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Common Purpose, Common Goals

IAEA Technical Cooperation Prepares For a Challenging Future


Nuclear science and technology is ultimately used for the most practical ends such as creating more resilient plant varieties, ends that improve daily life for millions worldwide.

Through its Technical Cooperation programme, the IAEA promotes access to peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology in developing countries, undertaking large, long-term projects that span a number of areas. These include human health, agricultural productivity and food security, the management of water resources, environmental protection, medicine, and sustainable energy development.

Technical cooperation projects are designed to improve the Member States´ educational, medical, scientific and technical capabilities so as to address their most pressing needs and priorities in these areas.

The programme addresses most of the UN Millennium Development Goals: combating poverty and hunger; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating disease; ensuring environmental sustainability; and promoting partnerships between science and development authorities.

During a recent interview, IAEA Deputy Director General for Technical Cooperation, Ana María Cetto, talked about the work being done in this area, and the major challenges awaiting the Agency in the future:

Why does the IAEA undertake technical cooperation?

The 81 nations that founded the IAEA in 1957 were aware of the need to spread the benefits of nuclear science and technology to the entire world, and to ensure that this newly developed, very powerful knowledge was used for peaceful purposes.

The IAEA was therefore mandated since its beginnings to undertake technical assistance, and had the vision to establish a Technical Cooperation Programme for this purpose.

The IAEA Statute recognizes and emphasizes the equal rights of Member States to receive technical assistance. It also stipulates that particular attention be given to those countries that need it the most. Today all Member States share the benefits and contribute to the Technical Cooperation Fund, which was created to support this programme financially.

How has technical cooperation evolved over the years?

I think a significant change in the last 10 years or so is the definitive shift from "assistance" to "cooperation". Now the interaction among Member States and with the Agency takes place on a much more horizontal basis. Cooperation really means working together with a common purpose, with common goals. And that is what the technical cooperation programme is about. Member States now have much more ownership of the programme. They lead the programme.

Another significant change is that we have moved away from pure technology transfer, which was the sort of assistance that was given at the beginning. Today the programme focuses on individual and institutional capacity building. Through the IAEA´s programmes, nuclear capacity is strengthened in Member State institutions so they can address their national needs and priorities using nuclear applications and technology.

What are the most significant challenges to be addressed in the future?

The most significant challenges for the TC programme will be set by the international environment.

We are going through a critical financial situation all around the world but I do expect that despite this situation Member States will continue to fund the programme, because the demands for our services will only increase. And to meet these demands the programme needs to be well funded.

Also, there are emerging global problems that have to be addressed; problems such as those caused by climate change and new communicable diseases, which add to the existing worldwide disease burden. The IAEA will have to help Member States apply nuclear science and technology to solve these problems as effectively, sustainably and economically as possible.

There is also an increasing need for good use of water resources, as water scarcity becomes a major problem for many countries. And although there are numerous players in the field, the IAEA has a relatively small but key role to play. So that will also be an area that poses significant challenges for the global community in general and for the IAEA in particular.

What role will technical cooperation play as interest in nuclear power grows?

It will be a challenge to help Member States meet their increasing energy demand; not only by giving them energy planning support, but also by supporting their nuclear power plants, particularly in relation to safety. It will require considerable effort to help Member States develop their nuclear programmes in such an important area; an area that requires from them a lot of investment, human resources, financial resources and political decision.

Last update: 27 July 2017