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German Council on Foreign Relations

Berlin Germany

Dr. Riecke, Professor Haeckel, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to speak at the German Council for International Relations.

Germany is a strong believer in multilateral diplomacy and has always been a staunch supporter of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is an experienced user of nuclear science and technology for peaceful purposes and participates actively in the Agency´s programmes. Germany is also a generous provider of international development aid, including through the IAEA´s technical cooperation programme, which makes nuclear technologies available to developing countries. And Germany is committed to the goal of a world free of all nuclear weapons.

I therefore feel I am among friends when I come to Berlin. In addressing the German Council on Foreign Relations, I know I am following in some very distinguished footsteps.

I became Director General of the IAEA in December 2009, so I have been in office for a little less than a year. The work, serving 151 Member States which often have very different views, has been both as rewarding and as challenging as I expected it to be. Today, I would like to speak to you about some of the key issues on the agenda of the IAEA and highlight some of the challenges, as well as the opportunities, which we face in our work.

Since taking office, I have been trying to change the widespread perception of the Agency as simply the world´s "nuclear watchdog" because it does not do justice to our extensive activities in other areas, especially in nuclear energy, nuclear applications, and technical cooperation. In the half-century since it was established, the Agency has pursued two fundamental goals: preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and helping to make nuclear technologies available for peaceful applications.

I would like to focus on three main areas - nuclear power, nuclear sciences and applications, and nuclear non-proliferation - and say a few words about the management of the Agency.

Nuclear Power

Let me start with nuclear power.

Nuclear power is enjoying growing acceptance throughout the world as a stable and clean source of energy that can help to mitigate the impact of climate change. More than 60 countries, mostly in the developing world, are considering introducing nuclear power to generate electricity. Between 10 and 25 new countries may bring their first nuclear power plants online by 2030. Many mature users of nuclear energy, especially in Asia, are considerably expanding their existing programmes.

I should stress that it is the right of each sovereign State to decide whether or not to opt for nuclear power and the Agency does not attempt to influence countries in any way. However, if countries do use nuclear power, or plan to use it, our job is to help them do it safely, efficiently and responsibly. I firmly believe that access to nuclear power should not be limited to developed countries. It should also be available to interested developing countries to help them lift their people out of poverty.

As well as devoting considerable energy to assisting newcomers, the Agency works closely with countries which have well-established nuclear energy programmes. We work with them in many areas, including improving nuclear waste disposal and decommissioning old reactors which have come to the end of their operating lifetime.

Reliable supplies of nuclear fuel are a crucial issue for countries which use, or are considering using, nuclear power. Last November, the IAEA Board of Governors approved a Russian proposal to set up a low enriched uranium reserve available to Member States upon request from the Agency. The goal is to give countries confidence that they will be able to obtain nuclear fuel if their supplies are disrupted for non-commercial reasons. Other possible assurance of supply mechanisms are under discussion, including a German proposal to create a multilateral uranium enrichment centre which would operate on an extra-territorial basis, under IAEA control.

It is no secret that the views of IAEA Member States are divided on this issue. My own view is that nuclear fuel supply assurance arrangements should not place any constraint on the rights of States. Nor should they be discriminatory. But I also believe that, regardless of the political differences that may exist on the merits of this idea, the IAEA is the best place to discuss it, because we can ensure full transparency and provide assistance. It is for Member States to decide whether to or not to establish such a mechanism.

Nuclear Safety and Security

Maintaining the highest standards of safety and security at nuclear facilities is of the utmost importance. The Agency works to protect people and the environment from harmful radiation exposure. We help countries to improve their safety practices and to prepare for, and respond, to emergencies. Our Incident and Emergency Centre in Vienna is the global focal point for international preparedness and response to nuclear and radiological safety- and security-related incidents or emergencies.

The Agency is the custodian of the main international safety and security instruments. Nuclear safety has improved considerably since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. This reflects factors including improved design, better operating procedures, a strengthened and more effective regulatory environment and the emergence of a strong safety culture. But safety is an area in which we can never be complacent.

As well as encouraging countries to implement the relevant international conventions - on nuclear safety, spent fuel management and radioactive waste management, for example - the Agency provides practical services such as peer review missions. These involve assembling teams of international experts who study a country´s operational safety practices or its regulatory system, advising on any shortcomings and recommending improvements. Lessons learned are widely shared and everyone benefits.

As far as nuclear security is concerned, the Agency has a growing programme to help countries ensure that nuclear and radioactive materials do not fall into the hands of terrorists. Responsibility for nuclear security rests with each State. But the IAEA can help countries to reduce the risk of terrorists obtaining nuclear or radioactive material and prevent sabotage at nuclear facilities. For example, we maintain an Illicit Trafficking Database, the most authoritative global source of information on thefts or other unauthorised movements of nuclear or radioactive materials. Since 1982, we have trained around 9,000 people from 120 countries in all aspects of nuclear security - from ensuring that facilities are secure against intrusion to installing detection equipment at border posts. We helped to protect against possible nuclear attacks at the World Cup in South Africa this year and at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, to name just two examples.

I greatly appreciate the strong support for our work in this field which was expressed by Chancellor Merkel at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington earlier this year. I am also very grateful for Germany´s pledge of a voluntary contribution of 10 million euros to the Agency´s nuclear security programme.

Nuclear Sciences and Applications

A lesser known area of the IAEA´s activities is making advanced nuclear science and technology available to help Member States meet the basic needs of their peoples.

Cancer therapy is a good example. For my first year as Director General, I chose to highlight the fight against cancer in developing countries. We organized a very successful Scientific Forum on this subject two weeks ago in Vienna, bringing together experts from all over the world. It is not widely known that cancer has reached epidemic proportions in developing countries, where it kills 665 people every hour - nearly three times as many as in developed countries. In many low-income countries, there is not a single radiation therapy machine. As a result, around 70 percent of global deaths from cancer occur in developing countries.

Through our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, launched in 2004, the IAEA - working in partnership with the World Health Organization and other organisations - has been playing a concrete role in improving cancer control in developing countries. The IAEA´s cancer expertise lies in radiotherapy and nuclear medicine. Since 1980, we have delivered over $220 million worth of cancer-related assistance to developing countries, providing equipment and training. I have visited cancer treatment centres in a number of developing countries this year and learned both how great the needs are, and how much can be achieved by dedicated medical professionals with very limited facilities. It will not surprise you to learn that, wherever I go, German nuclear medicine equipment is much in evidence.

Food security and agriculture are other areas in which we are active for the benefit of developing nations. Nuclear techniques made available by the IAEA have helped farmers in developing countries to combat diseases in plants and animals and to increase the size of their crops. The Agency is also active in helping to protect the world´s greatest natural resource - our oceans and seas. Our Environment Laboratories in Monaco have trained hundreds of scientists from all over the world in advanced methods for assessing marine pollution.

Challenges in Nuclear Non-Proliferation

Nuclear non-proliferation is, of course, the area of the IAEA´s work which attracts most attention. Our job is to verify that States are fully complying with their non-proliferation obligations.

Non-Nuclear Weapon States under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons are expected to conclude comprehensive safeguards agreements with the Agency, under which we conduct regular inspections of their nuclear material and activities. I also encourage countries to conclude and implement an additional protocol to their safeguards agreements. This instrument, introduced in the wake of the Gulf War, greatly enhances the IAEA´s verification capability by giving us expanded access to information and to relevant sites. It can enable us to provide credible assurance not only about the non-diversion of declared nuclear material, but also about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities. So far, 102 countries have brought additional protocols into force. It is my hope that all countries will do so in the near future. In some cases, the United Nations Security Council adopts resolutions in the nuclear verification area, as in the cases of Iran and North Korea.

The Agency seeks to verify that all nuclear material in a country is accounted for and that none has been diverted from peaceful nuclear activities. The standard in nuclear verification is very simple: all safeguards agreements between Member States and the Agency - as well as other relevant obligations such as UN Security Council resolutions - should be implemented fully.

In the case of Iran, while the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material, Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.

It is clear that there is a limit to what the Agency alone can do to help achieve a satisfactory resolution of international concerns about the nature of Iran´s nuclear programme. For that to happen, it is crucial that international diplomacy and dialogue, through the United Nations and political frameworks such as the P3+3, function smoothly, which in turn would also help the work of the IAEA.

North Korea´s nuclear programme remains a matter of serious concern to the international community. I hope that every effort will be made towards diplomatic dialogue in a framework such as the Six Party Talks. The IAEA is ready to contribute to future verification arrangements if given the necessary legal authority and resources.

In the area of nuclear disarmament, I welcome the recent agreement by the United States and the Russian Federation to make significant cuts in their nuclear arsenals. In a different context, Russia and the United States recently requested IAEA assistance to independently verify implementation of their agreement on the disposition of plutonium no longer required for defence purposes.

I believe that, through its verification activities, the Agency can make an important contribution to the implementation of nuclear disarmament. This was one of the points I made when, at the commemoration ceremonies for the nuclear catastrophe at Nagasaki in August, I made my own personal commitment to redouble my efforts to help bring about a world free of nuclear weapons. Coming as I do from Japan, I strongly believe in the need to achieve a safe and peaceful world free from nuclear weapons.

Before concluding, I would like to highlight a problem which, regrettably, is not unique to the IAEA - the problem of funding. Our Member States, including countries in Europe, face serious financial constraints at the moment because of the world economic slowdown and have difficulties in increasing their contributions to the Agency. On the other hand, almost all countries expect the Agency to meet new and expanding needs which require considerable increases in funding. It is not easy to square this circle. I have been working hard to improve efficiency and to establish clearer priorities, and at the same time to establish a realistic budget that will enable us to meet the growing needs of our Member States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have given you a very broad outline of the work of the IAEA and noted some of the challenges we face. Let me conclude by saying that I believe the Agency is most effective when it pursues its dual mandate - preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and supporting the peaceful use of nuclear technology - in a balanced manner. As Director General, I will strive to maintain that balance and ensure we meet the needs of all our Member States as effectively as possible.

Thank you.

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Last update: 26 July 2017