Access to energy, safe nuclear power operations, and controlling the spread of sensitive nuclear technology are key issues facing the IAEA and international community, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told some 1000 delegates at the opening of the General Conference in Vienna today.
"Wherever we turn in today´s world, it is evident that the intertwined issue of security and development continue to be the most daunting challenges facing humanity. And it has become more evident that the IAEA has an important role to play in both fields," Dr. ElBaradei said in his opening address.
As the IAEA celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is a time "to review the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead," the Director General said. Areas driving IAEA´s activities include:
"The Agency should focus more explicitly on ´energy for development´ - since without energy there can be no development. The energy shortage in developing countries is a staggering impediment to development and to efforts to eradicate poverty," Dr. ElBaradei said.
For new countries considering nuclear power, the Director General said it was essential to ensure that the necessary infrastructure be available. Of the 28 new reactors under construction, 16 are in developing counties. Recent expansion is concentrated in Asia and Eastern Europe.
"Nuclear safety is not an issue that can ever be regarded as ´fixed,´ " Dr. ElBaradei told delegates. "The strong, steady safety performance of recent years is reassuring. But the sporadic recurrence of events of concern make clear that the promotion of a strong safety culture - for both operators and regulators - should always be viewed as a ´work in progress´."
This year, the IAEA began offering an Integrated Regulatory Review Service. It combines nuclear safety and radiation safety, emergency preparedness and nuclear security. Dr. ElBaradei encouraged all countries to take advantage of the service. "I remain convinced that transparency and introspection are essential ingredients of an effective nuclear safety culture," he said.
Analysis of the Agency´s Illicit Trafficking Database provides insight into trends, risks and trafficking methods and routes. "The number of incidents - unfortunately, more than 100 per year for the past three years - demonstrates a persistent problem with trafficking, thefts, losses and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear or radioactive material," the Director General said. "Sustained adequate funding for the 2006-2009 Nuclear Security Plan is not yet assured."
The Director General cited the need to bring North Korea back into the NPT regime; that there had been no progress on establishing a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone; and that over 100 countries - including 25 with significant nuclear activities - had yet to bring additional protocols into force.
Dr. ElBaradei called on Iran to re-establish "full and sustained suspensions of all its enrichment related and reprocessing activities." He said he remained "hopeful that, through the ongoing dialogue between Iran and its European and other partners, the conditions will be created to engage in a long overdue negotiation that aims to achieve a comprehensive settlement that, on the one hand, would address the international community´s concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran´s nuclear programme, while on the other hand addressing Iran´s economic, political and security concerns."
He noted that over the past 50 years, IAEA technical cooperation has been a main vehicle to implement the "atoms for peace" mission, promoting "sustainable growth and human security". Dr. ElBaradei singled out countries like Ghana, the Czech Republic and Brazil, who were recipients of IAEA technical cooperation and are now using their expertise and experience to support others countries in their regions.
New Framework for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
To combat mounting concern about the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies, and to cope with the expected expansion of nuclear power use, the Director General said a new multilateral approach to the nuclear fuel cycle was needed.
He outlined a three-phased approach:
- The first phase would establish mechanisms for assurances of supply of fuel for nuclear power plants.
- The second phase would develop, as needed, assurances regarding the acquisition of nuclear power reactors.
- The third phase would facilitate the conversion of existing enrichment and reprocessing facilities from national to multilateral operations, and would encourage limiting future enrichment and reprocessing to multilateral operations.
Dr. ElBaradei´s call comes ahead of a special day event on the issue, opening tomorrow at the IAEA General Conference. "My hope is that the discussions this week will enable us to develop a roadmap for moving forward, in close consultation and with the active involvement of our Member States".