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New IAEA Reports on Response to the COVID–19 Pandemic

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At the virtual meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Director General Grossi presented three reports on the Agency's work and support to Member States during the COVID‑19 crisis. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

As the world grapples with COVID‑19, the IAEA has adjusted ways of working to ensure its operations continue with minimal disruptions under the extraordinary circumstances. At the meeting of the Board of Governors, which is taking place virtually this week, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi presented three reports on the Agency’s COVID‑19 related work. The reports on support to Member States in the fight against the pandemic, support to nuclear and radiation facility operators and safeguards implementation during the crisis, have also been made available to the public.

“I said when the crisis began that there were two areas of the Agency’s work which would not be halted, no matter what happened,” said the Director General in his introductory statement to the Board of Governors. “We would continue to implement safeguards to prevent any misuse of nuclear material and activities for non-peaceful purposes. And we would do everything we possibly could to assist Member States in confronting the coronavirus.”

The Report on IAEA Support to Member State Efforts in Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic, describes the IAEA’s delivery of support to 120 countries and territories that have requested Agency support to use the nuclear-related RT-PCR technology for the detection of COVID-19 infections. The shipments have included detection equipment, that is, real time RT‑PCR and kits, together with reagents and laboratory consumables, as well as biosafety supplies such as personal protection equipment for the safe analysis of samples.

The IAEA, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, has also provided guidance on COVID-19 detection to 253 laboratory professionals from 119 countries through the VETLAB network. In addition, the IAEA has been conducting webinars to help health care providers in nuclear medicine, radiology and radiation oncology throughout the world in adjusting their work procedures to cope with the pandemic. The report provides details on these activities, the funding received for their implementation, including from private entities, and partnerships for a coordinated response, as well as the launch of a new project for continuation of current and response to future outbreaks, named ZODIAC (Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action).

The Report on the operation, safety and security of nuclear and radiation facilities and activities during the COVID-19 Pandemic talks about the Agency’s activities related to the specific challenges faced by operators of nuclear power plants, research reactors and other nuclear facilities across the world, and its enhanced efforts to facilitate information exchange by ensuring that all the relevant databases and systems for reporting remain functional.

The IAEA rapidly developed and piloted the COVID-19 NPP OPEX Network, intended for sharing information and experience on crisis response actions among operating organizations, technical support organizations, relevant international organizations and other stakeholders. No country reported enforced shutdown of any nuclear power reactors resulting from the effects of COVID-19.

The IAEA conducted a survey of radiation safety regulatory bodies to assess the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on the activities for the safety of radiation sources and a survey among major reactor-based medical radioisotope producers to assess the continuity of the supply chain.

The Report on safeguards implementation during the COVID-19 Pandemic discusses measures taken by the IAEA to continue its verification work to make sure that nuclear material and technology are not diverted from peaceful use.

Although it had to prioritize critical safeguards and other verification activities and has rescheduled a number of activities, such as equipment installation and maintenance, the Agency has been able to conduct all of its most time-critical safeguards in-field verification activities. In the period from 1 March to 31 May 2020 the IAEA conducted 274 inspections, 29 design information verifications and 16 complementary access visits.

In response to the unavailability of many commercial flights, for the first time in its history the Agency has chartered its own plane to transport inspectors and technical staff into the field. This arrangement has already been used successfully to transport 78 Agency staff to conduct inspections in four countries. For more information, watch this video.

The report cites close cooperation with the Government of Austria, as well as with other governments, as having been essential to overcome operational obstacles in implementing safeguards in this period.

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