DP Interview 250610
Die Presse Interview with Yukiya Amano with Wolfgang Greber
25 June 2010
(See Die Presse, in German).
(Translated from German)
Yukiya Amano, the new Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, on the old favourite, Iran, and why nuclear power is nevertheless a good thing.
PRESSE: Have the UN´s new Iran sanctions already affected cooperation between the IAEA and Tehran?
YUKIYA AMANO, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: Let me say right off that Security Council resolutions have nothing to do with my mandate; after all, I am not on the Security Council. My task with respect to Iran is to implement its Safeguards Agreement (monitoring of nuclear facilities - ed.) and some of its other obligations. To date at least, I am not aware of any official position Iran may have taken regarding us. I only pick up now and again from the media that Iran is threatening to reduce cooperation with us in the event of sanctions. In any case, the monitoring of Iran´s nuclear facilities continues.
PRESSE: You may not have heard anything official, but have you not perhaps received signals that it might reduce its contacts?
AMANO: I have only seen that in the news, nowhere else.
PRESSE: But Tehran has just denied entry to two of your inspectors. Do you not see a connection with the sanctions?
AMANO: I do not know; Iran has not indicated as much. We published two reports in the spring, parts of which Iran maintains are inaccurate. (This related, among other things, to equipment for the production of metallic uranium which was alleged to have disappeared from a Tehran laboratory. - ed.) I trust our inspectors´ reports, but as a result Iran is now rejecting those same inspectors; the Iranians made no reference to the UN sanctions - that connection is purely speculative.
PRESSE: The IAEA has not yet taken a position on the recently concluded Turkish/Brazilian/Iranian nuclear agreement...
AMANO: At present I am still waiting for another response from Iran which, I hope, will come soon and be a good opportunity for dialogue. The whole issue has a long history, of course. Iran asked us in June 2009 for assistance in obtaining more highly enriched fuel for a research reactor; they wanted to buy it on the open market. (The reactor in Tehran uses it to produce isotopes used in medicine among other things, e.g. cancer therapy - ed.)
However, my predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei, thought that that would not work and last October made his well known proposal: 1 200 kilos of low enriched uranium from Iran was to be enriched to roughly 20% (proportion of 235U - ed.) in Russia, then made into fuel elements in France, and then brought back to Iran. The deal looked like it would work, but it failed owing to lack of trust: the Iranians were simply afraid that their low enriched uranium would never come back.
Then, however, in May Brazil, Turkey and Iran issued a declaration which was similar in content, but in this case the uranium would go to Turkey. I passed Iran´s letter on this matter on to the USA, Russia and France; they sent us letters on 9 June with questions for Iran, which we passed on to Tehran, and there has been no answer as yet.
The full extent of my role in this matter is just to help Iran get nuclear fuel. In doing this I remain non-partisan and proffer my good offices.
PRESSE: Will Iranian patients now have to wait until all this letter-writing is over before there is again nuclear material for their treatment?
AMANO: Well, first of all, the Iranians have some stocks. Secondly, they can produce it themselves from their own uranium. Thirdly, they could import the radioisotopes.
PRESSE: Under what circumstances could there still be a deal on this?
AMANO: We must wait for Iran´s response to the objections and positions of all the other parties. A deal is possible, but probably no longer along the lines of the model of last October.
PRESSE: Your predecessor, ElBaradei, said in an interview that he saw no direct nuclear threat from Iran, but you recently spoke of a "military dimension" to Iran´s nuclear programme. How do we reconcile that? Also, when you took office as Head of the IAEA in December, you claimed to have seen "no evidence" of a military nuclear programme, but now you speak of "possible current military activities". Why this change of opinion?
AMANO: I find the whole thing somewhat unfortunate. I cannot remember ElBaradei ever saying that Iran had a nuclear weapons programme, nor have I ever seen any such thing in an official IAEA document. My view on this has also not changed; I have never said that Iran is a threat or has such a programme. What I wrote in the reports is that Iran is not complying fully with its Safeguards Agreement and other obligations, and that there are some activities which could have military aspects, which we would like to clarify. So there are concerns, but no clear knowledge.
PRESSE: So you are still casting around in the realm of possibilities, but that seems to be enough for you to call Iran a "special case"...
AMANO: "Special case" does not mean that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme. There are various reasons why Iran is "special". For instance, because there is a Safeguards Agreement with Iran but no Additional Protocol (it facilitates inspections of nuclear facilities - ed.). Then, the country is under UN sanctions. It is not fulfilling certain other obligations. Then there is the suspicion of military ramifications. All this makes Iran different from Japan, Brazil or Austria - hence the "special case". By the way, the circumstances giving rise to suspicion already figured in previous IAEA reports.
PRESSE: There are rumours that Myanmar also has a nuclear weapons programme. What do you know about that?
AMANO: We are still analysing the reports but have no conclusions as yet. We need more time. In the case of Iran it also took us years. We may send someone there.
PRESSE: The IAEA General Conference last autumn called on Israel to accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and instructed you to work towards achieving that and to report by September on the issue of Israel and its nuclear programme. What is the current status of that?
AMANO: We are currently eliciting opinions from governments interested in the issue; there have already been well over 20 responses.
PRESSE: Will Israel become another "special case" like Iran as a result of this report?
AMANO: That is something entirely different. Israel is not even a party to the NPT, like India and Pakistan. In the past, there were dozens of countries outside the NPT, including the nuclear powers France and China. There were special cases in the past, just as there are today.
PRESSE: In recent years, the IAEA has had more public visibility than ever before. What sort of effect has this had on its work? Some people say the IAEA should do its work quietly and out of the limelight, of politics especially...
AMANO: The IAEA has many aims: preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, promoting the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes - and I would like to emphasize the latter, since the IAEA is usually portrayed only as a "nuclear watchdog", which is not the whole story. We help cancer patients all around the world, for instance, and right now we are also helping out at the World Cup in South Africa, where we are ensuring nuclear security (by monitoring for radioactive substances - ed.).
PRESSE: You and the IAEA are promoting the construction of nuclear power plants, for instance in Egypt at present. What is it like being Head of the IAEA and living in Austria where nuclear power and nuclear technology - "the atom" - is practically seen as the Devil´s work? In Austria you must almost be seen as some kind of Satan, must you not?
AMANO: [laughing]. I do not know whether people here look on nuclear power as the Devil, but the decision for or against nuclear power plants is the sovereign right of each nation. Currently there are about 60 countries which, for good reasons, are very interested in building new nuclear power plants, to meet their energy needs or help combat climate change; and so it is our task to help them, to ensure that the atom is used in a professional, safe and effective manner.
PRESSE: Is technology nowadays safe enough that one can have confidence in nuclear power plants even in countries like Egypt or Vietnam?
AMANO: Technology and safety have made enormous strides since Chernobyl in 1986. The safety record since then has been clean. Of course, nothing is perfect. And certainly there is still the problem of waste, but every technology has its risks. You can see that clearly right now in the Gulf of Mexico.