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Director General’s Statement at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Washington DC

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is always a pleasure for me to speak at the Wilson Center.

I am pleased that you have chosen to devote a two-day conference to the first 60 years of the IAEA and delighted to see so many old friends and colleagues.

The IAEA is proud to celebrate six decades of serving the world.

The Agency has helped to improve the health and prosperity of millions of people by making nuclear science and technology available in health care, food and agriculture, industry and other areas.

We also contributed to international peace and security by verifying that nuclear material stays in peaceful uses.

From the 26 countries which ratified the IAEA Statute in 1957, we have grown to an organisation with 168 Member States that spans the globe. And our membership continues to expand.  

Our mandate is Atoms for Peace and Development. We address highly sensitive issues such as the nuclear programmes of North Korea and Iran. We help developing countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and to introduce nuclear power, if they wish to do so. We serve as the global platform for nuclear safety and security. Most importantly, we deliver concrete results.

Before taking up the nuclear non-proliferation issues I mentioned, I would like to tell you briefly about the development side of our work.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

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.

The IAEA has been assisting Member States in these areas for decades. They are now also covered by the Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by world leaders in 2015. 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, 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 pollutants and toxins in the seas, their transfer to marine organisms, and their increasing concentrations as they rise up the food chain to end on our plates. The IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco help counties to detect and measure such contamination so they can take the necessary measures to protect consumers.

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 with desirable characteristics 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 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 courses 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. The laboratories are now undergoing a long overdue modernisation. We also have environmental laboratories in Monaco, as I mentioned a moment ago. They concentrate on marine pollution and ocean acidification.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last week, I was in Abu Dhabi for an IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century.

 At present, 30 countries are using nuclear power. It is likely to make a growing contribution to sustainable development in the coming decades.

Today, 70% of the world’s electricity comes from fossil fuels. Eleven percent comes from nuclear power, which is one of the lowest-carbon technologies for generating electricity. But when it comes to low-carbon electricity, nuclear generates almost one third of the global total.

By 2050, if climate change goals set under the Paris Agreement are to be met, around 80% of electricity will need to be low-carbon. Nuclear power plants produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions or air pollutants during their operation. Emissions over their entire life cycle are very low.

The use of nuclear power reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about two gigatonnes per year. That is the equivalent of taking more than 400 million cars off the road – every year.

It is difficult to see how the world will be able to meet the challenge of securing sufficient energy, and mitigating the impact of climate change, without making more use of nuclear power.

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.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

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

For example, we establish 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 IAEA coordinated the international response to the most serious accidents at nuclear power plants – at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi in 2011.

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 turn to the nuclear verification work of the IAEA.

We implement safeguards in 181 countries, sending inspectors all over the world to check that countries’ activities remain in peaceful purposes. Let me take a moment to explain how this works.

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. The IAEA analyses the declarations and sends inspectors to verify that the declarations are correct. We install cameras, tamper-proof seals and other equipment so that we know what is happening when our inspectors are not physically present. After this initial stage, we continue to monitor the facilities and locations to verify that no misuse of facilities, or diversion of nuclear material from peaceful activities, takes place.  

Since the end of the last century, the IAEA has been strongly encouraging States to conclude an additional protocol, which is a very powerful verification tool. This requires countries to submit very extensive and detailed declarations about their activities related to the nuclear fuel cycle, and to update them at least once a year. The Agency analyses the declarations and, if necessary, seeks clarifications and accesses to specific locations. Countries have an obligation to provide both clarifications and access. Sometimes countries do not realise that certain activities, for example some types of scientific research, are safeguards-relevant, and may need to be declared. Agency staff work closely with their national counterparts to ensure that such activities are declared.

The important thing for us is to gain a full understanding of a country’s nuclear fuel cycle – everything from the mining of uranium, all the way through 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. Our interest is in locations with nuclear material, nuclear fuel-cycle related equipment and expertise, or combinations of these elements. Whether or not a particular location is civilian or military is not relevant for the Agency.  And, as I mentioned, if we decide we need access to a site, States must provide it.

The IAEA has a legal obligation to protect confidential information which countries share with us in implementing their safeguards agreements and additional protocols. This is why we do not disclose information about the facilities and locations we inspect. Safeguards are implemented in all countries in the same rigorous, impartial and objective manner, in accordance with these legal agreements, and with standards and practices established over decades.  For States with a comprehensive safeguards agreement, our aim is to provide “credible assurance” that all nuclear material in a country remains in peaceful activities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Having explained the basic features of IAEA safeguards, I will now say a few words about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action concerning Iran’s nuclear programme, which was agreed in 2015.

The IAEA was asked by the UN Security Council to verify and monitor that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. The IAEA Board of Governors authorised us to do so.  The IAEA is not a party to the agreement, but we played a key role in bringing it about.

When I spoke to you last year, the JCPOA had been in effect for just a few months. Now, almost two years since Implementation Day, I can state that the nuclear-related commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented.

Iran is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime. It has committed itself to fully implementing its comprehensive safeguards agreement and is provisionally applying the Additional Protocol. It also agreed to additional transparency measures under the JCPOA. Our inspectors have expanded access to locations, and have more information about Iran’s nuclear programme, which is smaller than it was before the agreement came into effect.

A week ago, I visited Tehran and met President Rouhani, Vice President Salehi and Foreign Minister Zarif. I requested them to fully implement Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. They reaffirmed their determination to do so.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Unfortunately, it is not possible to report progress on the issue of North Korea. I remain seriously concerned about North Korea’s nuclear programme. The nuclear test it conducted in September, its sixth and largest to date, was extremely regrettable.

I call upon North Korea to comply fully with its obligations under all relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the IAEA.

Agency inspectors were required to leave North Korea in 2009. But we are working to maintain our readiness to return when political developments make this possible.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On a more general note, the world in which we implement safeguards today is very different from that of 1957, the year in which the IAEA was established. So are the challenges we face. New technology and modern communications have made it easier to access knowledge, materials and expertise that would have been much more restricted back then. That makes nuclear proliferation easier.

We have developed important legal instruments, such as the additional protocol, which I mentioned earlier. One hundred and thirty countries have brought additional protocols into force, giving the Agency greater access to locations and information. We also make increasing use of modern technology such as remote monitoring and satellite imagery. Advanced equipment and methods enable us to detect even minute particles of nuclear material.

We have dramatically improved our analytical capabilities by building new state-of-the-art safeguards laboratories near Vienna, which analyse samples of material brought back by our inspectors. Wherever possible, we monitor nuclear facilities remotely, in real time, using permanently installed cameras and other sensors. We are also making progress in using advanced information technology to collect and analyse a huge volume of safeguards-relevant information.

 The number of nuclear facilities coming under IAEA safeguards continues to grow steadily. So does the amount of nuclear material to be safeguarded.

IAEA resources are limited, demand from Member States for our services continues to grow and our budget is being squeezed. That means we must constantly find ways of working more effectively and more efficiently in all areas of our work, including safeguards. But, in turn, I call upon Member States to provide us with modest real increases in our budget.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you can see, the IAEA at 60 has a remarkably broad mandate which needs to be implemented in a balanced manner.

Our work is unique. No other organization offers the range of services related to nuclear science and technology that we do.

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. Delivering Atoms for Peace and Development will remain our primary goal.  

Thank you.


Last update: 25 Nov 2019

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