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

Vienna, Austria

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Mr Chairperson,

I have just returned from the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP27, in Sharm El Sheikh, where world leaders are still meeting to address the existential threat of climate change. The IAEA has a consolidated presence there. Through our Atoms4Climate pavilion - the first ever nuclear-themed pavilion at COP - participants are hearing about the work of the IAEA and partners like the World Bank, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in enabling the safe and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Together, in more than 40 events, we are articulating the significant roles nuclear plays in both climate change mitigation and adaptation. The increased demand for our services from countries and other stakeholders is apparent. Many developing countries, for example, want to understand how Small Modular Reactors could help provide their communities and industries with reliable low-carbon energy and how plant mutagenesis can improve food security by creating crops able to withstand the harsh conditions caused by our warming planet.

At a time of great uncertainty about whether the world can keep global warming to limits that avert the worst consequences of climate change, the IAEA cooperatively is offering solutions and ways to progress.

Nuclear energy is 25 per cent of global low-carbon power already. It has a long, proven record and enormous potential. But the magnitude of nuclear’s ability to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is not fully understood by individual countries and regions. This is a barrier to uptake.

Atoms4NetZero initiative, which I announced at COP, aims to change that. Through the initiative, we will work in partnership with our Member States to model and measure the contribution of nuclear power to their net zero energy transitions. Atoms4NetZero will help countries assess the potential of nuclear to be used beyond the grid – for example, to produce hydrogen or for desalination - whether through traditional large nuclear power plants, or through newer nuclear technologies, such as SMRs. I encourage every one of our Member States to participate in Atoms4NetZero.

My message to leaders at COP was that nuclear technology and science can and will do more. The IAEA already plays an important role in facilitating this, particularly through its Technical Cooperation programme. As is customary following the meeting of the Technical Assistance and Cooperation Committee, I would like to elaborate on that programme.

With pandemic restrictions being relaxed or lifted, we have been able to increase our in-person training, and to implement activities that had been delayed. The effective delivery of the TC programme is made possible by our close working relationship and ongoing consultations with Member States. In the coming year, the top three priority TC areas for Member States are food and agriculture, health and nutrition, and safety.

I welcome the agreement by the TACC to recommend to the Board the approval of the Agency’s proposed TC programme for 2023, and the TC project “Strengthening Radiation Therapy and Medical Imaging in Ukraine”, which is to be implemented under our Rays of Hope Initiative.

Preparations for the 2024–2025 TC programme are well underway. More than 500 project proposals have been submitted and feedback has been provided. I encourage Member States to develop tightly focused TC project proposals in which Member States, the Agency and other partners can work together to achieve national development priorities and contribute to the attainment of the SDGs.

For the TC programme to be able to fulfil its mandate and meet Member State expectations, on-time and complete contributions to the Technical Cooperation Fund are essential. As of 7 November this year, we have reached a rate of attainment of 93.7%. I encourage all Member States to pay their contributions to the TCF in a timely manner, and where possible to make extrabudgetary contributions.

Mr Chairperson,

The Agency remains intensely engaged in response to the war in Ukraine.  You have before you my latest report regarding nuclear safety, security and safeguards in Ukraine.

The continued shelling, landmine explosions and loss of external power at Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, and the unacceptably stressful working conditions imposed on the plant staff, remain deeply concerning. They compromise every one of the Seven Pillars of nuclear safety and security I outlined early in the military conflict. We must avoid an accident causing even more suffering. I continue to actively engage Ukraine and the Russian Federation to implement the nuclear safety and security protection zone I called for after leading the IAEA’s first Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ISAMZ) at the end of August.

Every day that goes by without it, puts lives and livelihoods in danger. It is time to get it done.  

Since September, the third ISAMZ team has arrived at the Zaporizhzhya NPP; the Agency arranged three deliveries of nuclear safety and security related equipment to various entities in Ukraine; and a mission took place to Kharkiv to assess the nuclear security systems of the Neutron Sources and “RADON” facilities. Four missions to the four other Nuclear Power Plants in Ukraine are being planned for November and December. 

Given the unprecedented nature of the situation in Ukraine, where for the first time a war is being fought amid the facilities of a major nuclear power programme, the Secretariat is undertaking a review of the IAEA Safety Standards and Nuclear Security Series regarding possible challenges in applying the existing guidance in an armed conflict. We will determine whether additional guidance is needed for such situations.

In the area of safeguards, the Agency has continued to undertake its vital verification role in Ukraine, including by conducting in-field verification activities, in accordance with Ukraine’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol.  As a result, we are able to confirm that nuclear material under safeguards remains in peaceful activities and that safeguarded facilities are not being used for undeclared production or processing of nuclear material.

In addition, the Agency conducted three complementary accesses at three locations in Ukraine, at the request of Ukraine in order to conduct verification activities in relation to the Russian Federation’s allegations related to radiological dispersal devices, or “dirty bombs”, at those locations. The Agency conducted all planned activities, including taking environmental samples, the results of which are pending. On the basis of these activities and information provided by Ukraine, the Agency did not find any indications of undeclared nuclear activities or materials aimed at the development of radiological dispersal devices at these locations.

Mr Chairperson,

The work of the IAEA is always evolving. With respect to safeguards, this is the case with regards to the topic of naval nuclear propulsion. Since our meeting in September, one additional technical meeting was held between the three AUKUS parties – Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom – and the Secretariat’s team. 

A technical meeting was also held between Brazil, Brazilian–Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), and the Secretariat to discuss an arrangement for the application of Special Procedures for the use of nuclear material subject to safeguards in nuclear propulsion and in the operation of submarines and prototypes, as set out in the Quadripartite Safeguards Agreement.

I will keep the Board informed as we progress on both matters. In both cases, the Agency will have its verification and non-proliferation mandate as its guiding principle.

Mr 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 past few months. Since 23 February 2021, Iran has not been implementing its nuclear-related commitments under JCPOA, including its commitments under the Additional Protocol.

As a consequence, the Agency has not been able to perform JCPOA verification and monitoring activities in relation to the production and inventory of centrifuges, rotors and bellows, heavy water and uranium ore concentrate (UOC) for almost two years, including some five months when the surveillance and monitoring equipment were not installed.

This will have a significant impact on the Agency’s ability to recover and re-establish the necessary continuity of knowledge in the event of a full resumption of implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. Any future baseline for such JCPOA verification and monitoring activities would take a considerable time to establish and would have a degree of uncertainty. The longer the current situation persists the greater such uncertainty becomes.

You have received my report entitled NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In this report I express my serious concern that there has been no progress in clarifying and resolving the outstanding safeguards issues during this reporting period.

In that context, I hope that the planned technical meeting between the Agency and Iran takes place, but I want to stress that this meeting should be aimed at effectively clarifying and resolving those issues.

I trust that, when we meet, we are going to be able to start making the progress needed on these long-standing issues, the solution of which would bring more certainty and stability to the region and the world.

I reiterate that these issues stem from Iran’s obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement between Iran and the Agency, and that they need to be resolved for the Agency to be in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful.

Mr Chairperson,

I have made it a priority to strengthen the indispensable legal framework on which the continued peaceful use of nuclear science and technology rests.

In 2022, Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde brought into force their Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) and Additional Protocol (AP), and the State of Palestine brought in force its CSA. An additional protocol for Sierra Leone was signed. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Suriname, Sierra Leone and Namibia amended their Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) and Lithuania rescinded its SQP.

The number of States with safeguards agreements in force now stands at 189, and 140 of these States have brought additional protocols in force. I call upon the remaining five States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons without comprehensive safeguards agreements to bring such agreements into force without delay. I also encourage States that have not yet concluded additional protocols to do so as soon as possible. I also reiterate my call for States with small quantities protocols (SQP) based on the old standard text to amend or rescind them. With the new developments I just summarized, 77 States now have an operative SQP based on the revised standard text and 12 remaining States have yet to amend their SQP based on the original text.

This month, the IAEA’s Safeguards Symposium, marked three key safeguards anniversaries: 60 years of IAEA inspections, 50 years of the entry into force of the first CSA, and 25 years of the approval of the Model Additional Protocol and the entry into force of the first AP. Participants, including safeguards regulatory authorities, the research and development community, industry and civil society met to identify challenges and opportunities for IAEA safeguards, showcase research, share ideas, and build partnerships.

Since my report to the Board and General Conference in September, the IAEA has continued to monitor the DPRK’s nuclear programme. The Nuclear Test Site at Punggye-ri remains prepared to support a nuclear test, and we continue to see indications of activity near Adit 3 of the Test Site. The road to the former Adit 4 entrance has been rebuilt, but we have not observed any indications of excavation at Adit 4. The reopening of the nuclear test site is deeply troubling. The conduct of a nuclear test would contravene UN Security Council resolutions and would be a cause for serious concern.

Since September, the Agency has observed ongoing activities and construction work at the Yongbyon site. There are indications that the 5MW(e) reactor and the reported Centrifuge Enrichment Facility are operating. The indications of intermittent activity at the Radiochemical Laboratory, which were consistent with possible waste treatment or maintenance activities, ceased in late September. There were indications of possible tests of the LWR cooling system in late-September and early-October, and changes to the LWR’s cooling water outlet channel in October.

The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable. I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the Agency in the full and effective implementation of its NPT Safeguards Agreement and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country. The Agency continues to maintain its enhanced readiness to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme.

As far as implementation of safeguards in the Syrian Arab Republic is concerned, no new information has come to the knowledge of the Agency that would affect our assessment on the building destroyed at Dair Alzour, consistent with it being a nuclear reactor that should have been declared to the Agency by Syria pursuant to its NPT Safeguards Agreement.  In a letter to Syria in May this year, I expressed my preparedness to meet the Syrian authorities to discuss Syria’s re-engagement with the Agency. I told Syria that Agency experts would be able to share safeguards-relevant information available to the Agency. I expressed my view that this could help Syria to provide additional information and clarifications that may be relevant in the context of the Agency’s assessment. I am convinced that such a renewed effort would be mutually beneficial.

Mr Chairperson,

Several initiatives we launched over the past two years have galvanized our work in key areas of concern for our Member States.

Through the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative, we support Member States’ efforts to address zoonotic diseases. In September, we launched the regional training events for ZODIAC counterparts in Africa, with the first training taking place in Senegal. Such trainings will continue in other regions over the coming months.

Some 78 countries are requesting the IAEA’s support in developing solutions to their plastic pollution problems. Through NUTEC Plastics we partner with Member States to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution and to strengthen ocean monitoring. The IAEA’s Marine Environment Laboratories are continuing research and development on characterizing marine plastic pollution, and our Coordinated Research Project on ‘recycling of polymer waste for structural and non-structural materials’ is advancing. A workshop last month in the Republic of Korea introduced participants to integrating electron beam technology into the polymer recycling process.

The IAEA continues to provide Member States with essential support in addressing the growing cancer crisis. Rays of Hope has found strong support among Member States; more will need to be done to tackle this growing burden on their people and health systems. Significant resources are required to improve global equity in access to life-saving cancer treatment. The goal of Rays of Hope is bringing together a global coalition of partners – including Member States, the private sector, development agencies and financial institutions – to support countries in establishing radiotherapy centres and scaling up existing capacities.

Last month, Argentina’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting forth the framework of cooperation for the implementation of the Rays of Hope Initiative in that country.

I am happy also to recall that for the first time the IAEA and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), have signed a plan of action to strengthen the ties between the Agency and this important region.

Our work in the areas I have just described is made possible by the IAEA’s extraordinary laboratories.

The Agency’s new, state-of-the-art Neutron Science Facility at Seibersdorf has been fully commissioned and its very first hands-on training workshop is taking place now. This facility will allow Member States to increase their capacity to detect everything from the protein content in food to the existence of nuclear materials.

I want to thank Member States for their strong support of the facility and also of ReNuAL2, the modernization of the Seibersdorf Nuclear Applications laboratories. Your support of ReNuAL2 allowed us to break ground on construction of a new building for three of the laboratories. Funding is now in place for that building and for refurbishment of our Dosimetry Laboratory. I ask Member States to contribute now toward the final major project element – new greenhouses – for which we need an estimated €5.5 million by the 1st quarter of 2023 to hold down costs and stay on track for substantial completion by the end of 2024.

One example of the importance of our Seibersdorf laboratories made headlines last week, when we launched seeds into space as part of a Coordinated Research Project together with the FAO. In space, the Sorghum and Arabidopsis seeds will be exposed to harsh conditions, primarily microgravity, cosmic radiation and extreme low temperatures. Back on Earth, scientists at our Plant Breeding and Genetics Laboratory 

and its greenhouses will use what they learned about the mutated seeds to develop new crops able to withstand the ravages of climate change and support food security.

In such efforts, FAO has been a steady partner. In October, its Director General Qu Dongyu and I signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to further increase the collaboration between our organizations. It builds on the achievements of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture and enables us to explore further opportunities in the fields of human nutrition, water resources, the environment and the ocean. As the consequences of global warming become ever more apparent, this work will continue to be crucial in addressing the priorities our Member States. 

Mr Chairperson,

As countries grapple with climate change and energy insecurity, interest in nuclear power is growing, and public acceptance too. Even in places where it was a taboo subject, nuclear is again part of the conversation.

At the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, held last month in Washington DC, many Member States recognized the benefits of low-carbon, energy dense and proven nuclear power, as they did at the Clean Energy Ministerial in Pittsburgh that I attended in September, and at COP.

Today, 423 nuclear power reactors operating in 32 countries make up approximately 379 gigawatts of installed capacity, providing 10% of the world’s total electricity and a quarter of its low-carbon supply.

It is clear the world needs more low-carbon electricity and that nuclear energy can provide more.

Some 57 reactors under construction in 18 countries are expected to provide about 59 gigawatts of additional capacity.

In addition SMRs need to be deployed safely and efficiently to a market that is eagerly awaiting them. The IAEA’s Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI) aims to facilitate this. The industry and the regulatory tracks are up and running, and their working groups have agreed plans of work. Six of the seven working groups have already started working and the other one will begin next month.

A way to bridge the gap between today and the day new power plants and technology such as SMRs are able to make their mark, is to extend the life of existing nuclear power plants.  Several countries are deciding to keep their reactors online longer than initially intended, thereby tapping into one of the most affordable low-carbon sources of electricity available to 

them. At the Fifth International Conference on Nuclear Power Plant Life Management, taking place here in Vienna from 28 November to 2 December, we will discuss the key elements for the safe and reliable long-term operation of nuclear power plants.

As nuclear power plants have aged, so has the nuclear sector’s workforce. Some countries are suffering acute shortages in their pipeline of talent. To fix this and to dismantle barriers that have for too long kept women away from our field, the IAEA has implemented several initiatives.  

In 2020, we launched our Fellowship programme to honour Marie Skłodowska–Curie and encourage the next generation of women nuclear professionals by offering scholarships for their master’s degrees in nuclear topics. We have announced a new initiative in the memory and honour of Austrian-born scientist, Lise Meitner. The IAEA’s Lise Meitner Programme will offer women in the early years of their career specialized multi-week training opportunities at nuclear facilities. Through this visiting professional programme, they will expand and enhance their skills and build strong networks to advance their careers. The resulting cross‑cultural community of nuclear professionals will benefit women and the nuclear sector as a whole.

The programme was launched with the United States of America as inaugural partner. I hope other countries will join the initiative and make it a success over the coming years.

Mr Chairperson,

Nuclear power can only meet its potential if people are confident it will not harm them or their communities and environment.

The Third International Conference on Occupational Radiation Protection  and the International Conference on Topical Issues in Nuclear Installation Safety are two examples of recent conferences that attracted hundreds of participants and through which the IAEA fostered exchanges on important topics in nuclear safety.

In my previous statements to the Board, I provided updates on the IAEA’s review of safety related aspects of handling ALPS treated water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Our experts are currently in Japan to observe the collection and treatment of marine samples from around the plant site. The aim of this mission is to provide samples for a first Interlaboratory Comparison and to verify the quality of sample collection procedures and analytical methods used by Japanese laboratories performing relevant monitoring. The work on radioanalytical assessment of ALPS processed water is progressing as planned.

In December, the IAEA will be holding an informal technical briefing for Member States here in Vienna to provide additional information about this important project.

Keeping the legal frameworks underpinning the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology fit for purpose as the world evolves requires a strong, agile, active and well-informed international nuclear law community.  

Nuclear Law: The Global Debate, the book we published in English in April, is now available in all six of the IAEA’s official languages.  Meanwhile, the pilot partnerships we established earlier this year with six universities from around the world is progressing. The first series of workshops is being rolled out over the coming months and we look forward to welcoming our first nuclear law fellow under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme.

In October, the IAEA organized its 10th Nuclear Law Institute, which has benefited 600 officials since 2011.

Mr Chairperson,

During the last Board of Governors, I informed Member States of my intention to revise the price adjustment to be applied to the Agency’s Budget Update for 2023 to address the unprecedented budgetary shortfall (€39.2 million for 2023) caused by historical inflation levels and avoid a negative effect on the implementation of the Agency’s mandate.

I also explained to Member States that the Secretariat was making every possible effort to absorb the impact of inflation in 2022 and that we continued to implement the efficiency measures agreed for the current biennium. However, these temporary measures are not sustainable.

The budget update issued by the Secretariat showed clearly and transparently the actual cost of delivering the agreed programme in 2023 and outlined the funding needed, per programme, to restore zero real growth.

I understand that Member States also find themselves in a challenging financial situation and thus, while recognizing that the loss of purchasing power is material and affecting all programmes, they are not in the position to fully offset the cost increases at this time.

I thank the Chair of the Board for his efforts towards building consensus.

I would like to remind Member States that, without a budget revision, the Agency will, from the beginning of 2023, not be able to fully implement the adopted programme.

Failing to provide the Agency with the resources it needs at a time when it is playing a key role in addressing key global challenges will send the wrong message.

I therefore encourage Member States to continue working closely with the Chair of the Board towards finding a solution that will help limit the long-term impact of the lost purchasing power on the Agency’s programmes and keep Member States assessed contributions at a level that can be accepted.

On its part, the Secretariat remains committed to continue implementing cost control measures and efficiencies to ease the burden on Member States to the maximum possible extent.

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