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Director General Highlights the Role of Nuclear Technology in Combatting COVID-19

IAEA Board of Governors, 18 November 2020

The IAEA Board of Governors convened today. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA) 

Noting challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi highlighted the IAEA’s research in zoonotic diseases and efforts to help prevent future pandemics and the increasing global role of nuclear energy in his statement to the IAEA Board of Governors today. Mr Grossi also called on countries to strengthen the global nuclear safeguards regime by bringing into force and updating their safeguards agreement.

Technical cooperation

Priority areas in technical cooperation will include the use of nuclear and related techniques in food and agriculture, health and nutrition and nuclear safety – and the IAEA Technical cooperation programme will continue providing COVID-19 assistance to countries around the globe. Mr. Grossi noted IAEA support through webinars and publications as well as the provision of equipment for COVID-19 detection, including 1873 shipments of COVID-19 detection equipment to 126 countries to date.

As part of the new Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative, which he asked the Board to approve in its session this week, the IAEA is planning to expand the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VETLAB) Network. Through this network, national laboratories around the world can work together in combatting zoonotic diseases through early detection and control.

“ZODIAC is the way nuclear science, technologies and applications add value to the ongoing efforts by the international community to stop and defeat COVID-19 and prevent the next pandemic of zoonotic origin,” said Mr Grossi. “ZODIAC will be delivered and carried out efficiently, transparently and in a collaborative spirit, as required by the unique and global challenge we are all facing,” he continued. Read this article on the instrumental role of nuclear-related technologies on the identification of mutant virus strains and therefore in the development of vaccines.

He spoke of recent IAEA support to Lebanon in the aftermath of the explosion at the Port of Beirut, and assistance to countries in Central America in the wake of Hurricane Eta, which struck the region earlier this month. “We are assisting … through an expert mission and provision of equipment, initially to Honduras and Guatemala, with the possibility of extending our help to others in the region as even more storms loom.”

Nuclear safeguards

Mr Grossi tabled his report on verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and also highlighted work carried out in line with the agreement reached with Iran in August. “This important understanding, it must be recalled, was about procedural difficulties, not substance. Now it is essential to address and make progress in our verification work through sustained engagement and cooperation,” said Mr Grossi.

Regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (commonly known as North Korea), Mr Grossi noted the Agency’s ongoing monitoring of the country’s nuclear programme. “I call upon the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply fully with its obligations under Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the Agency in the full and effective implementation of its Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Safeguards Agreement and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country,” he said.

Mr Grossi also called on Syria to cooperate with the IAEA in the implementation of safeguards.

With the number of countries having safeguards agreements the same as last year, Mr Grossi reaffirmed the need for more countries to bring into force safeguards agreements and additional protocols. He also called on countries with minimal or no nuclear material and no nuclear material in a facility that have not yet done so to amend or rescind their Small Quantitates Protocols that use the old standard text.

Nuclear energy

Two more countries have begun generating nuclear power this year. The United Arab Emirates connected the first of its four planned reactors to the electrical grid last summer, while Belarus connected its first nuclear power reactor to the grid this month. “Both these examples represent major milestones that underscore the continued interest in nuclear power among our Member States,” said Mr Grossi.

Currently, 442 nuclear power reactors operating in 32 countries around the world provide one third of global low-carbon electricity, and 53 nuclear power reactors are now under construction.

Nuclear security

Mr Grossi encouraged countries to attend the International Conference on a Decade of Progress after Fukushima-Daiichi: Building on the Lessons Learned to Further Strengthen Nuclear Safety, planned for next February. The conference will reflect on the lessons learned in the past ten years and the future course of action in nuclear safety.

Nuclear law

Announcing the first International Conference on Nuclear Law, to be hosted by the IAEA in early 2022, Mr Grossi highlighted the importance of discussing and further developing various areas of nuclear law. It will be the first time the IAEA organizes a conference on the topic. “Nuclear law is an essential prerequisite for the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear technology and its applications. This conference … is an important opportunity for us to take stock and discuss nuclear law for the future,” he said.

A far-reaching field, nuclear law includes topics such as international treaties on the safety and security of nuclear power plants as well as addressing questions of compensation and civil liability for nuclear damage. Through this conference, global experts will have a forum to discuss international and national nuclear law through presentations and panel discussions.

10th anniversary of PUI

With 2020 marking 10 years of the Peaceful Uses Initiative, over 300 projects and more than 150 countries have benefited from the peaceful application of nuclear technologies through this Initiative. These projects include the Renovation of the Nuclear Applications Laboratories (ReNuAL), the modernization of the laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria to better serve the needs of Member States.

Adding to this, a nuclear security training and demonstration centre is being established in Seibersdorf. “We are confident that the Centre will provide additional capacity for the IAEA to provide training and development in support of sustainable nuclear security initiatives and their effective implementation,” said Mr Grossi.

Read the latest issue of the IAEA Bulletin on the achievements of PUI and plans for scaling up the initiative in coming years.

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