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Remarks by Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at New Year Reception

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi welcomes Member States' representatives and delegates at the IAEA New Year's reception on 30 January. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends and colleagues.

Happy New Year to you all!

This is not just the start of a new year, but a time of new beginnings for the Agency. I have been in office for two months. My team in the Director General’s Office is now complete, with the arrival of Jacek and Mariela a few weeks ago.

I was elected on a platform of change. I want to recalibrate our approach where necessary. I am especially keen to have a much more direct and substantive collaboration with the Board of Governors and with all of you.

Our basic way of doing business – with the policy-making organs setting the direction and the Secretariat implementing the daily activities of the Agency – has generally served us very well over the past 60 years.

But I sometimes feel the relationship between the two has become a little formalistic. I aim to bring a new quality to that relationship.

I will not retreat behind the glass doors of the 28th floor. I have already reached out to many of you informally since I took up office. I have encouraged all of you to pick up the phone and call me when you have something important to discuss.

Many of the issues on our agenda this year will not change – Iran, DPRK, climate change, cancer. All of these issues continue to evolve and we will need to work very closely together in order to tackle them effectively.

The first big item coming towards us is the international conference on nuclear security, ICONS 2020, in 10 days’ time.

Our two previous ministerial events made a very practical contribution to enhancing global nuclear security. I have no doubt that this one will do the same. Ensuring the highest levels of nuclear security should not be seen as an obstacle to making full use of nuclear technology, but rather as an enabler.

It is very important that as many ministers as possible should attend the conference in order to underline the fact that our work has the full political backing of the international community.

I have been following the development of the Ministerial Declaration with great interest. I pay tribute to the tireless efforts of the Co-chairs to arrive at a document which enjoys the consensus of all participating States.

Our Member States have agreed that the Agency should be the global focal point for nuclear security. Demands for our assistance are constantly increasing. But I believe more could be done to make us a real focal point in practice and not just in name.

We are in a position to integrate and bring together the many valuable – but often scattered – efforts being made throughout the world to guard against nuclear terrorism and other threats, not just by governments, but also by think tanks, NGOs and others. Let us bring all such efforts home to the Agency.

In nuclear safety, we are working with 12 pilot countries to roll out Consolidated Plans for Safety. These will ensure that our activities in radiation, nuclear, waste and transport safety, and emergency preparedness and response, are coherent and consistent.

Climate change will be an increasing theme for the Agency. Many countries are interested in making more use of nuclear technology to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change. They want the IAEA to do more.

At COP 25 in Madrid last month, I sensed that all voices are welcome and that the Agency is now being listened to in a way that was not the case in the past. I intend to ensure that our voice is heard.

Of course, we fully respect the differing views on nuclear power held by our Member States. Whether or not to use nuclear power is a sovereign decision for each individual country.

But it is an indisputable scientific fact that nuclear power has an important role to play in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. As the leading international institution for everything nuclear, our job is to ensure that the facts are reflected in our analysis and advice to Member States.

I am pleased to inform you that the next IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Power will take place in the United States, at ministerial level, in 2021.

The IAEA technical cooperation programme has a special place in my heart. My first meetings at the Agency, as a young diplomat in 1986, were about TC programmes in my country.

The TC programme has gone from strength to strength and we now implement projects in 142 countries.

Let us not forget that the great majority of countries that join the Agency do so because they are interested in using nuclear technology to improve the day-to-day lives of their people.

Cancer control is one of the most important areas in which we make that technology available. It will always be a high priority for me.

The fact that people die in developing countries of cancers which are treatable in richer countries is, quite simply, a scandal.

The Agency has achieved a lot in recent years in improving access to radiotherapy and nuclear medicine, but the needs are huge. Ethiopia, for example, has only one functioning radiotherapy machine for its 105 million people.

We need to take the life-saving services we provide to a new level. I expect to have some interesting news for you soon on new partnerships, which I believe will help to multiply the impact of our work in the cancer field.

I am talking to existing partners about expanding our current collaboration. I am making a lot of effort with regional development banks. I have been reaching out to new partners such as the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank and I am increasing our engagement with UN system partners such as WHO, FAO and WMO, for example on climate change.

Tremendous progress has been made in modernizing the Seibersdorf nuclear applications laboratories, thanks to the tireless efforts of DG Amano and the generous support of many Member States.

The next step involves enhancing the remaining four laboratories in the most cost-effective and sustainable way. We are considering a number of options and I will share more information about my vision on the way forward in the coming weeks.

I am very grateful to a number of countries which have expressed their willingness to help fund infrastructure that is outside the scope of the current ReNuAL initiative. And I am confident that I can count on the continued support of all of you for this extremely important initiative.

The nuclear programme of Iran will remain high on our agenda this year.

You are all aware of the developments of recent weeks concerning the JCPOA. Iran has expanded its nuclear activities over the past six months, in line with its announcement that it would reduce implementation of its JCPOA commitments.

The current situation is that all of the Agency’s activities in Iran continue as before. I will inform the Board immediately if that should change, or if there are any developments requiring the Board’s attention.

As far as North Korea is concerned, we have observed no significant changes in its nuclear programme since our last report in August. We maintain our readiness to send inspectors back to the country immediately if political developments make that possible.

The 2020 NPT Review Conference will take place in New York in April, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty’s entry into force. The NPT has continued to serve the international community very well, bringing tangible benefits both in security and in peaceful uses, and the Agency plays a key role in its implementation.

Turning finally to management issues, the 2021 Budget Update has been circulated, with no changes to what was agreed earlier with Member States. There will be zero real budget growth and the price adjustment will be 1.6%. I have asked DDsG to pay close attention to staff travel and ensure that costs are kept under tight control.

I committed myself to full gender parity in my statement to the General Conference last month. I am confident that we can achieve significant progress towards this goal within just a few years. I will have more to say about this at the March Board.

In my first few days in office, I began devolving some responsibilities from DGO to DDsG and Departments with the aim of bringing decision-making closer to programme delivery. These include administrative activities such as the approval of technical meetings and training activities, as well as departmental leave plans.

I am also returning more substantive responsibilities to the Departments, such as the IAEA LEU Bank. It will become the responsibility of the Department of Nuclear Energy in a few weeks’ time.

I aim to “de-compartmentalize” the work of the Agency, to encourage collaboration on issues which were often seen in the past as the responsibility of a single Department, and to avoid duplication and “going solo.”

I am in continuous contact with DDsG. I stress to them that I am not interested in departmental achievements. I am interested in Agency achievements, and especially in successes achieved by Member States thanks to the support of the IAEA.

Let me end by assuring you, the representatives of our Member States, that I want you to feel that you are dealing with an Agency which engages, which talks, which listens – and which effectively serves your needs.

Together, we can ensure that the IAEA will achieve its full potential for the benefit of all humankind.

Thank you.

IAEA Member States' representatives at a New Year Reception at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna on 30 January 2020. (Photo: D.Calma/IAEA)

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