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IAEA Chief Visits US: Nuclear Energy, Ukraine and UN Security Council


IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi met US State Secretary Antony Blinken for a comprehensive discussion on a range of critical global security concerns. (Photo: F. Everett/State Department)

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi was in the United States this week as the IAEA held its International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century in Washington DC.  During his visit, on Thursday Mr Grossi addressed the United Nations Security Council, briefing the 15-nation group on what he described as the “extremely fragile and dangerous” nuclear safety and security situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). The ZNPP site has been controlled by Russian forces since March. Until recently, operational decisions were taken by its Ukraine staff, but Russia has announced it has taken control of the facility and is now taking those decisions. In recent months the site has been beset with power outages caused by shelling, putting nuclear safety and security at the plant at risk.

The briefing to the Security Council was Mr Grossi’s fourth since the conflict began more than eight months ago, and the first delivered in person rather than virtually. The meeting was also attended by Ukraine, currently not a Security Council member.

Mr Grossi told the Council that progress had been made in high-level consultations with Ukraine and Russia in recent weeks on establishing an “indispensable” nuclear safety and security protection zone around the ZNPP. He said “we’re not far from” an agreement and “it is in no one’s interest to have a major nuclear accident.” 

The Director General also informed the Council that IAEA inspectors were on their way to two locations in Ukraine to carry out nuclear safeguards verification activities. Ukraine invited the IAEA to send inspection teams to the two locations — both under IAEA safeguards — following allegations by the Russian Federation of activities there. Mr Grossi thanked the Security Council for recognizing and supporting the IAEA’s important work aimed at preventing a nuclear accident in Ukraine. 

Mr Grossi’s post-meeting briefing to media is available to watch on UN Web TV.

At the beginning of Mr Grossi’s visit to the United States, on Monday, he met with US State Secretary Antony Blinken for a comprehensive discussion on a range of critical global security concerns. Mr Grossi stressed that IAEA safeguards inspectors would visit two nuclear locations in Ukraine this week: “The IAEA inspected one of these locations one month ago and all our findings were consistent with Ukraine’s safeguards declarations and no undeclared nuclear activities or material were found there,” he said.

He thanked Mr Blinken for the United States’ support of the IAEA’s efforts to establish a protective zone at the ZNPP and for supporting the Agency’s mission on non-proliferation, nuclear security and nuclear applications for development. Mr Blinken said: “The U.S. remains committed to ensuring the IAEA has the resources needed to fulfill its responsibilities.”

Future of nuclear energy

On Wednesday Mr Grossi opened the IAEA International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, expressing high hopes for nuclear energy to be used to tackle major challenges from climate change to sustainable development. During the conference and on its sidelines, Mr Grossi met with U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Denise Jenkins.

Mr Grossi also met with the Board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) — a nonprofit, nonpartisan global security organization focused on reducing nuclear and biological threats. During the exchange, Mr Grossi thanked the Board for its support to the IAEA and said NTI was an influential voice in the nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear safety and security fields that works towards world peace.

Presenting at the NuScale Power Symposium, held at the conference, Mr Grossi described small modular reactors (SMRs) as game changers for the nuclear industry with unique potential to fight climate change. He spoke on the IAEA’s Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI launched earlier this year, aimed at accelerating SMR development and deployment.

At the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Nuclear Financing Summit, Mr Grossi this week further discussed nuclear energy’s progress and prospects. He highlighted the potential of SMRs, as well as the need for investments in innovation and extending the lifetime of currently operating nuclear power plants to fight the energy and climate crises.

In a meeting with Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson, Mr Grossi thanked Canada for its support to the IAEA’s work in Ukraine and said Canada was an important player in the nuclear field with strong technical knowledge. The two spoke about the global energy market and innovative reactor designs. Mr Wilkinson announced on Tuesday that his country would provide C$970 million in financing to develop a grid-scale SMR.

Mr Grossi also met with the Director General of China’s Atomic Energy Authority, Mr DENG Ge. About 13 per cent of the world’s nuclear reactors are in China, and the country includes nuclear as part of its energy decarbonization strategy. Mr Grossi described China as a key IAEA partner and thanked Mr DENG for his country’s support to IAEA initiatives, including ZODIAC to combat zoonotic diseases and pandemics; NUTEC Plastics, for tracking, tracing and addressing plastic pollution; and NHSI for SMR development and deployment.

The Director General also had the chance to meet with Japan State Minister of Energy Ms Ota Fusae. She thanked Mr Grossi for the IAEA’s support on the country’s current plans to discharge treated water from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and Mr Grossi reconfirmed the Agency’s continuous cooperation with Japan.

On Friday Mr Grossi met with Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Al Hammadi and discussed cooperation towards the COP28 United Nations Climate Conference, to be held in Dubai in 2023. The United Arab Emirates is the first country in the Arab world with an operating nuclear power station. He also took part in a keynote conversation at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which was livestreamed.

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