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Iran, COVID-19 and Climate Change: IAEA Director General Briefs Board of Governors

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Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi delivering his opening statement to the IAEA Board of Governors. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

A recent technical understanding agreed with Iran and the IAEA’s response to COVID-19 were the focus of Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi’s statement to the IAEA’s Board of Governors today.

Addressing the Board on the opening day of its first regular session this year, Mr Grossi spoke of his visit to Tehran last month. “We were able to reach a temporary bilateral technical understanding,” Mr Grossi said of his meeting with Vice-President Ali Akbar Salehi and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “It is to enable the Agency to resume its full verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] if and when Iran resumes its implementation of those commitments.”

Key projects

Mr Grossi gave an overview of the implementation of the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action, or ZODIAC, an initiative to strengthen global preparedness for future pandemics. He told Board members that the Agency so far had assisted 128 countries and territories with the technology and knowledge they need to battle COVID-19 through RT-PCR testing to great effect. The Agency has provided testing services “that have helped more than 28 million people so far,” he said.

It is this support that is being expanded under ZODIAC.

“ZODIAC will be your contribution to reducing the chance that the next outbreak wreaks the deadly destruction we are suffering today,” Mr Grossi told the IAEA’s governing board. Highlighting the urgency with which the international community engages with ZODIAC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the IAEA last week signed revised arrangements to facilitate this work under the newly renamed Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

“We will help Member States respond to emerging challenges from climate change to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases,” he said.

Mr Grossi also gave an overview of the ongoing modernization of the IAEA nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna, in a project known as ReNuAL. Five of the eight laboratories at Seibersdorf are now operating in modern facilities using state-of-the-art equipment. 

“These new facilities have greatly strengthened the Agency’s capacities to support Member States in reaching their Sustainable Development Goals,” Mr Grossi said. To complete the work and improve the laboratories that help Member States address growing environmental and climate challenges, an additional €11.8 million is urgently needed. “I would be grateful if those Member States in a position to do so would consider an early contribution towards this goal.” 

Climate change

As the Agency is preparing to participate in the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26 and scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland, Mr Grossi told the Board that he will personally deliver an important message:

“Nuclear energy has a seat at the tables when the world’s future energy and climate policies are being discussed,” he said, noting that he had initiated an Agency-wide effort to bring together expertise from across our Departments to support him in the preparations for the conference.

Almost five years after the signing of the Paris Agreement, governments are becoming increasingly aware that they  must  shift from fossil fuels to  nuclear and other low-carbon technologies, if they are to reach their net zero objectives.

With respect to nuclear safety, Mr Grossi called attention to the newly published Nuclear Safety Review 2021, which provides an overview of IAEA activities and global trends in nuclear, radiation, transport and waste safety, as well as in emergency preparedness and response. This year, it also identifies the priorities in these areas, and provides an analytical overview of overall trends.

Nuclear verification

Mr Grossi announced that Sudan has amended its Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) and brought it in line with the new standard text. The SQP, concluded in conjunction with a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, is available to countries with minimal or no nuclear material and no nuclear material in a “facility.” He called on countries with SQPs based on the old standard text to amend or rescind them. “This is essential to addressing a weakness in the IAEA safeguards system recognised by the Board more than 15 years ago.”

Nuclear activities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea, remain a cause for serious concern for the IAEA. The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is “deeply regrettable,” Mr Grossi said, adding that the Agency was intensifying its readiness to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme.

Gender equality

Mr Grossi assured the Board that the IAEA was continuing its work on advancing gender equality. He invited Member States to join a panel discussion with some of the early women pioneers of the Agency to be held on 8 March, International Women’s Day. 

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