The IAEA has made a significant contribution to international peace and security in the past 60 years, while improving the well-being and prosperity of nations through the use of peaceful nuclear technology, Director General Yukiya Amano said in Vienna today.
"We have made a real difference to the lives of millions of people throughout the world," he said in his opening statement to the 60th General Conference.
Capacity-building in developing countries has been key to the Agency’s success.
"Since 1958, more than 48 000 scientists and engineers have held fellowships and scientific visitor positions through the IAEA technical cooperation programme, both at the Agency’s laboratories, and in the facilities of our partners around the world," he said.
Many of them went on to play a key role in building capacity in nuclear science in their own countries.
Today, the IAEA plays an important role in helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, especially those concerning poverty and hunger, clean water, affordable and clean energy, and climate change. "These are all areas in which nuclear science and technology can make an important contribution," Mr Amano said.
A key area of IAEA activity from the start has been to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Agency inspectors do this by monitoring nuclear material and facilities around the world to verify that nuclear material is not diverted from peaceful uses.
Mr Amano said that, over the years, the IAEA had dealt with some of the most critical issues on the international agenda, including nuclear verification in Iraq, Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Its work was given special recognition in 2005 with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize jointly to the IAEA and its then Director General Mohamed ElBaradei.
In the case of Iran, the IAEA had worked from 2003 onwards to verify the country's nuclear programme, reporting regularly on Iran’s implementation of its safeguards agreement with the Agency and of relevant UN Security Council resolutions. (See video)
"Last year, we provided a clear, factual assessment of Iran’s past nuclear activities," Mr Amano said. “The work of the Agency was indispensable in paving the way for the diplomatic breakthrough achieved last year in the form of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. We are now verifying and monitoring Iran's implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under that agreement."
The fact that the IAEA enjoyed the confidence of all parties in this very complex issue was a tribute to the professionalism, objectivity and impartiality of IAEA inspectors, he added.
Referring to the nuclear programme of the DPRK, which has carried out two nuclear tests this year, Mr Amano said this remained a matter of serious concern. "It is a growing threat to peace and security in north-east Asia and beyond. The Agency maintains its readiness to resume its verification work in the DPRK once political developments make this possible."
Mr Amano noted the significant contribution that nuclear power can make to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, improved energy security and the availability of energy in the increasingly large quantities needed for development.
"Today, some 30 developing countries are considering introducing nuclear power," he said, noting that the first of four nuclear power reactors in the United Arab Emirates is expected to come on line in 2017.
The IAEA supports countries opting for nuclear power so they can use it safely, securely and sustainably. (See video)
Nuclear safety and security
The IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, adopted soon after the Fukushima Daiichi accident, had helped to bring about a significant improvement in global nuclear safety.
The IAEA was also the global platform for strengthening nuclear security, helping countries to minimize the risk of nuclear and other radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists.
Mr Amano said the IAEA could take pride in its achievements, but many challenges lay ahead. Verification and monitoring in Iran had just begun and would continue for many years to come. The nuclear programme of the DPRK would remain a matter of serious concern.
Member States sought increasing assistance from the IAEA in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and in nuclear safety and security.
They also expected the IAEA to continue to manage its limited financial resources prudently, and with maximum impact.
"It is essential to maintain the momentum in all areas of our work in the coming years," Mr Amano said. "I would be honoured to provide the necessary continuity should Member States again place their confidence in me as Director General."
He had informed the Chairman of the IAEA Board of Governors that he would be available to serve another term as Director General.
After the opening session, Mr Amano inaugurated a commemorative 60th Anniversary photo exhibition. "It is often said that every picture tells a story,” he said in his welcoming remarks. “These pictures tell a story of real achievement."
Although the world had changed a great deal in the past 60 years, one thing had not changed. "The IAEA remains an organisation that delivers," he said.
A special reception to commence the yearlong celebrations is being hosted by the IAEA on Monday evening at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna at which the Austrian Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management Andrä Rupprechter will also be present.