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IAEA Director General's Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors

Vienna, Austria

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi delivering his opening statement to the IAEA Board of Governors. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Thank you, Madam Chairperson

It is with a sense of purpose and renewed energy that we have started 2021. Not only is the distribution of vaccines offering everyone hope of exiting today’s pandemic, but we now know just how significant our response to that pandemic has been.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The data and analysis of the biggest emergency operation in the IAEA’s history are in. I am proud to say they shine a brilliant light on the impact of our work to save lives and livelihoods through the distribution of RT-PCR equipment and expertise to 128 countries and territories. 

According to a just-completed survey, we can confidently say the IAEA provided testing services that have helped more than 28 million people so far. But we must remain vigilant, responsible and responsive.

The survey exposes countries’ stark capability gaps in responding to disease outbreaks that now afflict the world on an increasingly regular basis. We must address this inequity, not only to help those Member States in need, but also to protect the wider international community. As we have witnessed in the past 14 months, a virus does not respect borders. ZODIAC will be your contribution to reducing the chance that the next outbreak wreaks the deadly destruction we are suffering today.

Highlighting the urgency with which the international community engages with ZODIAC, the FAO and IAEA have just signed revised arrangements between the two Organizations to strengthen our work through the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. We will help Member States respond to emerging challenges from climate change to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. Meanwhile, the first meeting of ZODIAC’s National Coordinators for the African region was held last week, with other regions to follow. ZODIAC is on the march and assistance will come through soon.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Nuclear Safety Review 2021 provides an overview of Agency activities and global trends in nuclear, radiation, transport and waste safety, as well as in emergency preparedness and response. This year it identifies and highlights a group of top priorities. I am also pleased to provide an update on the Agency’s support to Member States for the operation, safety and security of nuclear and radiation facilities and activities during this challenging time.

In this area, we continue to prepare for several important events. In line with Article 16 of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) as amended, the Secretariat is preparing for the Conference of the Parties to the Amendment to the CPPNM. Meetings of the Preparatory Committee took place virtually during the week of 7-11 December 2020 and on 1 February 2021. During the PrepCom, the Parties agreed to convene the Conference at the end of March 2022.

Meanwhile, the International Conference on a Decade of Progress after Fukushima-Daiichi: Building on the Lessons Learned to Further Strengthen Nuclear Safety, which was scheduled for February, is now planned to take place in November here at our headquarters.

Madam Chairperson,

My report on Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 covers our activities in the last few months in verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Since my previous quarterly report, I have issued 11 reports containing updates on those activities. These reflect a number of notable developments related to Iran’s program over the past few months.

On 15 February 2021, Iran informed the Agency that Iran would “stop the implementation of voluntary transparency measures as envisaged in the JCPOA, as of February 23, 2021”, including the provisions of the Additional Protocol and Modified code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangements to Iran’s Safeguards Agreement.

I had already informed that stopping or limiting the Agency's verification and monitoring activities at this stage would have a serious impact on the Agency's ability to report on the implementation of Iran's commitments.

On 21 February 2021, I had discussions in Tehran with Vice-President Salehi and Foreign Minister Zarif to find a mutually agreeable solution for the Agency to continue essential verification activities. As it has been announced, we were able to reach a temporary bilateral technical understanding. You will find the terms of this understanding attached as an Annex to my report. I want to emphasize that it is a temporary technical understanding and that it is compatible with Iranian law. It is to enable the Agency to resume its full verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA if and when Iran resumes its implementation of those commitments.

Madam Chairperson,

I have also issued a report on the NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  

In this report I recall that, in accordance with Article 39 of its Safeguards Agreement, agreed Subsidiary Arrangements cannot be modified unilaterally. Iran is therefore required to continue the implementation of the modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements to that Agreement. Not doing so, would be inconsistent with Iran’s obligations under the Subsidiary Arrangements to its Safeguards Agreement.

Madam Chairperson,

The presence of multiple uranium particles of anthropogenic origin, including isotopically altered particles, at a location which was not declared by Iran, is a clear indication that nuclear material and/or equipment contaminated by nuclear material has been present at this location. After 18 months, Iran has not provided the necessary, full and technically credible explanation for the presence of these particles. In the absence of a technically credible explanation from Iran, the Agency is deeply concerned that undeclared nuclear material may have been present at this undeclared location and that such nuclear material remains unreported by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement.

With regard to three other locations, none of which was declared to the Agency, Iran has not answered any of the Agency’s questions relating to the possible presence at these locations of nuclear material.

Results of environmental samples taken in 2020 at two of these locations found particles of anthropogenic uranium. Last month, we conveyed our results and related questions to Iran.

During my trip to Tehran on 20-21 February 2021, I stressed to the Government of Iran my concern at the lack of progress in clarifying the safeguards issues relating to the four locations mentioned. I expressed my readiness to engage Iran in a proactive and focussed effort to break the impasse, and to clarify and resolve these issues without further delay.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since the last Board, a new Voluntary Offer Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol between the United Kingdom and the Agency entered into force on 31 December 2020 at 23:00 GMT. At that moment in time the Voluntary Offer Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol between the United Kingdom, Euratom and the Agency terminated. Upon the entry into force of the new agreement, the Agency has continued to apply safeguards on nuclear material in the same facilities in the United Kingdom selected for the application of Agency safeguards under the previous agreement.

The number of States with Safeguards Agreements in force has not changed since the most recent Board meeting. It stands at 184, while 136 of these States have brought additional protocols into force. I call upon those States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) without comprehensive safeguards agreements to bring such agreements into force without delay. We will continue with outreach activities including sending letters from me recalling these obligations under the NPT.

I also call on States that have not yet concluded Additional Protocols to do so as soon as possible.

You will recall from my statement to the most recent Board meeting that I reported having written to States with small quantities protocols based on the old standard text and called on them to amend or rescind them. I reiterate that call. This is essential to addressing a weakness in the IAEA safeguards system recognised by the Board more than 15 years ago. The old standard Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) is simply not adequate for our current safeguards system. I am pleased to report that Sudan has amended its SQP. I applaud Sudan and I look forward to other States taking this important step.

The Agency continues to monitor the nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Since my report to the Board of 3rd of September 2020, some nuclear facilities in the DPRK continued to operate while others remained shut down. There are indications consistent with internal construction activities at the experimental light water reactor (LWR), including testing of the infrastructure for cooling water in late 2020.  At present there are no indications of the production of enriched uranium at the reported centrifuge enrichment facility at Yongbyon; there are ongoing indications of activity at the Kangson location. There are no indications of operation at the 5MW(e) nuclear reactor. In addition, there are recent indications of operation of the steam plant that serves the radiochemical laboratory.

The DPRK’s nuclear activities remain a cause for serious concern. The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.

I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the Agency in the full and effective implementation of its NPT Safeguards Agreement and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country.

The Agency is intensifying its readiness to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme.

As far as implementation of safeguards in the Syrian Arab Republic is concerned, no new information has come to the knowledge of the Agency that would affect our assessment that it was very likely that the building destroyed at Dair Alzour was a nuclear reactor that should have been declared by Syria. This was almost ten years ago.

I urge Syria to cooperate fully with the Agency in connection with all unresolved issues.

As I said in November, I am ready to talk to Syria constructively and cooperatively. Let us engage to take concrete steps towards a mutually acceptable solution to this matter that has been on the Board’s agenda for a very long time.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have also provided an update on the implementation of safeguards during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the outset, I said that, despite the difficult situation, the Agency would not interrupt its verification activities. And we have not. The Agency will be able to draw soundly based safeguards conclusions for all States for 2020.

I thank those States that have supported our work by giving inspectors speedy access to sites even while considering everyone’s safety with regards to the COVID-19 virus. I would like to remind Member States that all States have a responsibility to ensure the IAEA’s safeguards work can be done expediently. This is not incompatible with health and safety precautions set because of COVID-19. We ask all to help our inspectors do their essential job.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The ReNuAL project, which has delivered all three new facilities launched to date under the Nuclear Applications laboratory renovation initiative.  As a result, 5 of the 8 laboratories at Seibersdorf are now operating from modern new facilities.  These new facilities have greatly strengthened the Agency’s capacities to support Member States in reaching their Sustainable Development Goals. I thank Germany and South Africa as the co-chairs of the group of friends of ReNuAL.

The laboratories whose facilities are still in need of modernization are especially important to addressing growing environmental and climate challenges. An additional €11.8M in extrabudgetary contributions is urgently needed by the time of the General Conference to stay on track toward timely implementation of the final renovation phase. I would be grateful if those Member States in a position to do so would consider an early contribution towards this goal. 

This week, I will host a virtual side event, during which we will acknowledge the ReNuAL project’s contributors and highlight its successes. I hope you can join me for this event.

Meanwhile, in close consultation with Member States, the delivery of regular technical cooperation activities has continued, albeit in extraordinary circumstances and during a period of unforeseeable challenges and travel restrictions. The programme reached an implementation rate of 80.4% at the end of 2020. In 2020, the Rate of Attainment for TCF contributions was just over 91%. I remind Member States to contribute on time and in full to the TC Fund.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year’s Nuclear Technology Review highlights key global developments related to nuclear power and a broad range of nuclear applications. Nuclear power supplied an estimated 2600 terawatt-hours of greenhouse gas emission-free electricity in 2020, accounting for about 10% of total global electricity generation and nearly a third of the world’s low carbon electricity production. Some 5.5 GW(e) of new nuclear capacity was connected to the grid. As of today, there are 443 operational nuclear power reactors in 32 countries, providing about 393 gigawatts of installed capacity. Another 50 reactors are under construction.

Meanwhile, the Agency is preparing to make its presence felt at COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties, scheduled for November in Glasgow. I have initiated an Agency-wide effort to bring together expertise from across our Departments to support the message that I will personally deliver at COP26: that nuclear energy has a seat at the table when the world’s future energy and climate policies are being discussed.

My proposal for the Programme & Budget for the 2022-2023 biennium is before you. It is a realistic proposal, prepared under a challenging global economic environment, with the backdrop of a pandemic. It gives full consideration to your concerns and views. With concerted effort, we have identified efficiencies that allow us to present a zero real growth budget for both the years and still respond to the increasing demands placed on us. I trust the ensuing consultations will allow the Agency to have a robust programmatic and financial framework to continue delivering services that meet your expectations.

As mentioned during the past September Board Meeting, I understand that the Board will be ready to make future OIOS annual reports on internal auditing publicly available. Further to my consultations, I have therefore decided to recommend that the Director of OIOS request the Board make public the annual report on Internal Audit, Management Services and Investigations, after its consideration, starting with the forthcoming report for 2020. This practice will help to consolidate the transparency of the work of the Agency, in line with the practice of the UN system organizations.

Meanwhile, the Secretariat continues to support preparations for the 10th review conference of the NPT. Together with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), we are preparing another webinar on peaceful uses of nuclear technologies to be held on 30 April 2021.

The Secretariat is continuing its work on advancing gender equality. We invite you to join us for a panel discussion with some of the early women pioneers of the Agency. This will be held on International Women’s Day, which is on March 8.  

Ladies and gentlemen, in closing I would like to thank a respected and valued colleague who will be leaving us.

Juan Carlos Lentijo joined the Agency in 2012 and three years later was appointed Deputy Director General and head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. His team, the Agency and I have benefited from his considered and cooperative leadership approach. I would like to thank him for this and his tireless service in the pursuit of nuclear safety and security.

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