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Securing our Future: Highlights and Insights from the International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) 2024


ICONS 2024 concluded on 24 May at the IAEA Headquarters in Vienna. (Photo: D. Calma)

Over 2000 participants from 142 countries and 16 organizations gathered in Vienna for the fourth quadrennial International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) 2024. This high turnout signaled consensus amongst members of the global community that nuclear security is an integral component of the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

This sentiment was echoed in the opening statement of IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi: “Nuclear security was important, is important and will always be important. Nuclear security is not a hindrance to technology access, it is an enabler.”

ICONS 2024 began with a two-day Ministerial segment presided over by the conference Co-Presidents, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, Tim Watts, and Vice-Minister of Energy for Kazakhstan, Sungat Yessimkhanov. The Co-Presidents began the conference by releasing a joint statement in which they committed to sustaining and strengthening “effective and comprehensive nuclear security of all nuclear and other radioactive material and facilities.” More than one hundred statements were then delivered by both Member States and international organizations, each reaffirming their respective commitments to upholding the international nuclear security regime.

The Ministerial segment also featured a plenary panel on the critical role that nuclear security plays in enabling the global pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), along with a high-level panel discussion at Vienna’s Palais Liechtenstein on collaborative approaches to bolstering international nuclear security efforts.   

Lydie Evrard, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, opened the scientific and technical portion of ICONS 2024. She underscored the conference’s tagline of “Shaping the Future” by stressing the need to urgently address the threats of tomorrow, stating, “The global community constantly grapples with new and emerging threats, rapid technological advancements, and unforeseen challenges. It is vital that we look ahead and proactively address these challenges in this fast-evolving environment.”

This orientation towards “the future” inspired many discussions during the 52 technical sessions and 45 side events organized throughout the week of the conference. A wide array of topics was covered, ranging from computer security and artificial intelligence to uncrewed systems and small modular reactors (SMRs). Some of the more common themes highlighted across all sessions were the vital importance of international cooperation and collaboration; the critical role of education, training, and diversity of personnel; the need for effective communication strategies for a range of stakeholders; and the pressing demand to develop collective approaches to the challenges posed by emerging technologies.   

Turning towards the future

The Nuclear Security Delegation for the Future at the closing session of ICONS 2024. (Photo: D. Calma)

At the ICONS 2024 closing plenary session, a cohort of university students and early career professionals dubbed the Nuclear Security Delegation for the Future presented a joint statement on the future of nuclear security. The Nuclear Security Delegation for the Future took an active role in the conference, participating in career workshops; attending networking events; and supporting various technical sessions throughout the programme. Their joint statement was the highlight of their ICONS experience, serving as a call to action for the broader international community: “We, as a transnational delegation, are driven by a vision that transcends borders and which emphasizes cooperative approaches that bolster nuclear security for all … The global community must continue on its upward trajectory of increasing diversity in the nuclear security sector in pursuit of a world in which all can benefit from nuclear technologies, and in which no one is left behind.”

During Director General Grossi’s closing remarks, he noted that the sustained high attendance at the closing plenary was an indication of commitment and interest. He rallied those present to go forth from ICONS with a shared sense of purpose and a renewed commitment to securing the peaceful applications of nuclear technology.

His parting words served as a reminder to all participants of the fundamental role that nuclear security plays in creating a more secure and sustainable tomorrow: “When the world, our societies, our countries are turning their eyes to nuclear to get solutions for the many problems and challenges that we have, be it through the production of CO2 free energy, or cancer care, or food security for those who need it, nuclear security is an integral part of that. Let’s celebrate this consensus which exists above and beyond the words of diplomatic papers.” He concluded, “It’s in the real world. Nuclear security is there, will be there, and it’s not going anywhere.”

Last update: 31 May 2024

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