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IAEA Highlights and Achievements in 2019 – a Year in Review

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The appointment of a new Director General, over 60 peer review missions, the first entirely virtual conference and a stronger voice in global climate discussions are some of the highlights of this past year here at the IAEA. This article summarizes some of the key events and achievements of the year.

To review some of the most important topics at the IAEA during this past year, see also recent issues of its flagship publications — the IAEA Bulletin — highlighting the Agency’s work and impact in the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. The 2019 editions of IAEA Bulletin can be found here.

This past year was also marked by the passing of Director General Yukiya Amano in July. A memorial service at IAEA headquarters in Vienna was attended by dignitaries, diplomats and colleagues who paid tribute to the late Director General. Mr Amano, who died at the age of 72, was first appointed Director General of the IAEA in 2009.

Mr Cornel Feruta was appointed Acting Director General by the Board of Governors on 25 July. In October, the IAEA Board of Governors appointed Mr Rafael Grossi of Argentina as the Agency’s sixth Director General. Mr Grossi began his four-year term on 3 December. Read his CV here.

During the year, the IAEA ran more than 1000 technical cooperation projects in 140 countries, bringing expertise and access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes to all corners of the world. You can read about the impact of some of these projects here.

Climate change

Recognizing climate change as one of the world’s greatest challenges, the IAEA organized an International Conference on Climate change and the Role of Nuclear Power. The key message of the conference was that all low carbon energy sources, including nuclear power, are needed to address the climate emergency. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, on his first official trip after taking office, travelled to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid to highlight the role that nuclear energy can play in the global transition to clean energy.

Nuclear power

IAEA LEU Storage Facility.

This year a team of IAEA and international experts carried out two Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) missions, to Ghana and Egypt. In addition, the IAEA delivered the final reports of INIR missions that reviewed the infrastructure development of nuclear power programmes in Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Sudan.

In June, over 250 professionals, regulators and policy makers in the field of spent fuel management met in Vienna to review advances in the management of spent fuel and ways to overcome challenges.

More than 120 participants from 66 countries gathered in Vienna at the first-of-a-kind Technical Meeting on Using Social Media for Public Communication and Stakeholder Involvement for Nuclear Programmes. The input received during the meeting will be used to update the IAEA’s Nuclear Communicator's Toolbox, an online resource designed for scientists, engineers and communication professionals, which offers tools to support effective communication with diverse groups of stakeholders on benefits and risks associated with the use of nuclear technologies.

Through extrabudgetary support from the United States to the IAEA’s Peaceful Uses Initiative, the IAEA launched a new series of interactive webinars to support national authorities in developing and implementing effective stakeholder involvement in nuclear power programmes. Three of the six webinars were held this year. Listen to the recordings of the webinars on this page.

In October, the IAEA enriched uranium (LEU) Bank became established and operational with the arrival of its first shipment of LEU in Kazakhstan. In December, with the arrival of the second shipment, the IAEA LEU Bank stock was complete.

Nuclear sciences and applications

Over 300 policymakers and experts participated in the two-day Scientific Forum during the IAEA's 63rd General Conference. (Photo: O. Yusuf/IAEA)

This year, the Renovation of the Nuclear Applications Laboratories (ReNuAL/ReNuAL+) project achieved important milestones. In May, a new energy centre to support the new laboratory buildings became operational, while in June, the Dosimetry Laboratory’s new Linear Accelerator Facility was formally opened.

Work remained on track for the delivery by the second quarter of 2020 of the new Yukiya Amano Laboratories building, which will house three additional laboratories. This year, around 4 million euros were mobilized for the project, and there were six first-time contributors: Argentina, Iran, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Viet Nam.

In May, isotope hydrology techniques were discussed, along with the importance of big data in the field, during the IAEA’s International Symposium on Isotope Hydrology.

In June, at another international symposium over 400 experts from 78 countries and 18 international and professional organizations exchanged knowledge on advances in practices and standards in radiation dosimetry, radiation medicine and radiation protection over the last decade. The symposium marked the 50-year anniversary of the IAEA/World Health Organization’s dosimetry audit service for radiotherapy.

In September, the IAEA held its first entirely virtual conference on theranostic approaches for managing treatment of patients with neuroendocrine, thyroid and prostate cancers. The conference featured 24 speakers and panellists and over 1000 participants from 79 countries attending the conference remotely.

A new roadmap was developed by the IAEA and the World Health Organization (WHO) to help countries design national cancer control programmes. It will provide guidance on available tools and resources for implementing services related to cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care. The roadmap was launched during the Scientific Forum on cancer control. This article summarizes the takeaways from the four thematic sessions of the forum.

At a symposium on radiopharmaceuticals, the first held by the IAEA in 15 years, a diverse group of professionals discussed cutting-edge advancements related to these pharmaceutical drugs that contain small amounts of radioactive isotopes. They explored their potential to provide better diagnostic techniques and more efficient therapies for various common diseases such as cancer.

During the IAEA’s 63rd General Conference, the IAEA designated several institutions as IAEA Collaborating Centres and announced other recently designated centres in China, Egypt, Italy, Malaysia, Norway, Russia and Thailand.

The IAEA has stepped-up its emergency and capacity building assistance to several Asian countries to fight the emerging and unparalleled outbreak of African Swine Fever, as well as to African nations to control Avian Influenza and Equine Influenza.

In another major development in agricultural research with support from the IAEA, scientists have released a new banana variety resistant to a fungal disease that has decimated plantations in Asia and has appeared in Africa and Latin America recently.

Nuclear safety and security

President Juan Carlos Varela and his wife welcome Pope Francis upon his arrival at the Tocumen International Airport for World Youth Day 2019.(Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

During World Youth Day 2019 with over 300,000 participants, including heads of state and the Pope, Panama’s authorities, which had to ensure security during the event, sought IAEA assistance to incorporate nuclear security into the overall security arrangements. The IAEA provided training and loaned radiation detection instruments to detect and identify nuclear or other radioactive material at 20 other venues as well.

The IAEA carried out 62 peer review missions requested by Member States to help strengthen nuclear safety and security globally. During these missions, IAEA-led teams of experts compare actual practices with those recommended in the IAEA Safety Standards or the Agency’s Nuclear Security Series. Also, a recent IAEA analysis based on the 35 Operational Safety Review Team follow-up missions has shown that over 95% of the findings are resolved or in satisfactory progress by the time of follow-up missions.

This year, the Agency marked the 20th anniversary of the Emergency Preparedness Review (EPREV) Service, a review service assessing emergency preparedness for nuclear and radiological emergencies in countries around the world.

In November, an international conference on research reactors, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, brought together experts from operators and users to regulators, designers and suppliers to address the main challenges related to research reactors, such as ensuring regulatory effectiveness, managing the ageing of facilities and staff and enhancing utilization programmes and strategic planning.

For the first time, the IAEA held a pilot course on preparing and responding to a nuclear or radiological emergency combined with another emergency — such as an earthquake, volcanic eruption, tropical cyclone or tsunami. The course was held in collaboration with Austria’s Civil Protection School in December.

Safeguards

The winning design for the Unmanned Surface Vehicle undergoes real-world testing at the Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant in Finland. (Photo: IAEA)

The IAEA continued to verify and monitor the implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reported developments quarterly to the IAEA Board of Governors. IAEA inspectors conducted verification activities at all sites and locations in Iran for which they needed to visit, and collected environmental samples for analysis.

The IAEA continued to monitor the nuclear programme of North Korea, using open source information and satellite imagery. The Agency remains ready to play an essential role in verifying the nuclear programme of the country, also known as the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) if a political agreement is reached among the countries concerned.

Released in May, the Safeguards Statement for 2018 highlighted that the amount of nuclear material subject to IAEA safeguards continued to increase – by 24% since 2010. In addition, the number of nuclear facilities and locations outside facilities worldwide at which safeguards inspectors conduct verification activities also continued to increase.

At an event on the sidelines of the Agency’s 63rd General Conference, the IAEA presented to delegates the new Passive Gamma Emission Tomography (PGET) system. PGET helps inspectors verify the peaceful use of nuclear material, in this case spent nuclear fuel, more effectively and efficiently. At another side event, participants got an insight into activities carried out by the IAEA and its Member States to strengthen the implementation of safeguards for the production of radiopharmaceuticals.

The IAEA looks to identify new technologies with possible applications for safeguards, and regularly holds online technology challenges to identify and support their development. In March, an unmanned surface vehicle for verifying spent nuclear fuel stored underwater won the IAEA Robotics Challenge. Later in 2019, researchers from Italy, Finland and Austria won the IAEA Tomography Reconstruction and Analysis Challenge. By using the new methods for image reconstruction developed by the challenge winners, clearer images can be produced to verify that spent fuel held in a container is the same as declared.

Last update: 09 Jan 2020

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