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COVID-19 Response Remains Top IAEA Priority, Director General Says

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The IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the IAEA Headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

The IAEA has shipped more than 1260 consignments of equipment and supplies for detection and diagnosis of the COVID-19 virus to 123 countries in the largest operation in the Agency’s history, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told the IAEA Board of Governors today.

He also briefed the 35-nation Board on his recent visit to Tehran, during which he reached agreement with the Iranian authorities on some key safeguards issues, and outlined his plans to complete the modernisation of the IAEA nuclear applications laboratories.

“More than 1,260 consignments of equipment for virus detection and diagnosis and other supplies have been delivered, or are in transit, to 123 countries,” Mr Grossi said. “I am proud of the efforts of IAEA staff, who went the extra mile to make this happen, and grateful for the support of Member States, which made it possible.”

“Fighting the coronavirus will remain our top priority until the pandemic is finally defeated,” he added.

On Iran, the Director General said his discussions with President Rouhani and other senior officials in August had led to agreement on a number of issues, including access to two locations in Iran which had been requested by the IAEA.

Agency inspectors had subsequently visited one of the locations, taking environmental samples for analysis. The second location will be visited later this month.

“I welcome the agreement between the Agency and Iran, which I hope will reinforce cooperation and enhance mutual trust,” Mr Grossi said.

He noted that the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. Evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities for Iran continue.

Nuclear verification

Mr Grossi told the Board that 184 States had IAEA safeguards agreements in force, 136 of which have also brought into force additional protocols. Safeguards agreements are designed to provide the international community with confidence that nuclear material in non-nuclear-weapon States is being used only for peaceful purposes. An additional protocol provides additional tools for verification.

Mr Grossi said the nuclear activities of North Korea were a cause for serious concern and its activities were a “clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions”. The IAEA has been monitoring the nuclear programme of North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), using open source information, including satellite imagery, since its inspectors were required to leave the country in 2009.

“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 [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Safeguards Agreement and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country,” he said. “The Agency is intensifying its readiness to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme.”

COVID-19 assistance

In addition to providing equipment and supplies for tackling the coronavirus, the IAEA has conducted webinars for experts from Member States in multiple languages, covering aspects of health care and radioisotope and radiopharmaceutical production. It produced practical videos on sample collection and handling as well as the use of equipment for virus detection using a nuclear-related technique called RT-PCR and personal protective equipment, and provided guidance, support and expert services to hundreds of medical and veterinary laboratories.

Following the explosion at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon in August, the Agency shipped mobile X-ray units and additional sets of RT-PCR equipment and supplies for the diagnosis of COVID-19 to Lebanon to help respond to the country’s immediate needs.

“Support is also being provided on radiology and non-destructive testing to determine the safety of damaged buildings,” the Director General said. An IAEA assistance mission involving RANET teams from Member States arrived in Lebanon on Saturday to provide assistance with radiation surveying, sampling and analysis, and to advise on potential radiation hazards.

Nuclear applications laboratories

Mr Grossi highlighted his plans for the final phase of the modernization of the IAEA nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna under a project known as ReNuAL.

Four of the eight laboratories were modernised between 2014 and 2019. In the planned new phase, estimated to cost approximately 24.8 million euros, a new building will be constructed to house the remaining three laboratories, the existing Dosimetry Laboratory will be refurbished and the Agency’s ageing greenhouses will be replaced. “These are essential for our work on climate-smart agriculture, resource management and food security,” he said.

Nuclear energy

Climate change mitigation remains a key potential driver for maintaining and expanding the use of nuclear power, Mr Grossi said. The latest IAEA annual projections show nuclear power will continue to play a key role in the world’s low-carbon energy mix, with global nuclear electrical capacity nearly doubling by 2050 in the Agency’s high case scenario. At present there are 442 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries, supplying over 10 percent of the world’s electricity and around one third of all low-carbon electricity. An additional 53 reactors are under construction in 19 countries.

Bridging gender gaps

Applications for support under the new IAEA Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellowship Programme to increase the number of women working in the nuclear field are open until 11 October. “Women studying for master’s degrees in nuclear science and technology, safety, security or non-proliferation are encouraged to apply,” Mr Grossi said.

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