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IAEA: a ‘Rapid Reaction Force for Good’, Director General Says


The 65th IAEA General Conference opened today at the IAEA's headquarters in Vienna. (Photo: F. Llukmani/IAEA)

Through the beneficial applications of nuclear science and technology many solutions to pressing problems can be found, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told delegates at the opening of the IAEA’s 65th annual General Conference today.

“From the rubble of the Beirut port last year to the dramatic scenes in Port-au-Prince in Haiti or the urgent call of the Andean countries a few days ago, the IAEA is there as a rapid reaction force for good, when it’s needed,” Mr Grossi told conference delegates today, referring to the blast last year in the Lebanese capital, the earthquake in Haiti last month and the fungus-infestation of bananas in Latin America earlier this year. These are just some examples, along with the IAEA’s ongoing work to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic, where the Agency has taken swift action to deploy emergency assistance.

The week-long General Conference is the largest annual meeting of the Agency’s 173 Member States. Held this year both in-person and online, at the event many countries are represented at ministerial level.

The IAEA will continue its efforts to help confront and defeat COVID-19, Mr Grossi said, highlighting that to date the Agency has assisted more than 129 countries and territories in this endeavour.  He noted the importance of the partnership with other organizations towards the IAEA’s Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative – the nuclear science and technology contribution to the early detection of pathogens that become zoonoses and might become pandemics, stating: “This is a time for joint action, and this a time where we are reminded about the importance of working together; about solutions that only multilateral efforts can bring about.”

Continuing monitoring and verification

Mr Grossi highlighted that – despite the challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, – the IAEA maintained its commitment to verifying that nuclear material is not diverted from peaceful uses and continued to carry out its most time-critical verification work across the world. “More than a year ago, when the world was closing down, when air travel was forbidden, when ports and airports were closed, we said that we would not stop for a single minute, and we did not,” Mr Grossi told delegates. “We continued inspecting facilities all over the world in spite of that situation, and as a result of that, there was no risk of proliferation because of the absence of the IAEA inspectors.”

He spoke of the “constructive discussions” he held in Tehran earlier this month and the Joint Statement issued. (Read more about this topic in this article.) Speaking of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement with Iran, he noted that there still were unresolved issues and reiterated “the requirement for Iran to clarify and resolve these issues without further delay.

Expressing serious concern about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) continuation of its nuclear programme, Mr Grossi called upon the country to comply fully with its obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, and to cooperate promptly with the IAEA to resolve all outstanding issues regarding the full and effective implementation of its NPT Safeguards Agreement. The IAEA monitors the nuclear programme of the country, also known as North Korea, using open-source information including satellite imagery. The IAEA continues to maintain its enhanced readiness to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme, Mr Grossi said.

Combatting climate change

Highlighting what he referred to as a “global challenge of enormous proportions,” Mr Grossi stressed the importance of the work of the IAEA to ensure that nuclear energy “is and must be part of the solution to climate change.”

There are 444 nuclear power reactors operating in 32 countries today, supplying around 10 per cent of the world’s electricity and more than a quarter of all low-carbon electricity. An additional 50 reactors are under construction in 19 countries, which are expected to provide additional capacity. “The IAEA will continue promoting the safe, secure, and non-proliferation oriented use of this source of clean energy,” he told delegates, adding: “In every scientific based projection, global decarbonization for 2050 is possible, and will be much easier, with nuclear energy.”

Mr Grossi will attend the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow in November, where he will also highlight the role of nuclear techniques in supporting mitigation and adaptation efforts, namely in climate-smart agriculture, sustainable land-water use and the environment.

Ensuring nuclear safety and security

Mr Grossi reiterated the importance of nuclear safety and nuclear security as part of the IAEA’s efforts, and highlighted as an example the progress being made in the treatment and disposal of the water accumulated around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant – where the IAEA, in cooperation with internationally recognised experts, will play an important role in monitoring safety.

Mr Grossi informed about the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Training and Demonstration Centre, which will become operational in 2023 and which will help strengthen countries’ abilities to tackle nuclear terrorism in areas such as the illegal trafficking of nuclear material, the physical protection of facilities, and protecting major public events.

Further developing nuclear law

Mr Grossi told participants that the IAEA will hold its first International Conference on Nuclear Law: The Global Debate in February next year, with a view to developing further the various areas of nuclear law and promoting international expertise in the field.  “As our inspectors verify the non-diversion of nuclear material; as our scientists work in Seibersdorf, or in Monaco or in your countries, it is also essential to have the legal underpinnings and structures that allow us all to play and to obey the same rules,” he told delegates.

Encouraging women in nuclear careers

In addition to the IAEA’s commitment to achieving gender parity within its secretariat, the IAEA has progressed in its efforts to help enable more women to pursue careers in the nuclear field, through its Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme soon to enter its second year. The programme provides financial assistance to women studying Master’s degrees in nuclear subjects. The second round of applications for 110 fellowship positions is now open. Speaking about the IAEA’s work in this area, Mr Grossi told the conference: “We are preparing the ground for young women and girls to work in nuclear[and] to have hopes in this area that provides so many benefits for all.”

Women working within the IAEA Secretariat currently make up 35 per cent of the Professional and higher categories and well over that share at more senior levels.

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