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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)

Thank you, Madam Chairperson,

This time last year my opening words to you were that the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic had prompted us to go into virtual lockdown, sending almost all of our staff, consultants and contractors home.  For about a year, the Agency has operated with a judicious mix of virtual and physical presence. Today I am pleased to be able to tell you that work-life is beginning to return to normal.

On May 19, the Austrian Government loosened lockdown restrictions and we began gradually to welcome the regular return of the Agency’s staff to the VIC and to the Seibersdorf Laboratories. This process, which takes into consideration the recommendations of VIC medical services, will continue through 30 June.

This time last year vaccines were a distant hope. Today, all IAEA personnel are able to access the vaccination programme for the international community organized by the City of Vienna on behalf of the federal authorities. We are grateful to our Austrian hosts for their cooperation throughout this process.

I would like to use this occasion to welcome Samoa as a new Member State of the Agency. This brings our membership to 173 States.

Madam Chairperson,

You have before you the Programme and Budget for the coming biennium. It was a matter of great satisfaction that the Programme and Budget Committee recommended its approval without change. I congratulate the Ambassadors of New Zealand and Pakistan for their outstanding leadership in coordinating the negotiation. The early endorsement of the Programme and Budget represents a strong vote of confidence in the work of the Agency.

The IAEA Annual Report for 2020 is before the Board. It is the Board’s report to the General Conference, summarising the Agency’s work to promote peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology, enhance nuclear safety and security, and implement safeguards. We have continued our efforts to make the document more readable, accessible and visually appealing, and to showcase the impact of the Agency’s work.

Madam Chairperson, 

In 2020 we launched a historic response to COVID-19. By the end of that year, 285 national laboratories in 127 countries and territories had received our support, and 1950 purchase orders for RT-PCR equipment and kits had been delivered. Other Agency assistance for COVID-19 was provided through webinars, while guidance and standard operating procedures were widely made available for the users. Member States provided generous extrabudgetary assistance to the value of €26.3 million.

As of June 2, 128 countries have received IAEA shipments and 274 RT-PCR units have reached the countries of their destination. This effort, as the pandemic itself, has not finished. Countries still need help urgently. The Agency continues its assistance and I invite donors to lend their generous hand to us.

The latest Technical Cooperation Report is before you. In 2020 the Agency supported 146 countries and territories through the Technical Cooperation programme, of which 35 were least developed countries. Total TC resources for 2020 were €128.6 million, including contributions to the TCF and extrabudgetary funding.

Human capacity building is a core part of the TC programme, essential for expanding the contribution of nuclear science and technology to development. In 2020, the pandemic restrictions on travel prompted us judiciously to deliver training events and expert support online, where appropriate because of the situation at the time. As a result, we were able to support 527 fellowships and scientific visits, and more than 1,200 expert and lecturer assignments using both in person and virtual formats. In the case of PACT, we applied a hybrid modality that incorporated online meetings, recorded videos and virtual walk-throughs of facilities. This enabled the continuation of imPACT Review Missions. In 2020, the Central African Republic, Mali and Senegal received these hybrid Reviews.

In 2020, the Agency’s human health projects benefitted many people around the world. For example, Montenegro installed its first CT system for children and Kenya strengthened its national capacity in cancer detection, diagnosis and management.

In the area of food and agriculture, the IAEA helped Laos boost its rice production by more than a third through best practices in soil, nutrients and water management and in Malaysia food authenticity capacity has been established, with a focus on honey testing. Under a regional project in Africa, drip irrigation technologies contributed to an increase of 60 per cent in crop yields for farmers in a camp for displaced people, providing food and a source of income for thousands of people.

Beyond our response to COVID-19 last year, the IAEA offered emergency assistance in several instances around the world, including to Lebanon following the catastrophic explosion at the Port of Beirut.

I hope these examples help serve as reminders of how important it is that Member States make their TCF and NPC payments on time and in full.

Madam Chairperson,

In April, the Agency provided technical support to St. Vincent and the Grenadines following the La Soufrière volcano eruption, addressing the nation’s most urgent concerns related to water supply. We are also responding to its request to replace a major piece of medical equipment that was affected by the volcano eruption.

The ReNuAL2 project has gratefully received €8.1 million in funding from Member States. We are, however, still €8.9 million short of the target we need to reach by the fourth quarter of the year so that we stay on track for the timely completion of the final renovation phase in the most cost-effective manner. I strongly encourage Member States in a position to do so, to consider an early contribution towards our common goal.

I hope you will join our virtual ReNuAL2 side event today at 12:30, in which we will recognize the five Member States that have generously contributed to date for this phase of the laboratory modernization.

I am pleased to report that ZODIAC, the Agency’s integrated response to zoonotic diseases, is progressing at pace. As of today, 139 Member States on all continents have nominated a National Coordinator. We have held high-level scientific meetings with leading animal and human health experts to determine the scope and strategy of coordinated research projects under the ZODIAC initiative. We are in the process of assessing the needs and the requirements of the ZODIAC national laboratories in about 100 countries and will soon begin implementation at country level. The Secretariat is planning a technical briefing for the Member States on the progress of the ZODIAC project before the next meeting of the Board of Governors.

The role of nuclear science in addressing Zoonotic diseases outbreaks will be discussed at this year’s Scientific Forum during the General Conference.  

Plastic pollution poses an increasing global challenge, both on land and in bodies of water. NUclear TEChnology for Controlling Plastic Pollution (NUTEC Plastics) builds on the Agency’s work helping its Member States deal with plastic pollution. Its aim is to assist them in integrating nuclear techniques in their efforts to address this challenge.

Nuclear technology has potential to contribute, particularly by using radiation technology to improve current recycling processes, and by using isotopic tracing techniques to monitor plastics in marine environments.

Last month I chaired a NUTEC Plastics roundtable for the Asia and the Pacific region, organized in collaboration with UNEP, ESCAP and ASEAN. We will host similar roundtables for other regions over the coming months.

Madam Chairperson,

My report on Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 covers relevant activities of the Agency in the past few months.

Up to 23 February 2021 the Agency verified and monitored the implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. However, since 23 February, as my report makes clear, the Agency’s verification and monitoring activities have been affected as a result of Iran’s decision to stop the implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, including the Additional Protocol. Last month, Vice-President Salehi and I reached an agreement that up to 24 June 2021 the Agency would be able to recover and re-establish the necessary continuity of knowledge. I will continue to report as appropriate.  

You have also received my report entitled NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which describes the Agency’s efforts to clarify questions relating to the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations under its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol. My report addresses the Agency’s findings in relation to four undeclared locations in Iran and Iran’s responses to the Agency’s requests for clarification. Since my last report, Iran has provided no new information in relation to one location; has not answered any of the Agency’s questions nor provided any information in relations to two other locations; and provided a written statement on a fourth location without any substantiating documentation. The presence of multiple uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at three locations in Iran not declared to the Agency, as well as the presence of isotopically altered particles at one of these locations, is a clear indication that nuclear material and/or equipment contaminated by nuclear material has been present at these locations.

After many months, Iran has not provided the necessary explanation for the presence of the nuclear material particles at any of the three locations where the Agency has conducted complementary accesses. In the absence of such an explanation from Iran, I am deeply concerned that nuclear material has been present at the three undeclared locations in Iran and that the current locations of this nuclear material are not known by the Agency. Nor has Iran answered the questions with regard to the other undeclared location, or clarified the current location of natural uranium in the form of a metal disc.

I am concerned that the technical discussions between the Agency and Iran have not yielded the expected results and of the consequent lack of progress in clarifying these safeguards issues. I reiterate the requirement for Iran to clarify and resolve these issues without further delay by providing information, documentation and answers to the Agency’s questions. The lack of progress in clarifying the Agency’s questions concerning the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations seriously affects the ability of the Agency to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.

You have before you for approval draft Additional Protocols for Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.

Since the March Board, a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, a Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) and an Additional Protocol have entered into force for Eritrea. Currently, the number of States with Safeguards Agreements in force stands at 185, with 137 of these States having 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 (CSA) in force to bring such agreements into force without delay. I also call on States that have not yet concluded Additional Protocols to do so as soon as possible.

I am pleased to report that Maldives has amended the Small Quantities Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. I congratulate Maldives and call on all remaining States with SQPs based on the old standard text to amend or rescind them.

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 have continued to operate while others have remained shut down. There are indications consistent with internal construction activities at the experimental light water reactor (LWR). There are no indications of operation at the 5MW(e) nuclear reactor or of the production of enriched uranium at the reported centrifuge enrichment facility at Yongbyon. There are ongoing indications of activity at the Kangson location.

The steam plant that serves the Radiochemical Laboratory has continued to operate since my last Statement to the Board in March. The duration of this operation is consistent with the time required for a reprocessing campaign at the Radiochemical Laboratory. It is not, however, possible to confirm that reprocessing is taking place.

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 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 March, 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.

In the Safeguards Implementation Report for 2020 I highlight that, despite COVID-19, the Agency performed all its most time-critical in-field verification work. The number of in-field verification activities conducted by the Agency in 2020 was comparable to previous years. This ensured that the Secretariat could continue to draw safeguards conclusions for all States. I must note, however, that our inspectors continue encounter difficulties and restrictions in some countries due to current COVID-19 regulations. Let me remind all that inspections cannot be stopped and that public health measures are not incompatible with this indispensable activity. The integrity of the safeguards process is paramount, and in this context, let me state that efforts continue in order that the Agency be able, once again, to draw the broader conclusion for Ukraine. I want to make clear this issue arises from current circumstances preventing the Agency from verifying certain nuclear material and the Agency has no proliferation concerns.

Madam Chairperson,

Another important issue I would like to highlight pertains to the revision of the Formalized Process as to States’ Implementation of the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources. I am pleased to report the latest revision of the formalized process is now with you for comments, if any, with the aim to present a fully consensual document for endorsement at the September 2021 Board of Governors.

The Agency commemorated the 5th anniversary of the entry into force of the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (A/CPPNM) on 8 May. I urge Member States that have not already done so to join this Convention and the Amendment thereto, thereby contributing to global efforts to strengthen nuclear security.

This month, the IAEA will be marking another important milestone, namely the 20th anniversary of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. The Joint Convention is the only international legally binding instrument to address, on a global scale, the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management. As of 15 March 2021, there were 84 Contracting Parties and I strongly encourage the remaining Member States to join this Convention at the earliest.

The Eighth Review Meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety was postponed by a consensual decision of the Contracting Parties. The Presidency has, in consultation with the Contracting Parties and the IAEA Secretariat, prepared a proposal for a plan of further actions including a framework for wrapping-up of the eighth review cycle in 2021 and merging the Eighth with the Ninth Review Meeting in 2023.

Madam Chairperson,

The Government of Japan requested the assistance of the IAEA shortly after it announced in April its decision to dispose of the treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station by controlled discharges into the sea. The IAEA accepted and will provide assistance in the monitoring and the reviewing of the safe and transparent implementation of the plan. This assistance will be provided before, during and after the discharge of the treated water and will be planned, managed and implemented by the IAEA. It will be supported by a group of designated and internationally recognized experts from Member States, including from within the Region, under the authority of the IAEA Secretariat.  

I intend for this assistance to provide relevant and comprehensive information on this important activity in a timely manner. This is fundamental in building the confidence of the public regarding the safety of the discharge of the treated water.  

Let me now turn to nuclear energy, an important topic ahead of COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties. There, I will personally reiterate the message that, without the substantial contribution of nuclear power to the global energy mix, we will not achieve our climate goals. Therefore, nuclear must have a seat at the table when the world’s future energy and climate policies are being discussed.

In agreement with the United States as the host nation, and mindful of continued precautions necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fifth International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, which was to have been held in Washington towards the end of this year, is now scheduled to take place from 26 to 28 October, 2022.

Recognising the increasing interest in Small and Modular Reactors (SMRs), we have established an Agency-wide platform to provide integrated support to Member States on all aspects of their development, deployment and oversight.

I took the opportunity of last month’s well-attended 28th International Fusion Energy Conference to call on Member States and organizations involved in the development of fusion energy to participate in an Agency-coordinated feasibility study to develop the general user requirements and technology-neutral safety criteria that could eventually contribute to the safe development and deployment of this future energy source.

In other areas of nuclear energy work, the Agency last week concluded a Phase 2 Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission to Uzbekistan, the first in-person INIR mission since early 2020. Other INIR missions are planned for later this year to Kenya, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

During my visit to Ukraine last month to mark the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, the IAEA and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) issued a Joint Statement announcing our common decision to increase our collaboration on this important work for decommissioning.

Madam Chairperson,  

Within and beyond the Secretariat, our work to advance gender equality continues.

Since the inaugural group of 100 women from 71 countries were awarded their Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowships in November, the implementation of the programme has progressed. Recognizing the importance of a robust, gender-balanced pipeline of talent in the nuclear sector, Member States and the private sector have pledged almost €7 million to the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme (MSCFP) so far. This aids the sustainability of the programme, for which we will launch the second call for applications by the end of July. I count on the support of Member States in helping to disseminate this call for applications so that we attract a wide and diverse pool of women looking to study nuclear subjects at Master’s degree level and to joining the growing MSCFP network.

With regards to our internal progress towards a more gender balanced and inclusive IAEA, I am pleased that special measures adopted last year are yielding results. As a result of our persistent efforts, the percentage of women in the professional and higher categories has reached 35 percent. More is needed, but we are progressing towards gender parity. Thank you.

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