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Atoms for Peace and Development in the 21st Century

Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva Centre for Security Policy

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

(As prepared for delivery) 

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure for me to speak at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

The Centre is well known for bringing together practitioners and academics to consider innovative ways of addressing the major security challenges facing the world.

As a practitioner myself, I appreciate an approach that is geared towards achieving concrete results. This is what we aim to do at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

I have happy memories of my work in the 1990s at the Conference on Disarmament, just across the road from you, and I always enjoy coming back to Geneva.

Today, I will give you a brief overview of the work of the IAEA and our Atoms for Peace and Development mandate, allowing plenty of time for discussion at the end.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As specialists in international security issues, I imagine you associate the IAEA primarily with our work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

We implement safeguards in 181 countries, sending nuclear inspectors all over the world to check that States are not secretly developing nuclear weapons. We use advanced technology that enables us to detect even minute particles of nuclear material.

We have state-of-the-art safeguards laboratories near Vienna which analyse samples brought back by our inspectors. Wherever possible, we benefit from monitoring nuclear facilities remotely, in real time, using permanently installed cameras and other sensors.

Two years ago, the IAEA played an important part in bringing about a landmark international agreement concerning Iran’s nuclear programme, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The Agency is now verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under that agreement.

We used to have inspectors in North Korea, reporting on its nuclear programme, but they were required to leave in 2009. We continue to do what we can to monitor the situation there. 

I will say more about both of these issues shortly. But, first, let me tell you about the development side of our Atoms for Peace and Development motto.

The IAEA has been making an important contribution to sustainable development since it was established in Vienna 60 years ago.

Nuclear science and technology have many peaceful applications which can help countries to produce more food, generate more electricity, treat diseases such as cancer, manage water supplies, protect the seas and oceans and respond to climate change.

These are all areas which are also covered by the Sustainable Development Goals. Helping developing countries to achieve the SDGs, using relevant nuclear technology, is an important part of our work.

Let me give you a few examples.

First, birth control for insects.

This is important in combating pests such as mosquitoes, tsetse flies and fruit flies. These cause nasty human and animal diseases and can destroy entire crops of fruit and vegetables.

The IAEA makes available something called the sterile insect technique, which involves sterilising male insects by applying radiation.

These sterilised males are released in a targeted location. They mate with females, but no offspring are produced. Over time, the wild population declines and the insect pest is greatly reduced, or completely eliminated in certain areas.

The sterile insect technique saves countries many millions of dollars per year and protects farmers’ livelihoods. We have made it available to countries affected by the Zika virus to help them combat the Aedes mosquito, which spreads the virus.

The Agency also provides special kits which make it possible to rapidly diagnose Zika, and other viruses such as Ebola, in the field.

Second, food security.

The IAEA helps to increase food supplies by developing new varieties of crops such as rice and barley. These are higher-yielding and 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 very quickly. This does not involve genetic modification of the plants.

As a result, farmers in Peru are growing abundant crops of new varieties of barley at high altitudes, while farmers in Myanmar are growing more rice. Producing the new plants involves sophisticated science, but farmers do not have to change traditional growing methods.  

The IAEA has a Joint Division with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which focuses on nuclear techniques in food and agriculture

The third 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 thought of as a disease of wealthier nations, but, in fact, it is reaching epidemic proportions in developing countries.

It is estimated that, by 2030, over 21 million people will be diagnosed with cancer every year. Around 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.

Unfortunately, many developing countries lack both equipment and the trained medical and technical experts needed to treat cancer effectively. In Africa alone, there are 28 countries which do not have a single radiotherapy machine.

The IAEA is working closely with partners such as the World Health Organization to change that.

Our technical support focuses on radiotherapy, nuclear medicine and imaging technology. We provide education and training for health professionals and sometimes supply equipment.

We have developed innovative e-learning initiatives which offer high-quality training for specialists in areas such as radiotherapy, medical physics and nutrition.

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

These train scientists, support research in human health, food and other areas, and provide analytical services to national laboratories. We also have environmental laboratories in Monaco which work on marine pollution and ocean acidification.

Since 1958, more than 48,000 scientists and engineers have held fellowships and scientific visitor positions through the IAEA technical cooperation programme, both at our laboratories, and in the facilities of our partners around the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

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

At present, 30 countries are using nuclear power. But many more countries, especially in the developing world, are interested in introducing it. In fact, global use of nuclear power continues to grow, despite the Fukushima Daiichi accident six years ago.

Nuclear power makes a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy security, while delivering energy in the growing quantities needed for development.

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

Nuclear safety and security are national responsibilities, but the IAEA serves as the forum for international cooperation in these areas.

For example, the IAEA establishes international nuclear Safety Standards. These are not legally binding, but they are used voluntarily by almost all countries to protect people and the environment from harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

The Agency sends peer review missions, made up of top international experts, to give countries professional advice on safety issues. We provided a lot of assistance to Japan after the Fukushima Daiichi accident and helped to ensure that nuclear safety was strengthened throughout the world.

As far as security is concerned, the IAEA helps countries to prevent nuclear and other radioactive material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

We train police and border guards, provide radiation detection equipment and advise on nuclear security at major events such as the Olympic Games and World Cup soccer championships.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will now return to two of the issues that have topped our list of concerns in recent years – the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea.

As far as Iran is concerned, the IAEA worked from 2003 onwards to try to resolve a number of outstanding safeguards issues. For years, little or no progress was made and the Iran issue was a cause of serious international tension. But we started to see some movement a few years ago.

In July 2015, I signed a Road-map with Iran for the clarification of possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme. At the same time, Iran and the group of countries known as the P5+1 – plus the EU –agreed on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA.

As a result of the IAEA Roadmap, I was able to present a final assessment of Iran’s past nuclear activities to the IAEA Board of Governors in December 2015.

I stated that Iran had conducted a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device before the end of 2003. However, these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.

Based on my report, the IAEA Board decided to close its consideration of outstanding issues related to the Iranian nuclear programme. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Implementation of the JCPOA began in January 2016.

The IAEA is not a party to the agreement. We were asked by the UN Security Council to verify and monitor that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the agreement, and our Board authorised us to do so.

The JCPOA represents a real gain for nuclear verification. 

Iran is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime. Our inspectors have expanded access to sites, and have more information about Iran’s nuclear programme. That programme is smaller than it was before the agreement came into force.

Iran is provisionally implementing the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. This is a powerful verification tool which gives us broader access to information and locations.

The IAEA will continue to implement safeguards in Iran with a view to being able to draw what we call the “broader conclusion” – that all nuclear material remains in peaceful activities – in due course. This is likely to take many years.

But we can already point to some valuable lessons from the process so far.

The first is that even complex and challenging issues can be tackled effectively if all parties are committed to dialogue – not dialogue for its own sake, but dialogue aimed at achieving results.

My second observation is that the IAEA was able to make a vital contribution, and maintain the confidence of all sides, by sticking to its technical mandate and not straying into politics. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Unfortunately, I cannot report progress on the other major verification issue which I mentioned – North Korea.

I remain seriously concerned about North Korea’s nuclear programme. Last year, it carried out two nuclear tests. It continues to launch missiles and threaten other countries. This is extremely worrying.

North Korea has declared its withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and, as I mentioned, our inspectors had to leave the country in April 2009.

We are still working hard to collect and evaluate information regarding North Korea’s nuclear programme, including by monitoring satellite imagery as well as open-source and trade-related information.

Without direct access, the Agency cannot confirm the operational status of North Korea’s nuclear facilities or what exactly is going on there. But all the indications suggest that North Korea is making progress with its nuclear programme.

In the present circumstances, it is difficult to be optimistic. But our inspectors are ready to return to North Korea at short notice if political developments make this possible.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before concluding, I should note that nuclear disarmament is a major issue here in Geneva, home of the Conference on Disarmament.

I hope very much that the world will be free of nuclear weapons. The IAEA makes an important contribution to the establishment of such a world.

We do this primarily through our safeguards activities, through which we aim to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in countries. This is a valuable international confidence-building activity.

The Agency can also help to build confidence among States by making our safeguards expertise available, if requested, to verify the implementation of nuclear disarmament agreements.

We support the creation of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and help to implement them. These already cover vast regions of the world.

And through our nuclear security programme, as I mentioned earlier, we help to prevent nuclear and other radioactive material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me mention finally that the IAEA has an office here in Geneva. It is headed by my very capable colleague Ms Meena Singelee.

I could say much more about the remarkable work of the IAEA. But I will stop here so we can open up the floor for discussion.

Thank you.

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