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IAEA Director General Briefs Board of Governors: Fukushima Daiichi ALPS Water Release, Ukraine, Iran and New Atoms4Food initiative


Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA Director General, delivers his opening statement at the 1683rd Board of Governors meeting held at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria on 11 September 2023

The IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi began his opening address to the IAEA’s Board of Governors by pledging support to the victims of Friday’s devastating earthquake in Morocco. He promised a quick IAEA response to provide technical assistance to the country.

Fukushima Daiichi ALPS Water Release

Mr Grossi updated the Board on the controlled release of ALPS-treated water into the sea from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Plant’s operator, began last month.

IAEA experts have assisted in ensuring the relevant international safety standards continue to be applied by sampling the treated water before release. Japan also requested assistance from the IAEA to monitor the seawater after the treated water began to be released on 24 August. Mr Grossi stated he was happy to note that the independent sampling and monitoring from the Agency has confirmed that the levels of tritium in the discharged water are below Japan’s operational limit and said the IAEA would continue to monitor the seawater.

The Agency is also providing continuous live data from Japan on the release of treated water.

Nuclear safety, security and safeguards in Ukraine

Mr Grossi reiterated his support for nuclear safety and security in Ukraine, speaking of the five main principles he outlined at the United Nations Security Council in May, and urging that these continue to be observed. Mr Grossi also highlighted the 53 missions the IAEA has carried out since 31 August 2022, including to all five nuclear sites in Ukraine. 

It has been just over a year since the IAEA established a team of experts and inspectors at Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. In June the Director General led a mission to assess how damage of the Kakhovka dam is impacting safety at the plant. However, the overall situation at the facility remains highly precarious, and in the past week, IAEA experts based at the plant have heard numerous explosions, in a possible sign of increased military activity in the region that could also pose a potential threat to nuclear safety and security at the site.

“It is the increase of military activity around the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant that worries us the most,” he told the 35-member Board “The possibility of a nuclear accident with serious radiological consequences continues to be a reality, and we hope this will not happen.”

In addition to programmes supporting nuclear safety and security, the Director General said the IAEA was also providing technical assistance in Kherson Oblast province, in response to flooding caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.

Verification and monitoring in Iran

The Director General presented his latest reports on verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran. He updated the Board on how cooperation with Iran is progressing, following the joint statement by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and the IAEA in March and regrets no further progress has been made.

“Of course, our work with our colleagues from the Islamic Republic of Iran continues ... I hope to do better,” he said “And our Iranian colleagues know that. So, we will continue working together, trying to go faster and better and deeper in this important and indispensable area.”

Nuclear solutions for global challenges

The IAEA continues to assist countries in addressing some of their most pressing development challenges through peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology.

Mr Grossi announced the IAEA is launching a new initiative, Atoms4Food, aimed at supporting Member States in increasing food production, food safety, agricultural planning, and nutrition programming, using nuclear and isotopic techniques. This will involve working closely with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Continuing on the theme of the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme, which includes almost 150 Member States, Mr Grossi spoke of recent successes in the IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative, which has helped widen access to cancer care in Benin, Chad, Kenya, Malawi and Niger, and citing a major milestone in Botswana, which opened its first public radiotherapy centre in July, with IAEA support.

He also referred to the NUTEC plastics initiative, which is helping countries in Latin America, Asia and the Pacific address the global challenge of plastic production. He spoke about the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action’s (ZODIAC) initiative, aimed at helping prevent pandemics from diseases that pass from animals to humans.

In relation to the energy and climate crisis, Mr Grossi highlighted the efforts to harmonize regulatory approaches and standardize industry approached through the IAEA’s Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI), which will support the timely deployment of safe and secure small modular reactors.

Next month, the IAEA plans to launch the IAEA World Fusion Outlook at the 29th International Fusion Energy Conference, which will become the global reference for authoritative information and foster international cooperation and knowledge sharing regarding the latest developments in fusion energy.

Nuclear Security Training and Demonstration Centre

Another new development is the opening of the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Training and Development Centre on 3 October, which Mr Grossi described as “the first truly international centre of capacity building in the area of nuclear security”. The new centre will help strengthen countries’ abilities to tackle nuclear terrorism, by providing advanced training in the physical protection of nuclear and other radioactive materials and facilities, detection of and response to criminal and intentional unauthorized acts, nuclear forensics and preparation for major public events implementing nuclear security measures.

Closing the gender gap in nuclear

Mr Grossi concluded his statement by celebrating gender equality initiatives such as the IAEA’s flagship Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme, which aims to support the next generation of women nuclear professionals through scholarships and internships. Mr Grossi said the programme would soon award scholarships to 200 women engaged in nuclear related master’s programmes, bringing the total number of fellows to more than 500. In terms of the Lise Meitner Programme for early- and mid-career women professionals, he said the first cohort had their first round of professional visits in the United States. It is hoped more countries will come forward to host LMP professional visits in future.

He said: “My promise, my commitment to get to gender parity [at the IAEA] by 2025 is still on. We have reached and gone above the 43 per cent line. I'm very happy to announce this.”

The Board of Governors is meeting at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna from 11-15 September.

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