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

Vienna, Austria

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi delivers his introductory statement to the Board of Governors, Vienna, Austria, 22 November 2023. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Mr Chairperson,

All of us are following with great concern current conflicts and the IAEA is playing its role towards peace and security where it can. Today I would like to begin my remarks by addressing another tragedy, which affects many IAEA Member States. Over the past three years the number of people who go hungry in the world has increased by almost a fifth. Today it stands at more than 700 million. Hunger is still on the rise in many regions, including Western Asia, the Caribbean, and all of Africa. It is an acute problem, especially in conflict zones, as well as a long-term issue that is being made worse because of climate change. 

Nuclear technology and science offer some of the best tools available to improve nutrition and food security. For decades Member States have relied on the IAEA to put them to use. I am determined to maximize the impact of our assistance to Member States through the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. That is why I launched Atoms4Food, together with FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, during the World Food Forum in Rome last month.

Food security is a top priority for our Member States and many have voiced interest in this initiative. Last week, the Secretariat convened a briefing for Member States to provide more information about the seven essential services Atoms4Food will provide.

I would like to thank Member States for their continuing strong support for the Agency's technical cooperation activities. Our technical cooperation programme is a major vehicle for the delivery of IAEA development support to Member States, and a core component of ‘Atoms for Peace and Development’. It is also an important channel for the delivery of support under the IAEA major initiatives ZODIAC, NUTEC Plastics, Rays of Hope and Atoms4Food.

We have worked closely with Member States to develop the new TC programme, building on Country Programme Frameworks, and on national and regional development priorities. We continue to seek opportunities for partnerships with other organizations and with non-traditional partners and development agencies.

For the 2024–2025 TC cycle, 458 new projects have been proposed – 397 national, 51 regional and 10 interregional projects. Seventy percent of the proposed programme focuses on food and agriculture, health and nutrition, and safety, reflecting the priorities of Member States.

As of the end of September this year, we have received €83 million in contributions to the TCF, which represents a rate of attainment of 88.6%. I encourage all Member States to pay their contributions to the TCF in full and on time. I also invite Member States that are in a position to do so to support the programme with extrabudgetary contributions.

Mr Chairperson,

The initiatives we have implemented continue to make tangible progress. The IAEA has formally established the first five Rays of Hope Anchor Centres. These regional leaders in cancer care in Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Türkiye will work with us to build the capacities of neighbouring countries and increase access to cancer treatment.

Last week, I attended a ceremony to lay a foundation stone of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) first public radiotherapy centre. Afterwards, I met with the countries’ president His Excellency Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo to discuss the IAEA’s assistance to DRC, which was one of the first Member States to work with us under this flagship initiative. Cancer claims too many lives, and the IAEA is changing this, one radiotherapy centre at a time. 

NUTEC Plastics, the Agency’s flagship initiative to monitor plastic pollution of the ocean and reduce plastic waste through improved recycling processes, continues to strengthen public-private collaborations. Two national stakeholder meetings in Thailand and the Philippines promoted the benefits of radiation technology in plastics recycling to potential private end-users. Meanwhile, in October, the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories in Monaco inaugurated a NUTEC Plastics reference laboratory for the preparation and chemical analysis of seawater and sediment samples. This new lab will improve our research capability, advance our knowledge, and increase our training capacity to monitor marine microplastic pollution.  

Engagement in ZODIAC continues to grow as does its collaboration with key partner organizations. The IAEA participates regularly in Joint External Evaluations organized by the World Health Organization to assess the capacities of countries to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to public health risks. So far, we have taken part in missions in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania (Zanzibar) and Thailand, which also offered an opportunity to promote ZODIAC to national authorities.

Many of our initiatives rely on our laboratories in Seibersdorf, which are such a unique asset to our Member States.

Last month we signed a contract to build new greenhouses for our Seibersdorf Nuclear Applications laboratories.  All major construction elements under the ReNuAL2 modernization initiative are now under contract.  With that, I am pleased to announce we have completed fundraising for ReNuAL2.  To celebrate the achievement and to recognize recent contributions from Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, and the United States, we are planning a ReNuAL2 side event on the margins of the March 2024 Board of Governors meeting. We will also ceremonially close our ReNuAL2 donor display at that time.  I thank Member States for their strong and consistent support and the co-chairs of Germany and South Africa for their adept facilitation.

With regards to emergency assistance following the devastating earthquake that hit Syria and Türkiye in February, the Agency continues to procure and deliver medical equipment. Currently the value amounts to more than €2m in total.

Mr Chairperson,

The IAEA has an important role to play in assisting countries towards their priority objectives of addressing climate change and energy security. Achieving these two important goals globally requires steadfast resolve and a long-term outlook that includes both nuclear fission and fusion energy.

Last month, I opened the 29th International Fusion Energy Conference in London, with more than 2,000 participants from more than 80 countries. Fusion scientists and engineers are making significant strides and the interest and investment in the sector are growing. I am determined that the IAEA should continue to play its central role in this field as this promising technology enters its next chapter towards providing the abundant low-carbon energy the world needs. During the conference, we released the first IAEA World Fusion Outlook, a global reference for authoritative information on the latest developments in fusion energy.  I also announced the inaugural meeting of the World Fusion Energy Group, which will convene in 2024. This group will bring together, not just fusion scientists and engineers from laboratories and experimental centres, but also policy makers, financiers, regulators and private companies.

Artificial Intelligence is bringing new opportunities to the nuclear sector, where its use will continue to grow. At the same time, the rapid development and deployment of AI present challenges to information security, privacy, public safety and global security. These matters are receiving increased attention in international forums, with many suggesting the need to establish some form of AI governance.

Last month, on the margins of the 67th General Conference, we took a closer look at the role of AI in nuclear fields, with particular focus on its use in diagnostic imaging and nuclear power plant operation. AI’s power to help us address climate change will be a topic of discussion at the 28th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) next month.

More and more countries are turning to nuclear power to address energy security and climate change. But the full potential of nuclear as part of a low-carbon energy mix, is still too often overlooked in a world where financial incentives remain unevenly distributed among low-carbon technologies. That is why IAEA and dozens of Member States who support the use of nuclear power, will make a clear and bold statement at COP28: Net zero needs nuclear power. Together we will assert that all available low-emission technologies should be recognized and actively supported.

On 21 and 22 March leaders from around the world will gather at a Nuclear Energy Summit in Brussels to highlight the role of nuclear energy in addressing the global challenges to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Hosted jointly by the IAEA and Belgium, the Summit will be the highest-level meeting to date exclusively focused on the topic of nuclear energy. It will consist of a segment with heads of state and government as well as scientific and policy debates. The Summit will also showcase the IAEA’s Atoms4NetZero initiative, which provides decision makers with comprehensive, data-driven energy scenario modelling that includes the full potential of nuclear power in contributing to net zero emissions. This important initiative can fill a gap in studies used by governments and financial institutions in support of new nuclear power projects. I encourage those Member States that support nuclear energy, to participate in this historic summit at the highest level of government.

Today, 412 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries make up more than 370 gigawatts of installed capacity, providing almost 10 per cent of the world’s total electricity and a quarter of its low-carbon supply. Nuclear electricity generating capacity will more than double by 2050 in our high case projection, according to the IAEA’s latest outlook on the future of nuclear power, released at last month’s 2nd International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power.

Mr Chairperson,

A total of 75 missions comprising 168 Agency staff members have been deployed as part of the continued presence at all five nuclear sites in Ukraine.

IAEA staff continued to monitor and assess the situation at Ukraine’s nuclear power sites against the seven indispensable pillars of nuclear safety and security during an armed conflict and to observe the five concrete principles for protecting the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.

The situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant remains challenging, with six out of the Seven Pillars compromised either fully or partially. Issues concerning staffing at the site, the conduct of regular maintenance activities, and special measures taken for securing stable cooling water supply, pose continued and significant risks to the overall nuclear safety and security of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.

There were no indications of non-observance of the five concrete principles at the ZNPP. However, limitations on the timely and unrestricted access by the Agency’s experts have affected the ability of the Agency to fully confirm all five concrete principles are being observed at all times.

I note in my report that very recently there has been a positive development in this regard and I strongly encourage the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant site to ensure that timely access and information sharing takes place regularly.

Since September, the Agency has arranged 10 deliveries of nuclear safety and security equipment to Ukraine. With this, since the start of the armed conflict, a total of 32 deliveries ensured over €7 million worth of equipment reached different organizations in Ukraine to support the safe and secure operation of facilities and activities amid the armed conflict.

During these months, the Agency initiated delivery of the mental health support programme for staff at Ukrainian nuclear power plants, assessing the needs of mental health support teams at each NPP and initiating a series of workshops focusing on trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and the strain of living with the armed conflict.

The Agency is grateful to all 23 donor states and the European Union for their extrabudgetary contributions to support all of the Ukraine-related activities and would welcome any further support in this regard to help meet the remaining needs shared during my statement at the last Board meeting.

At Seibersdorf, the IAEA’s new Nuclear Security Training and Demonstration Centre is fully operational. Since its inauguration on 3 October, nine training courses and meetings have been held in its premises, attended by about 260 trainees and participants.

This month, invitations will be sent to Ministers for the fourth International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) to be held in Vienna 20-24 May 2024. I urge all Member States to participate at the highest level possible.

With regards to the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the Agency is providing continuous live data from Japan on the release of treated water from the site. Currently the data that we are receiving is within the expected levels.

Since the discharge began, our experts have been at the site to ensure the relevant international safety standards continue to be applied. All our independent sampling and analysis of the seawater near the power plant continue to show that tritium levels are far below Japan’s regulatory limits. Our independent monitoring and corroboration activities will continue during the entirety of the discharge, with our first Task Force Mission since the start of the discharge and inter-laboratory comparison sampling having taken place in the last few weeks.

Mr Chairperson,

Regarding the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme, you have before you my latest report on Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015).

You will note that Iran’s stockpiles of uranium enriched up to 5%, enriched up to 20% and enriched up to 60% – high enriched uranium – have all increased since we met in September with the increase of the 60% continuing at the same rate as I reported at the time of the last Board.  

You also have before you my report on the NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. I regret that no further progress has been made in implementing the Joint Statement signed in Tehran on 4 March.

Iran also still needs to provide the Agency with technically credible explanations for the presence of uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at Varamin and Turquzabad and inform the Agency of the current location(s) of the nuclear material and/or of contaminated equipment. It also still needs to resolve the discrepancy in the nuclear material balance evaluation relating to the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) and to implement modified Code 3.1 which is a legal obligation for Iran.

These outstanding safeguards issues stem from Iran’s obligations under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and need to be resolved for the Agency to be in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful.

In addition, I am seriously concerned that the implementation of the Joint Statement of 4 March 2023 has come to a standstill. A way forward must include an honest and cooperative implementation of the commitments we agreed.

I continue to strongly condemn Iran’s sudden withdrawal of the designations of several experienced inspectors. Iran’s stance is unprecedented and contrary to the cooperation that is required and expected in order to facilitate the effective implementation of its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and in contradiction of the spirit of cooperation agreed in the Joint Statement of March 2023. I note Vice-President Eslami’s reply to a letter from me saying he is exploring possibilities to address the request mentioned in my letter, and I express the hope that this matter will be resolved promptly.  

Mr Chairperson,

The Board has before it for approval a draft Additional Protocol for Nauru.

The number of States with safeguards agreements in force remains 190 with 141 of these States having brought additional protocols into force. I call upon the remaining four States Parties to the NPT 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, and I reiterate my call for States with small quantities protocols (SQP) based on the old standard text to amend or rescind them. At present 78 States have an operative SQP based on the revised standard text. Let me assure you that I will continue to use my good offices to strengthen the indispensable legal framework on which the continued peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology rest.

Since my report to the Board and General Conference in August this year we have continued to monitor the DPRK nuclear programme.

The Nuclear Test Site at Punggye-ri remains prepared to support a new nuclear test, the conduct of which would contravene UN Security Council resolutions and would be a cause for serious concern.

Activities are continuing at the Yongbyon site. The 5MW(e) reactor was shut down for three to four weeks during September and early-October 2023, however there are now indications of operation. There are also indications of ongoing operation of the reported centrifuge enrichment facility and its annex.

Increased levels of activity have been observed at, and near, the LWR, and since mid-October 2023, a strong water outflow has been observed from the LWR cooling system. These observations are consistent with the commissioning of the LWR.

I repeat the obvious, 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.

Last week, the Agency participated in the fourth session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, held between 13 and 17 November at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Following past practice, we shared, in the background documentation and discussions during the session, the Agency’s previously undertaken work on the application of nuclear safeguards in the Middle East as well as our experience regarding the Agency’s role related to nuclear-weapon-free zones established in other regions of the world. To avoid factual mistakes and misinterpretations about the mandate and function of the IAEA in nuclear verification, we also provided conference participants with technical clarifications.

Mr Chairperson,

The second cohort of the IAEA’s Lise Meitner Programme was hosted last month by the Oak Ridge and Idaho National Laboratories, in the United States of America. Named after Meitner, the eminent Austrian-Swedish physicist, the Lise Meitner Programme provides early and mid‑career women professionals in the nuclear field with opportunities to enhance their careers. The next professional visit is expected to take place in the Republic of Korea next year. Both the Lise Meitner Programme and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme are funded by extra-budgetary and in-kind contributions. I encourage Member States to continue supporting both these programmes, including by hosting Lise Meitner Programme visits.

By the end of this year there will be more than 550 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellows. Many of them will gather for the first time in Vienna for International Women’s Day 2024. The event, which will also include women from the Lise Meitner programme, will occur on 7 and 8 March.

This will be an opportunity for Member States to meet with the indispensable community of female nuclear experts and express their ongoing support for their and our efforts.

Within the Secretariat, we remain on track to achieve gender parity by 2025. By the end of the third quarter, overall representation of women in the Professional and higher categories at the Secretariat was just shy of 44%.

Diversity is core to the IAEA and I am pleased to deliver to you my report on Multilingualism at the IAEA. It highlights the commitment of the Secretariat to facilitating communication with Member States and fostering the exchange – in multiple languages – of scientific and technical information, as well as the considerable progress achieved since my previous report in 2021. For example, the 2022 edition of the IAEA Safeguards Glossary was made available in all IAEA languages in September this year.

Mr Chairperson,

In September I reported to the Board that the Agency was facing a serious liquidity challenge due to delays in receiving Regular Budget assessed contributions from Member States, and I underlined the importance of paying any outstanding assessments without further delay to avoid the situation impacting our programmes.

As a result of my urgent calls, I am pleased to report Member States have made significant payments of Regular Budget assessed contributions, and that with these payments we are now in a much better position to end 2023 without interruption to our operations. The Secretariat appreciates the assistance of those Member States that have paid, including those that have paid in advance, in keeping the Agency’s operations running. 

However, this is still not a permanent solution. Because we are still waiting to receive outstanding Regular Budget contributions totalling approximately €125 million, we could again find ourselves in a precarious situation in which delays in payment impact the normal operations of the Agency. This situation may repeat itself in 2024 if these payments, or those of the 2024 assessments, are not received in a timely manner.

The Agency needs a stable and predictable financial foundation for the Regular Budget to meet its statutory and legal obligations. The Regular Budget underpins all programmes, including Safeguards and Technical Cooperation.  The Agency is doing all that it can in this regard.  Close coordination with Member States by the Division of Budget and Finance is continuing, and it is most appreciated that Member States continue to work with them, as they forecast expected contributions to assess the need for additional mitigation measures in 2024.

The lack of sufficient working capital is also adding to the instability of the Agency’s liquidity situation.  The Agency’s Working Capital Fund has been at the same level, €15.2 million, since 1997, which does not cover even half a month of current expenses.  In contrast, the standard for UN organizations is that it covers at least one month. The Secretariat is therefore continuing to analyse possible mitigation measures to address the liquidity issue. We will continue to consult with Member States to work to identify possible solutions.

I appeal to those Member States with outstanding contributions to settle their overdue payments as soon as possible, and I call on all Member States to honour their obligation to pay their assessed contributions in a timely manner.

At a time of many uncertainties and challenges across the world, the IAEA is an indispensable asset to the international community. You have my assurance that we are doing everything possible to maximize the benefit we provide in all our endeavours.

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