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Atoms for Peace: A perspective from the IAEA

Vienna, Austria

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Distinguished participants,

It is an honour to address such a renowned audience - including several revered old friends - and to do so on behalf of the IAEA (or, as we are known by many, simply the "Agency" - a name I've noticed can create some confusion here in Washington). This "Agency" is, of course, an organization that owes its very existence to 'Atoms for Peace'. And I should mention that - in rather tardy recognition of this heritage - we have quite recently adopted those very three words as the IAEA's "slogan", appearing directly beneath its logo, the familiar UN olive branches surrounding the symbol of a beryllium atom. Frankly, we could find no other words that so succinctly, yet accurately, captured the essence of our work - fostering nuclear technology, verifying its peaceful use, and enhancing nuclear safety.

Political controversies have frequently surrounded the Atoms for Peace initiative. As Larry Scheinman noted in his history of the Agency1, international organizations often find themselves at the centre of political debates, and "despite its uncommon record for dealing with subjects on their technical merits, the IAEA is no exception." Although Larry's observation is certainly consistent with my own experience, I would qualify it by adding that the Agency's Secretariat, for its part, has consistently sought to avoid politics. As Mohamed ElBaradei reminded the Board of Governors at the height of the recent debate over Iran: "We (the Secretariat) intend, as always, to keep to technical matters and to avoid any political colouring. We are - on this as on all other issues - politically 'blind', because political assessment is not the role of the Secretariat."

In keeping with that tradition I will not focus today on the global, political consequences of Atoms for Peace. Instead, I will concentrate first on the dual nature of the initiative, a point that is fundamental to the Agency's existence. I will then touch on some of the major challenges the Agency has faced and the significant changes that have resulted, and conclude with a look at what may lie ahead. Throughout, I'll try to offer a perspective from inside the Agency and from inside the debates of its Board of Governors, where the implementation of grand policy is repeatedly tested by the harsh practical realities of both resource constraints and the often sharply differing views and priorities among Member States - which, together, can generate heated exchanges regarding the proper 'balance' among the Agency's areas of activity.

And I will focus my remarks today primarily on the period since the meeting, exactly two decades ago, that first assessed Atoms for Peace - on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Eisenhower's initiative. Not only were the genesis and philosophy of the initiative and its first three decades thoroughly, indeed brilliantly, covered at that earlier meeting, but also the years since conveniently coincide, more or less, with my own association with the Agency, which began as a US delegate to its emergency sessions held immediately following the Chernobyl accident.

Duality

One aspect of the Agency has remained fundamental from the outset, namely the dual objective with which it was founded - the two sides of the atomic coin - the quid pro quo: the commitment, on the one hand, to advancing the use of nuclear science and technology, and on the other hand, to containing the spread of nuclear weapons. This duality is clearly outlined in the Agency's Statute and was subsequently reinforced by the NPT, that other direct derivative of Atoms for Peace. Yet, as Secretary Schlesinger noted this morning, questions have periodically arisen as to whether such a dual mandate is practicable. In fact, recent events have led some to argue that the two goals are fundamentally incompatible, and that the Agency should be split into two separate organizations.

You won't be surprised to learn that I don't agree. Indeed, I believe the real contribution of the Agency in advancing Atoms for Peace can be measured in terms of its parallel progress on these mutually reinforcing, interdependent fronts - while maintaining, and when necessary adjusting, the sometimes precarious balance between them. To my mind, it is the very dynamic of this delicate balance between the two mandates that holds the Agency together and results in the uniquely strong support it enjoys among its 137 Member States.

Remember that the solid majority of those Member States are from the developing world and, for them, the transfer of civilian nuclear technology is the clear priority. To reach consensus within the Board - a well established tradition in keeping with the 'spirit of Vienna' - that majority's acceptance of activities related to verification is carefully balanced by the support of the minority, the developed countries, for technology transfer. As stated by the late Munir Ahmad Khan, a former Chairman of the Board: "The Agency cannot live on safeguards alone. In the long run it can survive only if it provides concrete and meaningful services for accelerating the socio-economic development of its Member States."

While the terminology used to express this duality has varied ("safeguards versus technical assistance", "promotional versus regulatory activities", "verification versus technology transfer"), its nature remains essentially the same as that originally articulated by President Eisenhower. Fifty years later, while the political landscape has evolved and new challenges have arrived to replace the old, the dual nature of Atoms for Peace continues to dominate our programme, the allocation of resources in our budget, and much of our thinking.

Of course, it is essential to acknowledge straight away that certain peaceful applications can in some instances bring a peaceful nuclear programme precariously close to weapons capability. As Dr. ElBaradei put it recently, "the margin of security between sensitive fuel cycle activities and weapons capability under the current non-proliferation regime is becoming too close for comfort." I'll add some further thoughts on that issue a bit later.

I will begin, however, by examining the Agency's technology transfer role.

Nuclear Technology Applications
Over the past five decades, nuclear applications have expanded to become a constant factor in daily life - certainly in the developed world. The Agency's focus, however, has increasingly been the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques to address the daunting challenges in the developing world - disease, poverty, hunger and a shortage of drinking water.

Consider the application of the radiation induced "sterile insect technique" (or "SIT") to control insect pests. I remember well a day in 1997 when Hans Blix, then the Director General, was presented with a small Lucite cube in which was encased what was claimed to be the "last tsetse fly from Zanzibar". The tsetse fly has long devastated sub-Saharan economies by killing livestock - including draft animals - and by spreading deadly sleeping sickness to humans. SIT worked to eliminate the tsetse fly in Zanzibar where other techniques, including the massive application of pesticides, had failed. The same technique has been used to eradicate the screwworm fly from Libya - as well as from all of North and Central America - and is being applied in Mexico and the US against the Mediterranean fruit fly (or medfly), a major threat to fruit and vegetable crops.

An even greater socio-economic benefit has resulted from radiation induced mutations in crop plants. In particular, the development of new rice strains, or 'cultivars', in Thailand, Japan, China and Australia, has resulted in tens of billions of dollars of increased crop value at the farm gate. Similar results have also been obtained for other crops, such as cotton, bread wheat, chickpea, barley and durum wheat. There is no doubt that these and more than 2000 other radiation induced mutant cultivars represent a proven method in crop breeding and have greatly contributed to an improved standard of living in Asia, as well as in other regions of the world.

The importance of this aspect of Atoms for Peace - using nuclear techniques to address socio-economic needs - cannot be overstressed. There are many more examples. Isotope tracers are being used to monitor factors that affect nutrition - a huge problem in developing countries, where nearly 200 million children are chronically undernourished. The Agency is initiating an extensive campaign to raise funds to expand the availability of radiotherapy in the developing world, in response to projections of an impending crisis in cancer management in these countries. Isotope hydrology is being applied to understand the causes and effects of climate change, to monitor the integrity of dams and water reservoirs, and to measure and manage the supply of drinking water in underground aquifers. In short, we are working to apply nuclear techniques where they will count the most, to enhance human development worldwide.

In 1953, however, the peaceful application of greatest interest and promise was, as you know, nuclear power - which, according to the original vision in Atoms for Peace, would bring "abundant electrical energy in the power starved areas of the world". This vision, of course, as Dr. Schlesinger noted, has not thus far been realized. Although the percentage of nuclear electricity in individual countries has reached as high as 75-80%, the global share has in fact never risen above 17%, where it has hovered ever since the Chernobyl accident in 1986. The only current growth market for nuclear power is in Asia, and most projections foresee a gradual global decline in the coming decades or, at most, only slight growth - despite projected enormous increases in electricity demand - due to the lack of political support for nuclear power and the economics of recently deregulated markets.

Many experts, however, believe that this situation could change. The increasing emphasis on preventing climate change, and the resultant need to minimize the impact of electricity generation, is leading an ever greater number of leaders to speak in support of nuclear power as a source of large scale energy production that generates little or no greenhouse gases. And a key factor in this opportunity for a revival of nuclear power will be the success of nuclear innovation - through efforts such as the Agency's International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO), and the US-led Generation IV initiative. These innovation efforts, if successful, will address concerns related to safety, security, proliferation, waste disposal and economics, paving the way for a new generation of reactors that benefit from five decades of design and operational experience.

Safety and Security
The past twenty years have witnessed dramatic changes in the area of nuclear safety - changes inaugurated, in large part, in reaction to the accident at Chernobyl and driven by an upsurge in international co-operation. The Agency's response to that disaster was rapid, facilitating an international review of the causes and progression of the accident. Indeed, by the time of the IAEA General Conference in September of that year, 1986, the so-called Notification and Assistance Conventions had been both negotiated and opened for signature. The resulting momentum highlighted the need for significant safety improvements, provided the basis for the review of the Agency's Safety Standards, and in particular underscored the importance of expanded international co-operation to ensure that safety performance would be raised in all facilities, in all countries.

The long term result has been a complete international rethinking of the approach to safety, not only of nuclear power plants but also of other nuclear facilities and radioactive sources. The Agency has been at the forefront of this revolution, leading, as it has, to the development of international conventions (most recently those on nuclear safety and the safety of spent fuel and waste management), and widespread use of international peer reviews that use Agency standards as the baseline - standards that have been strengthened with the support of many countries and are becoming accepted worldwide.

Turning now to security, I need hardly say that the events of 9/11 dramatically called for the immediate consideration of terrorism in all its forms - including the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism. It became rapidly apparent that 'the lesson of Chernobyl', in the safety sphere, should be applied to security as well: that is, that the international nuclear security regime should be urgently strengthened, without waiting for a 'watershed' nuclear security incident to provide the impetus for security upgrades and expanded international co-operation.

The response of the Agency to the events of 9/11 was swift - an action plan, building on an existing but modest nuclear security programme, developed and approved by the Board within a very few months, a Nuclear Security Fund established, and significant pledges received. Member States have been generous in providing both financial and in-kind resources to fund a broad range of actions - new threat assessments, upgraded border monitoring, missions to locate and recover orphaned radiological sources, facility security upgrades, co-ordinated actions to reduce the threat of 'dirty bombs' as terrorist weapons, and increased co-ordination with relevant international law enforcement bodies, to name a few.

Verification
Needless to say, nuclear verification issues have been very much in the public spotlight over the past few years. Leaders around the world have struggled and learned to trip the letters 'IAEA' off their tongues - often, even in that order. The nuclear 'watchdog', as they call it, has of late been barking, often and rather loudly. Let me recall why.

The discovery in 1991, in the immediate wake of the Gulf War, of an extensive, well financed clandestine nuclear weapon programme in Iraq was a watershed event - the first occasion on which it was concluded by the Agency that a State Party to the NPT had violated its safeguards obligations. This revelation presented a profound challenge to the non-proliferation regime as a whole, and to the Agency in particular. The IAEA's post-war role, pursuant to Security Council resolutions, was clear: to map out the programme and destroy it, to remove any nuclear materials that might be used for weapons production, and to establish a monitoring system to ensure that the programme was not reconstituted. Security Council resolution 687 (1991) gave the Agency unprecedented powers, with access anywhere, to anyone, to any document, at any time.

But it soon became clear that successfully addressing this challenge would have implications far beyond verification of Iraqi nuclear disarmament. Limitations affecting the ability of IAEA safeguards inspectors to fulfil their non-proliferation verification functions had earlier been acknowledged, and consideration had been given to strengthening the system both at the NPT Review Conference in 1990 and by the Agency's Board and General Conference. But it took a dramatic event - the discovery of Iraq's extensive clandestine programme - to kick start an intensified process of re-examination and subsequent overhaul of the system. The objective was to overcome the reluctance of States to cede additional sovereignty and address the demonstrated need, now undeniable, for the capability to provide credible assurance not only of the non-diversion of declared material, but also of the absence of any undeclared nuclear material or activities.

"Programme 93+2", as it was known, first strengthened safeguards to the extent possible under the legal authority already conferred by existing safeguards agreements. And, the initial results of this process were soon put to the test, by the non-compliance of the DPRK with its NPT safeguards agreement. Using the lessons learned from Iraq, Hans Blix, then Director General, in 1993 invoked the special inspection procedure. When that request was refused, the Board was asked to confirm that a special inspection was essential and urgent. Indeed, it was a particularly dramatic day in the Board Room when satellite imagery photographs - showing sequential construction and concealment at the locations in question over a period of weeks and months - were projected on the screen. That information, together with inspection data, environmental sampling and record examinations, convinced the Board to conclude that a special inspection was necessary so that inspectors could verify the completeness and correctness of the DPRK's initial declaration and, in particular, determine what quantities of plutonium had been separated at Nyongbyon before our NPT inspections began. Following the DPRK's denial of access, the Board found the DPRK to be in non-compliance and reported this to the Security Council.

This confrontation, as you know, led ultimately in 1994 to the Agreed Framework between the US and the DPRK, and thus the Agency was never afforded the opportunity - then or since - to verify the DPRK's initial declaration. Nonetheless, the Agency, for its part, demonstrated that it had already learned from the case of Iraq and was able to respond effectively to this new case of non-compliance, even coming so close on the heels of the first.

That the international community appreciated the rapidity of the Agency's adaptation was reflected at the historic 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, so skilfully chaired by Jayantha Dhanapala, in which States Parties further indicated their willingness to accept more effective IAEA safeguards. This vote of confidence in the value of the Agency's role contributed to the momentum that culminated in 1997 with the adoption by the Board of the Model Additional Protocol.

As you know, the additional protocol (AP) went beyond existing legal instruments and significantly expanded the Agency's capability to verify a State's compliance with its undertakings. It provides broader access to information and extended access to locations, whether declared or not. It has since become an integral - but unfortunately not yet universally applied - feature of the Agency's safeguards system. For countries with both a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an AP in force, the Agency can, indeed, now give credible assurance not only of the non-diversion of declared material but also of the absence of any undeclared nuclear material or activities.

Of course, in the middle of this chronology of challenges came the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998. However, these events - though a subject hotly debated and loudly condemned in the Agency's Board Room, and one that extended the last day of that year's General Conference until 3:00 in the morning - were a challenge to non-proliferation by States outside the NPT regime and, in that sense, beyond the Agency's oversight.

But there were, of course, other challenges to come. Back in Iraq, in December 1998, on the eve of military action by the US and the UK, the Agency's Iraq Action Team inspectors were obliged to leave and abandon their on-going monitoring and verification programme aimed at ensuring that the nuclear weapon programme, destroyed by the Agency in 1991-1992, was not being reconstituted.

Fast forwarding to just a year ago, the Action Team - since renamed the Iraq Nuclear Verification Office - was given the task of returning to Iraq - to determine whether it had restarted its nuclear programme during the four-year inspection hiatus since 1998. Although the three and a half month window before war was initiated was too short for the team to complete all aspects of its review, the Director General was able to report to the Security Council in March this year that it had found no evidence of reconstitution in Iraq of a nuclear weapons programme. It is noteworthy that the recent interim report of the Iraq Survey Group under David Kay has - at least to date - reached the same conclusion.

As the Director General has stated on numerous occasions, the Agency continues to have a verification mandate in Iraq, both under the various Security Council resolutions and under Iraq's NPT safeguards agreement. It should be allowed to return to Iraq as soon as possible and bring its credibility and experience to bear in completing its investigation interrupted in March, and to reinstate its monitoring and verification activities, as mandated by the Security Council. He has also expressed the hope that a new, legally constituted, government in Iraq would quickly conclude and bring into force an additional protocol.

Of course, concerns also re-emerged last year regarding the DPRK's nuclear programme. Since 1994, the Agency's role under the Agreed Framework had been limited to maintaining inspectors at Nyongbyon - continuously and under most Spartan conditions - to monitor and provide assurance of the 'freeze' of the nuclear programme at that location. Last December, however, the DPRK abruptly disabled the Agency's surveillance cameras, cut through Agency seals, and, on New Year's Eve, ordered the inspectors to leave the country. And, very shortly thereafter, early this year, the DPRK announced its withdrawal from the NPT.

At present, this situation leaves the Agency sidelined, although we remain committed to continuing to work with the DPRK and we welcome the six-nation talks and hope they will shortly resume. And, I notice there are developments underway as we speak. But any settlement should, at a minimum, in our opinion, provide for the full implementation of the DPRK's NPT safeguards agreement and an additional protocol. The Agency also stands ready to verify the dismantlement of any nuclear weapon related infrastructure and components in the DPRK - drawing on its experience gained in the early 1990s in verifying both the voluntary dismantlement of South Africa's and the reluctant dismantlement of Iraq's nuclear weapons programmes.

This brings me to an important point - that of the value of the Agency's considerable experience and ever-improving techniques in increasing its capability to respond to subsequent challenges. In the context of the most recent verification challenge - Iran - the environmental sampling techniques used in Iraq have, for example, been essential to the Agency's investigations during this past year. As a result of the numerous inspections, repeated dogged questioning from the Agency, and intense international pressure, today we have significantly greater knowledge and understanding of Iran's nuclear programme - its history, nature and extent - than at any time in the past. And, in the past few months, Iran, as you know, has finally admitted to having failed to adhere to many of its obligations under its NPT safeguards agreement. Agency inspectors have been on the ground in Iran, have been in the unique position of having seen and taken samples at all the facilities in question, have had direct interaction with the relevant people, and have brought their past experience to bear in addressing this latest challenge. The resulting facts have been central to the comprehensive reports the Director General has provided to the Board.

But our work in Iran remains a 'work in progress'; we have found no conclusive evidence, to date, of a weapons programme, but neither are we ready to conclude that the programme is conclusively peaceful in nature. Extensive verification work remains, and full co-operation and transparency on the part of Iran - which we expect - will be essential. We will provide a further report, based on additional inspections and analysis, at the next meeting of the Board scheduled for March 2004.

We are hopeful that the widely publicized attention given to the importance of the AP in the case of Iran - which has now agreed to sign and to act, in the meantime, as if the protocol was already in force - will prompt others to take the necessary and responsible steps.

I will conclude the subject of verification by mentioning a recent initiative of the Director General that relates back, in a modified way, to Atoms for Peace, which - as you will remember - called for nations "…to make joint contributions from their stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials to an international atomic energy agency."

The Director General put forward his reassessment of that concept just two months ago in an invited article in The Economist, where he suggested studying multinational approaches to the proliferation sensitive front end of the fuel cycle (e.g. enrichment, reprocessing, fuel fabrication) as well as the management and disposal of spent fuel.

At the General Assembly last month, he suggested that these proposals would be an important step towards reassuring the international community that these portions of civilian nuclear fuel cycle programmes are not vulnerable to misuse.

We are not yet sure where these ideas will lead but it is gratifying to note that early reactions to the initiative from both Secretary of Energy Abraham and Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Rumyanstsev, among others, have been positive.

Conclusion

So, have the dual objectives so fundamental to both Atoms for Peace and the Statute of the Agency been a success? Rather than offer my subjective assessment, let me refer to a more objective source, the most recent NPT Review Conference held in 2000, which, I think it is fair to say, gave a resounding vote of confidence in the continuing relevance and value of the Agency's dual mission.

But "money speaks", and an even more basic vote of confidence in the Agency - and thereby in Atoms for Peace - was given earlier this year by its Member States in the form of a significant increase in the budget. To be fully appreciated, this increase - which came after fifteen years of constraining zero real growth and the risk of safeguards failure - should be viewed against the backdrop of the reduced, or at best flat, budgets of the vast majority of other United Nations organizations.

Many have come to see the Agency's safeguards programme - at just $100 million annually - as a bargain in the cause of nuclear diplomacy. However, we still do not have sufficient funds to perform independent particle analysis, nor to purchase satellite imagery to the extent we would like, nor to add certain other capabilities that would improve our independence and credibility.

To conclude then: the IAEA - the most significant institutional legacy of Atoms for Peace - has faced, dealt with, and I believe learned and gained strength from, this litany of challenges. And here I must note how much it has benefited over the last two decades from the guidance and leadership of - first Hans Blix and, since 1997, Mohamed ElBaradei. By virtue of their pivotal role in recent world events, both of them, as you know, have become household names. And, I might add, both, together with their respective organizations (UNMOVIC and the IAEA), were reportedly on the short list of the nominees for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

There of course will be more challenges to come: the increasing fight for human development; the campaign to ensure that, in the face of soaring electricity demand and the threat of climate change, innovative nuclear power technologies are available as a safe and economically viable solution; the protection of nuclear facilities and materials against terrorism; and the task of re-thinking and further strengthening elements of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. In meeting these challenges, the Agency will continue to rely on the strong support of its Member States, operating in the "spirit of Vienna", to maintain a balance between the two objectives - the dual promises - of Atoms for Peace.

I should mention in closing that just before I boarded the plane to come here I had the pleasure of participating in the dedication of a bust of Dwight Eisenhower, donated by the United States to the Agency on this fiftieth anniversary of Atoms for Peace. It will rightfully occupy a place of honour at the entrance to our Board Room, alongside busts of a very select group of others who have played major roles in the nuclear arena. I take this as a sign of recognition that Atoms for Peace is here to stay.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018

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