Support for countries that are fighting the Zika virus, the entry into force of the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the IAEA's verification and monitoring activities in Iran were among the key issues highlighted by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in his opening address to the Agency's Board of Governors today.
Mr Amano provided an overview of the IAEA's activities in promoting the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology to help Member States achieve their development goals, enhancing nuclear safety and security and implementing safeguards. He also announced the launch of year-long celebrations to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the IAEA, which will start at the General Conference in September.
In addition to the regular training and support provided through the IAEA technical cooperation programme, Mr Amano highlighted another example of the IAEA's ability to respond swiftly to crises in Member States. After a major earthquake in Ecuador in April this year, the IAEA quickly dispatched four mobile digital X-ray units, as well as mobile generators, emergency diagnostic equipment and personal radiation detectors, to help doctors deal with the aftermath.
Referring to the 2015 Technical Cooperation Report, which will be discussed by the Board, Mr Amano highlighted the improvement in the implementation rate for technical cooperation projects to close to 85% in 2015.
"During my recent visits to African nations, I saw once again how important the technical cooperation programme is for developing countries," he said. "I visited hospitals and laboratories and met doctors, engineers and scientists who have benefited greatly from Agency training and support."
Mr Amano said plans to modernize the IAEA's nuclear applications laboratories at Seibersdorf, near Vienna, were making good progress. Contributions received from Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the United States and 39 African countries have helped to raise most of the €31 million needed for the renovation. The funding gap has narrowed to €1.6 million.
Mr Amano acknowledged the generosity of donor countries and encouraged all Member States to contribute to the modernization of the laboratories. "This is one of the most important projects ever undertaken by the Agency," he said.
On the Zika epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr Amano said: "The IAEA continues its work to help countries fight the Zika virus. In April, we trained over 35 participants from 26 countries in using a nuclear-derived technique to quickly and accurately detect the virus."
A project to help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to use the sterile insect technique against the Zika virus, approved by the Board in March, has received funding from France, Japan and the United States, he added.
Turning to nuclear security, Mr Amano noted the importance of the recent entry into force of the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. "This is a significant step which will make the world more secure," he said. "I continue to urge all States to adhere to this important legal instrument. Universal implementation of the amended Convention will help to ensure that nuclear material throughout the world is properly protected against malicious acts."
As far as nuclear energy is concerned, Mr Amano noted that 10 nuclear power reactors were connected to the grid last year, the highest figure for a single year since 1990. There are now 444 power reactors in operation in 30 countries, and another 65 under construction, two-thirds of them in Asia.
He also briefed Board members on an IAEA coordinated research project to help Member States develop national climate change mitigation strategies and assess the role of nuclear power in meeting the goals of last year's Paris Agreement.
Mr Amano said his report on Iran's implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action summarised the verification and monitoring activities that the Agency has conducted under relevant UN Security Council and IAEA Board resolutions.
"The report presents the facts in an objective and factual manner and includes relevant information which the Agency can share with Member States," he said.
"We are in the early stages of a process which requires constant and careful attention from all stakeholders. All stakeholders have worked to make implementation possible. In the coming months and years, the continuing strong commitment of all parties will be needed to make implementation sustainable."
Mr Amano again expressed serious concern about the nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
"It is deeply regrettable that the DPRK has shown no indication that it is willing to comply with the Security Council resolution adopted in response to its nuclear test earlier this year," he said.
"I strongly urge the DPRK to implement fully all relevant IAEA and Security Council resolutions. The Agency remains ready to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the DPRK nuclear issue by resuming its verification activities once a political agreement is reached among countries concerned."
During my recent visits to African nations, I saw once again how important the IAEA technical cooperation programme is for developing countries.