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Framework for the Safety and Security of Ukraine’s Nuclear Power Plants must be Agreed, IAEA Director General Tells Board of Governors


IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi delivers his remarks at the opening of the 1614th Board of Governors meeting today at the Agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

“We see what is happening on the ground in Ukraine. This time, if there is a nuclear accident, the cause will not be a tsunami brought on by mother nature. Instead, it will be the result of human failure to act when we knew we could, and we knew we should.”

These were the words of warning with which Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi opened the regular session of the IAEA’s Board of Governors in Vienna this morning.

“The military operations at nuclear power facilities of Ukraine have caused unprecedented danger of a nuclear accident, risking the lives of people living in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries, including Russia,” he said.

He reiterated the IAEA’s readiness to assist with the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and called on parties to agree a “feasible framework to re-establish the commitment to nuclear safety”.

 “We must avert a nuclear accident in Ukraine. Let us not hide behind “all” or “nothing-at-all” solutions,” he said, adding he was ready to travel to wherever needed to secure the agreement.

Mr Grossi briefed the 35-member-board on the safety and security situation at Ukraine’s nuclear sites – two of which are under the control of Russian military forces.

Talking of the situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest, Mr Grossi stated:

“Russian forces now control the management of the plant and the approval of technical decisions made by the Ukrainian operators.  This is not a safe way to run a nuclear power plant. Nor is it safe or sustainable for internal and external communications to have been disrupted and cut off, as it has been reported to us by the Ukrainian operator and regulator.  I am deeply concerned about this turn of events.”

To read all of the IAEA’s updates related to the conflict in Ukraine, including statements by Director General Grossi, see this page.

Clarification of issues with Iran

Mr Grossi briefed the Board on his negotiations in Tehran on Saturday and on the series of actions agreed regarding the clarification and resolution of safeguards issues the Agency’s Board identified in November 2021 and called on Iran to resolve. Mr Grossi has repeatedly called on Iran to provide responses to questions from the IAEA regarding nuclear material that had been present at undeclared locations in Iran, and about the current locations of this material not declared to the Agency.

“The Agency looks forward to receiving from Iran by 20 March written explanations, including related supporting documents, to the questions raised by the Agency and not yet been addressed by Iran, on the issues related to three particular locations,” Mr Grossi said. 

Read the full joint statement between Mr Grossi and Iran’s Vice-President Mohammad Eslami here.

Nuclear applications

Mr Grossi highlighted an IAEA initiative to increase access to cancer care in developing countries. With political backing from several heads of state and government Mr Grossi launched Rays of Hope at the margins of the African Union Summit on 4 February, World Cancer Day. The IAEA is working with international organizations, donors and governments to support the establishment and expansion of radiotherapy services in Africa and beyond, with a particular focus on the countries that completely lack facilities for radiation treatment.

He spoke about the IAEA’s initiative to help countries fight future pandemics, Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC), which has procured equipment for laboratories worldwide and held a virtual training course that attracted almost 600 participants from 94 countries late last month.

He briefed the Board about the Agency’s rapid response to provide support to researchers and authorities in Latin America to fight a disease decimating banana plantations, threatening the livelihood of farmers and undermining food security. Over the coming five years, the IAEA will support the Andean Community in disease detection, surveillance, and containment. They will also receive scientific advice on how to boost the genetic resistance of banana plants using mutation breeding and associated biotechnologies.

Nuclear energy

Mr Grossi welcomed recent decisions by the governments of Nigeria and the Philippines to introduce nuclear power into their energy mix. There are 32 countries that currently use nuclear power and around 30 are considering, planning or starting their introduction. The IAEA supports countries in the effective, safe and secure use of nuclear power.

He underlined the importance of upcoming conferences.

The Conference of the Parties to the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (A/CPPNM), taking place from 28 March to 1 April 2022, is the first review since the Amendment entered into force in 2016.  The CPPNM, as strengthened by the Amendment, provides a framework for protecting nuclear facilities, as well as nuclear material in domestic use, storage and transport, as well as in international transport. It harmonizes approaches to combatting criminal acts involving nuclear material and facilities.

The IAEA’s First International Conference on Nuclear Law: The Global Debate, to be held from 25 to 29 April, will provide a unique forum for leading global experts to share experiences and discuss topical issues with a view to developing further the various areas of nuclear law and promoting international expertise in this field.

“In advance of the conference, the IAEA has published Nuclear Law: The Global Debate, a book, available for free download on our website, that presents a global perspective on the current and emerging issues in nuclear law through articles by leading scholars, policymakers and scientists in the field,” Mr Grossi said, quipping that it may soon rival the legal thrillers on bestseller lists.

With regards to the management of the Secretariat, he provided an update on the IAEA’s progress towards gender parity, highlighting that half the Agency’s six deputy director generals were now women, and the overall representation of women in the professional and higher categories has reached an all-time high of 37%.

He closed his statement by summing up the work ahead of the IAEA and its critical role:

“At this unprecedented moment in history, we are determined to use all the tools and expertise of this remarkable institution to make as large and lasting a contribution to the safety, security and safeguards of nuclear material in Ukraine and Iran as is possible under our unique mandate.”

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