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Atoms for Peace and Development

Dublin, Ireland
Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to be here with you today in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

I was fascinated to learn that you trace your origins back to the great Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. He was born and died in Vienna, which has been my home for the last 13 years.

I am also intrigued by the remarkable range of disciplines combined under one roof here in the Schools of Theoretical Physics, Cosmic Physics and Celtic Studies.

There is much overlap between the work of the first two and that of the International Atomic Energy Agency – rather less in the case of the School of Celtic Studies!

It may surprise some of you to learn that the mandate of the IAEA is also extremely broad.

Our work covers virtually all areas of nuclear science and technology. These play a much bigger role in our daily lives than most people realise. From the microchips and battery in your smartphone, to the tyres on your car and the electrical cables in your home – items such as these are routinely treated with radiation.

Radiation technology helps to prevent food from spoiling. It can be used to monitor pollution, identify buildings which may be in danger of collapse after earthquakes, and reveal cracks in the wings of aircraft.

IAEA experts work in most of these areas, and on subjects as diverse as birth control for mosquitoes, seafood safety, and the management of underground water resources in Africa.

I will give you a brief overview of our work and will then be happy to open up the discussion.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA was established in 1957. Ireland became a member in 1970 and is a valued partner in all areas of our work.

Many Irish scientists, engineers and diplomats have served with us over the last six decades and some of my closest advisers are Irish. In recent years, for example, experts in radiation medicine from Cork University Hospital have provided training to specialists from Slovakia under the auspices of the IAEA.

The IAEA’s mandate is Atoms for Peace and Development. We work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and we help countries use nuclear science and technology to produce more food, generate more electricity, treat cancer and respond to climate change.

The IAEA is an organisation with 169 Member States that spans the globe. And our membership continues to grow.

Let me give you a few examples of our work.

First, seafood safety.

Pollutants and biotoxins in the seas and oceans pose a threat to fish and shellfish, which are key sources of food for millions of people around the world.

Nuclear and isotopic tools provide an insight into the movement of these pollutants in the seas and their transfer to marine organisms. The IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco help counties to detect and measure such contamination so they can take the necessary measures to protect fish stocks and consumers.

A scientist from Ireland’s Office of Radiation Protection and Environmental Monitoring recently received training at our Monaco labs on the determination of plutonium isotopes in environmental samples.

Second, food security.

Nuclear techniques in plant breeding, soil and water management, and crop nutrition help to improve food security and to mitigate the impact of climate change.

The IAEA helps countries to develop and grow new varieties of crops such as rice and barley. These produce higher yields and are more resistant to drought and disease.

By applying radiation in the laboratory, scientists accelerate the spontaneous mutation process that occurs in nature all the time. They can develop new varieties of crops with desirable characteristics very quickly. This does not involve genetic modification of the plants.

Farmers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam, for example, have boosted rice production in harsh climate conditions in the past five years thanks to assistance from the IAEA.

Producing the new plants involves sophisticated science, but farmers do not have to change traditional growing methods.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The last area I want to mention is human health, and, in particular, cancer control. This is an important focus of our work.

Cancer used to be regarded as a disease of prosperous, developed countries. But it is now reaching alarming proportions in developing countries and many are ill-equipped to deal with it.

It is estimated that, by 2030, some 60 percent of all new cancer cases will be recorded in developing countries, and that is where around 70 percent of cancer-related deaths will occur.

In many of those countries, prevention, screening, early diagnosis and treatment services for cancer are either non-existent or totally inadequate. Nearly 30 African countries do not have a single radiotherapy machine. This means that many patients die of diseases that would often be treatable if they lived in a developed country.

The IAEA is working to change that.

We help countries to plan and build nuclear medicine and radiotherapy facilities. We arrange education and training for oncologists, radiologists, medical physicists and other specialists.

In January, I was in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, for the inauguration of a new Cobalt 60 radiotherapy machine.

Uganda, which I understand is one of the countries on which Ireland concentrates its long-term development assistance, had no radiotherapy services at all for two years after the only machine in the country broke down.

We helped the Government to buy the new equipment, install it safely at the Uganda Cancer Institute and decommission the old machine. We provided training for specialist staff.

The IAEA is unique within the UN system in having eight nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna.

These train scientists, support research in human health, food and other areas, and provide analytical services to national laboratories. The laboratories are now undergoing a long overdue modernisation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The best known peaceful application of nuclear technology is nuclear power.

Nuclear power can help to address the twin challenges of ensuring reliable energy supplies and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Nuclear power plants produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants while in operation. Emissions over their entire life cycle are very low.

It is up to each country to decide whether or not to use nuclear power. The IAEA does not attempt to influence their decision. We are not lobbyists for nuclear power. But if countries opt for nuclear power, our job is to help them use it safely, securely and sustainably.

We serve as the global platform for cooperation in nuclear safety and security, helping to improve safety at nuclear power plants and to ensure that nuclear and other radioactive materials do not fall into the hands of terrorists.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will now turn to the nuclear verification work of the IAEA.

We implement nuclear safeguards in 181 countries, sending inspectors all over the world to check that countries’ activities remain in peaceful purposes.

Under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), non-nuclear-weapon States are required to conclude a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. They must declare all nuclear facilities and other locations where nuclear material and activities exist.

Ireland, for example, informs us about material held in hospitals or research facilities.

The IAEA analyses countries’ declarations and sends inspectors to verify that the declarations are correct. We may install cameras, tamper-proof seals and other equipment in facilities so we know what is happening when our inspectors are not physically present.

The important thing for us is to gain a full understanding of a country’s nuclear fuel cycle – everything from the mining of uranium to the final disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste. This enables us to spot any anomalies, or the possible diversion of nuclear material from peaceful activities.

Since January 2016, the IAEA has been verifying and monitoring Iran’s compliance with its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iran is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime. IAEA inspectors spend around 3,000 days per year in Iran. They have taken hundreds of environmental samples for analysis and placed around 2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.

Hundreds of thousands of images are captured daily by our sophisticated surveillance cameras.

In my quarterly reports to the IAEA Board of Governors, I have stated that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The nuclear programme of North Korea remains a major cause for concern.

Our inspectors had to leave the country in 2009. Since then, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests and launched missiles. Nevertheless, the IAEA has continued to collect and evaluate information regarding North Korea’s nuclear programme, including by monitoring satellite imagery.

We follow developments such as last week’s summit meeting between leaders of the two Koreas with great interest. We maintain our readiness to resume verification activities in North Korea when political developments make this possible.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a national of the only country ever to have experienced the horror of nuclear weapons being used on its territory, I am firmly committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.

Ireland is internationally respected for its long-standing commitment to this goal.

The so-called “Irish Resolutions” on nuclear disarmament at the United Nations, starting in 1958, paved the way for the eventual adoption of the NPT. Ireland was the first country to sign the NPT in 1968.

The IAEA contributes to the establishment of a world free of nuclear weapons.

We support the creation of nuclear-weapon-free Zones and help to implement them. Nuclear-weapon-free zones are an effective means of non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament. Five nuclear-weapon-free zones are in existence today, covering 113 countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you can see, the IAEA has a very broad and unique mandate.

No other organization offers the range of services related to nuclear science and technology that we do. The steadfast support of Member States such as Ireland is vital in enabling us to do our work effectively.

In the coming decades, we will continue to focus on delivering concrete results for our Member States and improving the well-being and prosperity of the people of the world through the use of nuclear technology.

Thank you.

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Last update: 10 May 2018

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