify their options and the best energy mix for them. To ensure that newcomers use nuclear energy efficiently, safely, securely and with minimal proliferation risk, we impress upon them the need to plan properly, to build the human resources and infrastructure, to establish independent and effective regulators and to adhere to international safety, security and non-proliferation instruments. We offer advice in drafting national nuclear legislation and we train regulators and operators.

Above all, we stress that the primary responsibility to ensure safety and security lies with the countries concerned. However, we also make the companies - and countries - which supply the equipment and expertise aware of their responsibility. This is because failures of either safety or security can have consequences stretching well beyond national borders, as the Chernobyl accident demonstrated. Both recipients and suppliers of nuclear technology owe a duty of care to the world at large. Overall, safety is much better than it was 10 years ago, but vulnerabilities remain. We can never be complacent about safety. A single nuclear accident anywhere in the world could undermine the future of nuclear energy everywhere. So it is in all our interests to ensure that the highest safety standards are upheld everywhere.

Balancing potential risks

One implication of a nuclear renaissance is the spread of nuclear material to many more countries. This naturally increases the risk that nuclear material could be diverted to make nuclear weapons. It is worth noting that countries that master uranium enrichment and plutonium separation become de facto nuclear weapons capable states. This means they have the ability to develop nuclear weapons in a very short time if they walked out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or managed to do so in a clandestine manner. This is clearly too narrow a margin of security. These countries may genuinely have no intention today of ever making nuclear weapons, but that can change in a short time if their perception of the risks to their national security changes. And security perceptions, as we know, can change very rapidly.

That is why we need to think seriously about some form of multinational control over the fuel cycle. This should provide assurance that every country that wants nuclear energy - and is in compliance with its safeguards obligations - has guaranteed access to a supply of nuclear fuel that will not be interrupted for political reasons. I first made this proposal five years ago. Several ideas have been put forward since then on developing a new, multilateral framework for the nuclear fuel cycle. This could be done in different ways. But I believe any such framework must be global and non-discriminatory.

The ideal scenario, in my opinion, would be to start with a nuclear fuel bank under IAEA auspices. Then we should agree that all new enrichment and reprocessing activities should be placed exclusively under multilateral control. Ultimately, all existing facilities should also be converted from national to multilateral control. This is a bold agenda and it is clearly not going to happen overnight. But bold measures, including controlling the spread of sensitive nuclear technology, are vital if we are ever going to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons and succeed in eliminating them altogether. However, make no mistake - any mechanism that smacks of inequality or dependency will never get off the ground.

Nuclear Security

The possibility of terrorists obtaining nuclear or other radioactive material remains a grave threat. The Agency collects information on incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive material. In the year to 30 June 2008, 243 such incidents were reported to the Agency, 21 of which involved the theft or loss of material which was not subsequently recovered. Sometimes material is found which had not been reported missing.

The Agency helps countries improve their border controls, strengthen physical protection of nuclear material and radioactive sources and enhance nuclear security at major public events, such as the Beijing Olympic Games this summer.

Nuclear Verification

Effective nuclear verification requires four essential elements: adequate legal authority, state-of-the-art technology, timely access to all relevant information, and sufficient human and financial resources. Despite some progress, we still have shortcomings in all four areas. To take legal authority: it is more than ten years since the Model Additional Protocol was approved by the IAEA Board of Governors. Of the 163 States with safeguards agreements, only 88 now have additional protocols in force - not much more than half. It is also disconcerting that 30 States party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have not even brought into force their required comprehensive safeguards agreements with the Agency. As I have said repeatedly, without safeguards agreements, the Agency cannot provide any assurance about a State´s nuclear activities, and without additional protocols, we cannot provide credible assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.

On the technology side, to take just one example, we remain uncomfortably dependent in our verification work on satellite imagery and environmental sampling analysis provided by Member States. We clearly need a minimum independent capability to ensure our credibility.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea

Earlier this month, the authorities of the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (DPRK) briefly withheld access to the Yongbyon nuclear facilities from our inspectors, who had been monitoring and verifying the shutdown of the facilities. Access was subsequently restored following an agreement between the U.S. and the DPRK on a Verification Protocol.

I naturally still hope that conditions can be created for the DPRK to return to the NPT soon and for the resumption by the Agency of comprehensive safeguards.

Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Six years have elapsed since the Agency began working to clarify Iran´s nuclear programme. Substantial progress has been made under a work plan agreed with Iran to clarify outstanding issues, including the nature of Iran´s enrichment activities. The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.

However, I regret that we are still not in a position to achieve full clarity regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. This is because the Agency has not been able to make substantive progress on the so-called alleged studies and associated questions relevant to possible military dimensions to Iran´s nuclear programme.

I reiterate that the Agency does not in any way seek to "pry" into Iran´s conventional or missile-related military activities. Our focus is clearly on nuclear material and activities. I am confident that arrangements can be developed which enable the Agency to clarify the remaining issues while ensuring that Iran´s legitimate right to protect the confidentiality of sensitive information and activities is respected. I therefore urge Iran to implement all the transparency measures required to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme at an early date. This will be good for Iran, good for the Middle East region and good for the world.

Report of Commission of Eminent Persons

I have often expressed concern that the Agency lacks sufficient legal authority and adequate resources to do its job properly. Last year, I appointed an independent Commission of Eminent Persons to examine our work and make recommendations for the future of the Agency up to 2020 and beyond. The Commission, chaired by the former President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, produced its report earlier this year. Its recommendations make compelling reading. I will highlight a few of them.

First, the Commission says the Agency, working with supplier and donor States, should help "newcomer" States to put in place the necessary infrastructure to launch nuclear energy programmes safely, securely and peacefully. The Agency should also give high priority to establishing multilateral fuel cycle arrangements, covering everything from assurance of supply of nuclear fuel to waste disposal.

Second, the Commission says our technical cooperation programme, focusing on using nuclear applications in food and agriculture, human health and natural resources, needs to be expanded significantly. Technical cooperation funds continue to lag well behind the pressing needs of developing countries.

Third, in order to help address the threat of nuclear terrorism, the Commission urges Member States to negotiate binding agreements - not voluntary, as at present - to set effective global nuclear security standards and to give the Agency the resources and authority to help ensure they are implemented.

A fourth key proposal is that the Agency should lead an international effort to establish a global nuclear safety network, also based on binding agreements. Countries should submit to mandatory international nuclear safety peer reviews.

Fifth, the Agency´s safeguards activities should be strengthened. That means better tools, more human and financial resources, as well as more legal authority.

On safeguards, I should note that nuclear disarmament, the core of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has been on the back burner for far too long. As the Commission says, "States must recommit to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons." The Commission notes that the IAEA is not the lead Agency for nuclear disarmament. But it rightly points out that: "Progress towards disarmament, or the lack of it, will deeply affect the success of the IAEA´s non-proliferation mission."

Conclusion

The sums of money proposed by the Commission of Eminent Persons for measures to enhance the Agency´s effectiveness are modest. But this is not just about money. The Agency does not work in a vacuum. Political commitment to the goals of the Agency needs to be renewed at the highest level to encourage the transfer of nuclear technology to the developing world, to enhance safety and security, to strengthen non-proliferation and to accelerate the process of nuclear disarmament.

The problems facing the world in the nuclear arena are plain for all of us to see. The Agency can do much to address them, if given the authority, technology and resources. Much more than the future of the Agency is at stake. We are talking about international development and security, and ultimately about the sort of world we want to leave to our children.

Last update: 24 October 2014