IAEA Highlights and Achievements in 2016 – A Year in Review

A major report on verification and monitoring in Iran, the entry into force of the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), response to the outbreak of the Zika crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean and the promotion of safe nuclear solutions towards sustainable development worldwide — these have been some of the main achievements in 2016 of the IAEA, as it entered the year of its 60th anniversary.

Below are the highlights of the IAEA’s activities in strengthening the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology and a look at the many topics in focus over the course of the year.

Iran

A major report that marked the implementation day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was released by the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on 16 January 2016. The report confirmed that Iran had completed the necessary preparatory steps specified in Annex V of the JCPOA, which was agreed in July 2015 between Iran and the so called E3/EU+3 – China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union. The IAEA’s Board of Governors had authorised Mr Amano to implement verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA in August 2015, following a request by the United Nations Security Council.  Implementation of the JCPOA marked the beginning of a new phase in relations between Iran and the IAEA.

To ensure effective and efficient verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, a new Office of Safeguards Verification in Iran was established and a new 24/7 high-tech device — the Online Enrichment Monitor, or OLEM, was installed to verify that Iran keeps its level of uranium enrichment at up to 3.67%, as committed under the JCPOA.

Placed around the processing pipe, the gamma ray detector (box, bottom right) measures the amount of uranium-235 at key points during the enrichment process, while sensors (boxes, centre and bottom right) measure pressure and temperature in pipes. The components of the online enrichment monitor are placed into a sealed, tamper-indicating device. (Photo: V. Fournier/IAEA)

DPRK

Mr Amano reiterated his serious concern about the nuclear programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which conducted two more nuclear tests this year.  He called upon the DPRK to fully comply with its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and to resolve all outstanding issues, including those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country since 2009.

The IAEA continues to monitor developments in the country’s nuclear programme, including through satellite imagery.

Nuclear Security

The entry into force of a key nuclear security agreement in May marked an important step in strengthening nuclear security globally. The Amendment to the CPPNM makes it legally binding for countries to provide physical protection of nuclear facilities and nuclear material in domestic use, storage and transport, which was not covered in the original Convention, adopted in 1979.

At the end of the year, the IAEA’s leading role as the global platform for strengthening nuclear security was recognized at the International Conference on Nuclear Security: Commitments and Actions. The week-long conference in December served as a forum to exchange views on ways to improve nuclear security globally. It attracted over 2000 participants from 139 Member States and 29 organizations, including representation from 47 Member States at ministerial level. The conference highlighted the collective commitment to improve nuclear security at the national, regional and global levels, as well as the need to stay watchful about the threats to nuclear security and implement concrete measures to protect against malicious acts involving nuclear or radioactive material.

Hernán Estrada Román, Resident Representative of Nicaragua to the IAEA, depositing his country’s instrument of acceptance of the Amendment to the CPPNM to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. Nicaragua was the 102nd country to accept the Amendment, triggering its entry into force. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Nuclear Safety

An intense programme of over 40 peer-review missions requested by Member States helped strengthen nuclear safety globally.  Among notable missions were an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) to Japan, where the team concluded that the regulatory body for nuclear and radiation safety had demonstrated independence and transparency since it was set up in 2012. South Africa hosted its first full-scope IRRS mission, and the largest in Africa to date, while China — the country with the highest number of power reactors under construction globally — hosted a follow-up IRRS mission.

The adoption of the Leadership and Management for Safety by the Board of Governors in June concluded the Agency’s work to update all seven of its General Safety Requirements publications, which apply to all nuclear facilities and activities. These form an important part of the IAEA’s overall series of Safety Standards, which includes more than 100 publications, most of which are for particular technical areas.

Zika

The IAEA acted quickly to help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean respond to the outbreak of the Zika virus by applying the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), as part of an integrated strategy to control the disease. The assistance has been implemented in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and national health authorities, and integrates all relevant insect management approaches, including site inspections and fumigation. By providing portable equipment for the rapid detection of the virus, as well as the necessary training, the IAEA also helped countries apply a nuclear-derived technique to quickly and accurately detect the Zika virus.

RT-PCR machines can help speed up detection of viruses.

Sustainable Development

The IAEA coordinates international cooperation in nuclear science and promotes the use of nuclear technology for sustainable development. It is uniquely placed to help countries gain access to nuclear science and technology, which have a great deal to offer in industry, energy, health care, agriculture, environmental protection – and many other areas.

The IAEA’s direct contribution to most of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals was showcased at the 2016 Scientific Forum in September, demonstrating how nuclear techniques are used to improve human and animal health, address climate change, boost access to energy and protect the planet. The connection between global challenges, sustainable development and nuclear technologies was also the focus of an IAEA panel discussion at the 2016 European Development Days (EDD) in April, marking the first time the IAEA held an event at this forum.

Nuclear science helps women farmers in Sudan leave poverty behind. Nestled in the midst of these dry lands are patches of green where women who once were not allowed to work are now building their futures by growing vegetables that thrive thanks to nuclear science.( Photo: N. Jawerth / IAEA

Climate change

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change entered into force on November 4, 2016, just prior to the Morocco Climate Change Conference, also known as COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano welcomed the entry into force of the Agreement.

The IAEA coordinated with other UN Agencies a side event highlighting the role of innovation in meeting the target to keep the increase in average global temperatures below 2˚C compared to pre-industrial levels. It also hosted an exhibit on nuclear power and nuclear applications, and provided information on the Agency’s work related to climate change, highlighting recent publications such as Nuclear Power and the Paris Agreement, Nuclear Power and Sustainable Development and Climate Change and Nuclear Power.

IAEA nuclear applications laboratories (ReNuAL)

Contributions by IAEA Member States have enabled the IAEA to begin the modernization of its nuclear applications laboratories under the Renovation of the Nuclear Applications Laboratories (ReNuAL) projects. Construction of new IAEA laboratory buildings, now underway and scheduled for completion by 2018, will increase the Agency’s ability to respond to global challenges in food and agriculture, human health and the environment, among other areas.

Small scale model of the Insect Pest Control Laboratory, the first of four nuclear applications labs scheduled for construction under the Renovation of the Nuclear Applications Laboratories project. (Photo: V. Fournier/IAEA)

IAEA Conferences and Events

The IAEA’s conferences and events throughout the year served as a platform for dialogue and continued work in the areas of nuclear science and technology, helping to further expand their peaceful uses. The meetings encompassed important aspects of the IAEA’s work related to safety and security, safeguards, non-proliferation, energy, science and research, and development.

In looking at the many dimensions of nuclear safety and security, experts discussed the importance of human and organizational factors, safety culture and leadership for safety and the main developments in this area over the past 30 years at the conference at the IAEA. The need to further strengthen effective regulatory control and oversight were the key issues addressed earlier this year at the IAEA’s headquarters.

Recent trends in decommissioning of nuclear facilities and environmental remediation were discussed and shared in Madrid, while the progress achieved in the management of radioactive waste over the last 15 years was recognized by international community toward the end of the year.

Decommissioning staff cutting down a piece of large metal equipment at a nuclear facility.(Photo: Sellafield Ltd./UK)

Among the key topics addressed at conferences related to nuclear energy included effective nuclear knowledge management and technology issues, as well as innovative concepts of direct relevance to the use of nuclear fusion as a source of energy.

In promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology, nuclear medicine physicians gathered to review and exchange insights on the latest developments in various aspects of integrated medical imaging as applied to cardiovascular diseases, including single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), positron emission tomography (PET), echocardiography, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

To highlight the IAEA's significant contribution to global peace, security and development the Agency commenced its 60th anniversary celebrations during this year’s 60th regular session of the General Conference in September.

The 60th regular session of the General Conference was held from 26 to 30 September 2016 at the IAEA Headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)