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IAEA Director General's Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors

Vienna, Austria

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi delivering his opening statement to the IAEA Board of Governors on 15 June 2020. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Madam Chairperson,

The three months since the last meeting of the Board of Governors have been unprecedented in the history of the IAEA.

As cases of COVID-19 infection mounted alarmingly in March, we went virtually overnight into a lockdown, sending almost all of our 2,500 staff, consultants and contractors home.

In fact, the transition to a remote working environment was remarkably smooth. Our staff proved adaptable and resilient, fully justifying their reputation as the finest team of professionals in the UN system. Advance planning, including our business continuity arrangements, proved effective in mitigating the difficulties posed by access restrictions at the VIC.   We were able to quickly scale up our IT infrastructure and adopt new HR guidelines on working arrangements. The health and safety of staff were our paramount consideration at all times.

I postponed non-essential travel and events through to the end of June and encouraged managers to make greater use of technology and hold virtual events. This Board of Governors meeting is the first ever to be held online with interpretation. We identified a suitable platform for remote simultaneous interpretation. Virtual meetings will remain a key instrument while COVID-19 related restrictions continue. Agency staff have gradually been returning to their offices since May 15, with social distancing measures in place and face masks being worn in common spaces, but many continue to work at home.

We prepared three special reports for this Board, taking stock of the impact of the pandemic on the main areas of our work. These are: IAEA Support to Member State Efforts in Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic; The operation, safety and security of nuclear and radiation facilities and activities during the COVID-19 Pandemic; and Safeguards implementation during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

I said when the crisis began that there were two areas of the Agency’s work which would not be halted, no matter what happened. We would continue to implement safeguards to prevent any misuse of nuclear material and activities for non-peaceful purposes. And we would do everything we possibly could to assist Member States in confronting the coronavirus.

I am pleased, and proud, to tell you that both pledges were kept.

When 121 countries turned to the Agency for assistance with the virus, we delivered. In the largest operation ever mounted by the IAEA, we have so far shipped 319 consignments of equipment for virus detection and diagnosis, accessories, personal protective equipment and other supplies to 88 countries. Shipments are underway to other countries, although some have faced delay because of restrictions on transport.

We have received generous contributions from Member States as well as a pledge from the private sector, but these are not sufficient to meet demand. I encourage all Member States in a position to do so to contribute to our efforts to help countries fight COVID-19. We cannot stop now.  

As far as safeguards implementation is concerned, we continued to carry out all of our most time-critical in-field verification work, while rescheduling some less urgent activities, such as equipment installation and maintenance. Delivery of most safeguards activities at headquarters and at regional offices continued. We maintained our verification and monitoring activities, including by chartering aircraft for inspectors for the first time in the history of the Agency.

Madam Chairperson,

The Agency has conducted so many pandemic-related activities since the March Board that I could not list them all. The following is a sample:

  • We organised webinars in five languages to support radiotherapy, nuclear medicine and radiology services in Member States and help laboratories to continue providing essential services safely. Subjects included radiation protection for patients and health care workers. Many thousands of specialists from 125 countries participated.
  • Webinars and guidance were made available to veterinary specialists through the VETLAB network.
  • We assisted Uganda in using isotopic techniques to ensure the safety of relief food distributed to those made vulnerable during the lockdown.
  • The Agency was asked to evaluate the efficacy of radiation for sterilising used respiratory masks of hospital staff. We concluded that radiation should not be used on respiratory face masks as it impairs the performance of filters. However, it remains an effective tool for sterilising other personal protective equipment.
  • We launched the COVID-19 Operational Experience Network to enable nuclear power plant operators and related organizations to share information on the impact of the pandemic. Reports from operators and regulators indicate that safety and security are being maintained at nuclear power plants around the world. No country has reported the enforced shutdown of a nuclear power reactor due to the effects of COVID-19 on the workforce or supply chains.

  • We conducted a survey on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Regulatory Activities for the Safety of Radiation Sources. More than 90 Regulators responded and suggested additional safety guidance to be provided by the Agency. We will share the results of the survey with Member States.
  • The IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre remained fully operational 24 hours per day during the lockdown and scheduled nuclear safety and security exercises took place as planned.

Despite all our hard work, we are only scratching the surface of much bigger problems which the pandemic has exposed.

These include: insufficient capabilities in many countries to detect viruses and other threats to human health; inadequate equipment in laboratories in many developing countries; and the need for better communication between health institutions throughout the world.

The Agency had already been doing important work in all of these areas. But I felt it was essential to pull these diverse strands together into a coherent and comprehensive framework of assistance to ensure that we can continue to deliver the help that is so urgently needed now, and that the world is better prepared for future pandemics, which will surely occur.

That is why I am launching the IAEA Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) project to establish a global network of national diagnostic laboratories that can conduct coordinated monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases, using nuclear or nuclear-derived techniques.

Through ZODIAC, Member States will have access to equipment, technology packages, expertise, guidance and training. With national laboratories connected to a regional network, and regional networks linked through a global platform, decision-makers will receive up-to-date, user-friendly information that will enable them to act quickly.

The IAEA’s long-established partnerships with organisations such as FAO and WHO have proved invaluable during the coronavirus pandemic. I am inviting them, and others, to work with us on ZODIAC.

I encourage all Member States to fully support this important initiative. ZODIAC is the vehicle for assistance with COVID-19 and beyond.

Madam Chairperson,

I will now turn to some non-COVID related developments.

The IAEA Annual Report for 2019 is before the Board. It is the Board’s report to the General Conference, summarising the Agency’s work to promote peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology, enhance nuclear safety and security, and implement safeguards. We have tried to make the document more readable, accessible and visually appealing.

We achieved another milestone in the renovation of the nuclear applications laboratories in Seibersdorf with the opening of the new Yukiya Amano Laboratories building on June 5. It will house three laboratories.

We were unfortunately unable to host a large celebration and invite you all, as we would have liked, because of COVID-19 restrictions.

But we were greatly honoured by the presence of Austrian Foreign Minister Schallenberg. I thank Austria once again for being a model host country and a very generous supporter of the work of the IAEA, and of the lab renovation. I hope that you will all soon be able to visit these remarkable facilities, which will strengthen our ability to provide services in many areas, including fighting diseases such as COVID-19.

Planning continues for the final project phase to house the last three unrenovated laboratories in a new building. I will keep the Board informed. I again thank the Friends of ReNuAL and all Member States for their extraordinary support for this important effort. 

In April, the Agency joined the UN Environment Programme’s Global Mercury Partnership to help protect people and global ecosystems from sustained releases of mercury and its toxic derivative compounds.

Madam Chairperson, 

My report on Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 covers relevant activities of the Agency in the last few months.

As previously reported, Iran announced in January that its nuclear programme would no longer be “subject to any restrictions in the operational sphere” and that Iran would continue to cooperate with the Agency “as in the past”. To date, the Agency has not observed any changes to Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments in connection with this particular announcement, or in the level of cooperation by Iran in relation to Agency verification and monitoring activities under the JCPOA.

The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. Evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities for Iran continue.

You have also received my report entitled NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which describes the Agency’s efforts to clarify questions relating to the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations under its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol.

I note with serious concern that, for over four months, Iran has denied us access to two locations and that, for almost a year, it has not engaged in substantive discussions to clarify our questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities. This is adversely affecting the Agency’s ability to resolve the questions and to provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities at these locations in Iran.

I call on Iran to cooperate immediately and fully with the Agency, including by providing prompt access to the locations specified by us.

Madam Chairperson,

The number of States with safeguards agreements in force has not changed since the last Board. It stands at 184, while 136 of these States have brought additional protocols into force.

I ask States Parties to the NPT without comprehensive safeguards agreements in force to bring such agreements into force without delay. I hope that States which have not yet concluded additional protocols will do so as soon as possible. I also call on States with small quantities protocols based on the old standard text to amend or rescind them. This is essential and part of their non-proliferation responsibilities.

The Agency continues to monitor the nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, using open source information including satellite imagery. No significant recent changes have been observed.

We remain ready to resume verification of the DPRK’s nuclear programme from day one if a political agreement is reached among countries concerned.

I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the Agency, and to resolve all outstanding issues, including those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country.

As far as implementation of safeguards in the Syrian Arab Republic is concerned, there have been no new developments since the last report to the Board. I call on Syria to cooperate fully with us in connection with all unresolved issues.

Madam Chairperson,

My Technical Cooperation Report for 2019 shows that the Agency supported 147 countries and territories last year through the TC programme, 35 of which were least developed countries. The main focus of our work was on health and nutrition, nuclear safety and security, and food and agriculture.

Capacity-building, a core TC activity, continued as much as possible during the lockdown.

In Africa, we are placing increasing emphasis on long term training that leads to academic and professional qualification. Fifteen African PhD students of isotope hydrology are being supported under a regional project on the management of shared water resources in the Sahel.

In Asia and the Pacific, nuclear medicine professionals benefited from five regional training courses held in Japan, while in Latin America, our Workshops for Future Nuclear Leaders are helping young professionals to promote and apply nuclear science and technology.

I remind Member States of the importance of making their Technical Cooperation Fund and National Participation Costs payments on time, and in full, for the 2020-2021 TC cycle.

As far as nuclear energy is concerned, the 441 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries today supply over 10% of the world’s electricity and around a third of all low-carbon power. There are 54 reactors under construction in 19 countries, four of which are newcomers.

Next month, I will take part in the Clean Energy Transitions Summit of the International Energy Agency, which is at ministerial level. I will stress the importance of supporting countries that wish to use nuclear energy as part of their transition to low carbon energy systems.

The COP26 climate change conference due to have taken place in Glasgow this year has been postponed, but we are preparing to contribute to the rescheduled event. Our 2020 Scientific Forum in September, entitled Nuclear Power and the Clean Energy Transition, will focus on how nuclear power can provide science-based solutions to the climate emergency. Nuclear power plays a key role in the global clean energy transformation. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to meet global climate goals without significant use of nuclear energy.

In March, the Agency concluded a Phase 3 Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission to Belarus. It reviewed the status of the country’s nuclear power infrastructure ahead of the planned start of operations of its first nuclear power plant at the Ostrovets site.

The IAEA LEU Bank in Kazakhstan is fully stocked and ready to supply LEU in accordance with the Board mandate. The project is now managed by the Department of Nuclear Energy.

Madam Chairperson,

As we begin work on the next budget cycle, we will ensure that relevant lessons from the lockdown experience are learned and we will pursue further efficiencies, where feasible.

We continue our efforts to improve transparency concerning the Agency’s activities. At the PBC last month, the Chief of Ethics made his first presentation on activities of the Ethics function, while the Director of OIOS made his first report on investigations of misconduct.  With your agreement, it is my intention to further strengthen transparency. The OIOS annual report on internal auditing is another area where we might consider ways of making information public, as appropriate, in line with practice across the UN system. I will consult further with Member States on this.

I remain focused on ensuring that our staff regulate their behaviour and perform their functions consistent with the highest standards of conduct. In the first half-year, we made revisions to the whistle-blower policy, issued a new anti-fraud policy and broadened the scope of the annual declaration of interest process. To promote effective implementation of these policies, we will continue to focus on training, particularly for senior managers.

Following my pledge to achieve equal representation for women in the Professional and higher categories at the Agency by 2025, we adopted Special Measures for the Achievement of Gender Parity last month. These are aimed at encouraging more women to apply for vacancies, creating the conditions for more balanced representation of women in all Departments and establishing accountability mechanisms to measure progress. Since I took office in December, we have made 93 fully competitive appointments at the P and D levels. Forty-three of the successful candidates were women, which is 46 percent. At P5 and above, the percentage of women appointed was 56 percent.

I am pleased with the response of Member States to the IAEA Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellowship Programme, which I announced in March, to encourage women to study nuclear subjects and pursue careers in this field. We have received many expressions of support, while Canada, Norway and the United States have made concrete pledges. I hope that many more Member States will follow suit to ensure we can award the first 100 Fellows in the 2020-21 academic year.

Finally, Madam Chairperson, let me note that, while we are looking to the future with the launch of the ZODIAC project, the COVID-19 pandemic remains very much with us. In some countries, there is reason to hope that the end may be in sight. In others, things continue to get worse. We remain very conscious of the difficulties many Member States face and fighting the coronavirus will remain our top priority until the pandemic is finally defeated.

Thank you.

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