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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, 4 March 2024. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

I will begin by updating you on the IAEA’s ongoing work in Ukraine, where the war has now entered its third year.

Last month I met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine to discuss the ongoing presence of the IAEA at all five of the country’s nuclear sites. It was my ninth visit to Ukraine since the start of the war and I again crossed the front lines to visit Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).

Before my trip, I updated the UN Security Council of the challenges at ZNPP.

Under the Support and Assistance Mission to the ZNPP (ISAMZ) our teams are doing indispensable work reducing the nuclear safety and security risks at the plant.

However, the situation at the ZNPP continues to be very precarious, with six out of the Seven Pillars of Nuclear Safety and Security being compromised fully or partially.

During the reporting period, the plant suffered its eighth total loss of off-site power since the start of the armed conflict while continuing to face challenges related to staffing, the inspection and maintenance of critical safety systems, and the reliability of the logistics supply chain. All these aspects affect the nuclear safety and security situation at the plant.

The Agency continued to request timely and appropriate access to all areas of the ZNPP of significance for nuclear safety and security.

The Agency did not find any indications that the five concrete principles were not being observed at the ZNPP site. However, there were observations that some principles were put at risk during the reporting period.

I call again for maximum restraint and strict observance of those five concrete principles that I established at the United Nations Security Council on 30 May 2023.

The Khmelnytski Nuclear Power Plant, the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant and the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant continue produce electricity for the country’s network. During this reporting period there were no reported instances of the operating NPPs having to reduce power production as a result of the war. However, frequent air-raid alarms highlighted the dangers of the military conflict to the nuclear safety and security of these sites.

Despite the logistical challenges of a war zone, in the past three months, all rotations of Agency staff at all nuclear sites were conducted as planned and without delays. A total of 98 missions comprising 131 Agency staff members so far have been deployed as part of the continued presence at all five nuclear sites in Ukraine.

Since November 2023, the Agency has arranged five deliveries of nuclear safety and security equipment to Ukraine, bringing the total value of deliveries since the start of the war to more than €8.5 million. The Agency also continued to deliver its medical assistance programme. Discussions are progressing in defining the needs to address the consequences of flooding in the Kherson Oblast. The Agency also prepared a proposal for the first phase of its support regarding the safety and security of radioactive sources in Ukraine.

I would like to thank the 30 donor states and the European Union for their extrabudgetary contributions to support Ukraine-related activities. The Agency would welcome further support and collaboration for this important mission, which is entirely dependent on extrabudgetary contributions.

As part of my efforts to ensure the safety and security of nuclear power in the context of the ongoing conflict, I will travel to the Russian Federation to hold high-level consultations.

Mr Chairperson,

On the 21st of this month, heads of state and government will gather in Brussels for the first ever Nuclear Energy Summit, hosted jointly by the IAEA and the Government of Belgium.

The summit, co-chaired by Prime Minister of Belgium Alexander De Croo and myself, will highlight the role of nuclear energy in mitigating the environmentally harmful use of fossil fuels, in enhancing energy security and in boosting economic prosperity and development. The meeting will extend the momentum gained at December’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, where for the first time the Global Stocktake backed nuclear energy investment among low-emissions technologies.

Today, 413 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. Much more is needed and planned. The summit will highlight this and look at concrete pathways to achieving results.

Mr Chairperson,

The Nuclear Technology Review before you highlights key developments of nuclear technology helpful to Member States seeking to address priorities such as boosting food and energy security; improving water resource management; tackling pollution and disease; and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Let me give you the example of our work helping to address microplastics in marine environments. In January, I travelled to the Antarctic continent together with the President of Argentina, Javier Milei. We launched the first IAEA scientific research expedition to better understand the magnitude of the microplastics problem in this pristine area. Two staff from the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories spent a month traveling between the Argentine Antarctic Bases to sample seawater, sediment, and bivalves to investigate microplastic abundance; and to collect samples to better understand its contamination of penguins. This work is an example of the unique role of the IAEA’s NUclear TEChnology for Controlling Plastic Pollution (NUTEC Plastics) and the valuable contribution of nuclear and isotopic techniques in the preservation of our delicate marine environment.

Nuclear techniques also play a key role in the recently launched joint IAEA/FAO’s Atoms4Food initiative. Many Member States have registered their interest in the programme, while the progress of discussions with Member States seeking to support Atoms4Food gives me confidence we will soon be able to begin its implementation.

On 27–31 May, we will host the International Symposium on Food Safety and Control here in Vienna, which will highlight the potential impact of this important initiative. I am pleased to announce that Atoms4Food will also be the topic of this year’s Scientific Forum, taking place on the sidelines of the 68th regular session of the IAEA General Conference.

In the context of Rays of Hope, Cancer Care for All, another three cancer facilities joined our growing list of Anchor Centres, which serve as capacity building and knowledge hubs for their regions.

Last month, the Rays of Hope Forum brought together supporters and beneficiaries of the initiative, with Khumbize Chiponda, Malawi’s Minister of Health speaking about the significant positive impact Rays of Hope is having in the East African State. The Forum demonstrated the international community’s strong commitment to Rays of Hope and served as an opportunity to appeal to traditional and non-traditional partners, international financial institutions, governments and policy makers to work together to achieve an effective response to the growing cancer burden. Meanwhile, the Agency for the first time issued an international code of practice for brachytherapy dosimetry. This publication helps improve the traceability, accuracy, and consistency of clinical radiation dosimetry measurements in countries around the globe – ensuring the quality and standardization of radiation globally.

In Seibersdorf, the Dosimetry Laboratory is close to completion. Interior work on the new laboratories building is advancing smoothly, and construction of the new greenhouses is set to begin soon. We are making good progress in the modernization efforts under ReNuAL2. As I announced in November 2023, we have completed resource mobilization for ReNuAL2 construction. I hope you will join me for a side event at lunchtime tomorrow at the ReNuAL2 donor display to celebrate that achievement and to honour our generous contributors.

I am pleased to report the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation programme achieved an implementation rate of 85.7% in 2023. The TC programme is designed to respond quickly and flexibly to emergencies. In 2023, our emergency assistance helped to restore medical and analytical services to Libya, Morocco, Syria, Türkiye and Vanuatu, following crushing natural disasters. Emergency support for disease and pest outbreaks was provided to Croatia, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Montenegro and Serbia.

To continue providing timely and essential equipment and services to Member States, the Agency’s Office of Procurement Services completed a significant update to its procurement governance, including a new policy for Emergency Procurements which will enable a fast-track procurement process in response to emergency situations.

In 2023, the Rate of Attainment for contributions to the TC Fund was 97.5%, demonstrating its enduring importance. To ensure that resources for the TC programme are sufficient, assured and predicable, I urge Member States to contribute on time, and in full, to the TC Fund.

The IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science, Technology and Applications and the Technical Cooperation Programme will take place 26-28 November 2024. Open-ended consultations have begun and I thank Finland and Ghana for leading the discussions. I have sent invitations to Member States and look forward to high-level participation at this important conference.

Mr Chairperson,

You have before you the Nuclear Safety Review 2024 and the Nuclear Security Review 2024. Both documents present, in their respective areas, an analytical overview, the global trends, and the Agency’s main activities in 2023. They also identify the top priorities for the years ahead.

In 2023, we again reached the record of 2022 by publishing 17 safety standards. Early in 2024, the latest draft standards endorsed by the Commission on Safety Standards (CSS) were published, meaning that the issue of the backlog in publishing, which had been a challenge for a number of years, is now resolved.

The IAEA is organizing an International Conference on Enhancing the Operational Safety of Nuclear Power Plants to be held from 15-19 April 2024 in Beijing, China. It will coincide with an important milestone: The 40th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China becoming a member of the IAEA.

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS). The number of Contracting Parties to the CNS has increased to 94, with the recent additions of Zimbabwe, Egypt and Iraq.

The 5th Extraordinary Meeting of the Joint Convention will be held 25-26 March 2024 to discuss potential changes to the guidelines of the Joint Convention to achieve the uniform identification of Good Practices.

The Agency continues its essential work in monitoring the discharge of the ALPS treated water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, with the Agency last week reporting that the tritium levels of the fourth batch, the discharge of which started a few days ago, were far below the operational limit. This month I will travel to Japan, where I will again meet with stakeholders as well as review the status of the water discharge at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

In its first full report since the discharges began, the Task Force in January concluded that all three discharges of 2023 were consistent with international safety standards. The results of two interlaboratory comparison reports provide confidence in the whole process, including Japan’s measurements related to the discharge.

Looking to the future deployment of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), the Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative continues to make progress with participants of the various working groups operating expeditiously to finalize their documents by the end of 2024.

In December 2023, the Agency published a safety report outlining the review of the applicability of the IAEA’s relevant Safety Standards to non-water-cooled reactors and small modular reactors. This document provides a reference to those Member States developing safety frameworks for SMRs and innovative technologies. It also provides the basis for our plans to revise, in due course, relevant Safety Standards to enhance their applicability to SMRs and non-water-cooled reactors, as well as to develop publications on the safety of those reactor technologies. The publication has already been in much demand, having become the most downloaded IAEA pre-print of 2023.

The fourth International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) – Shaping the Future, will be held in Vienna on 20-24 May 2024. More than 700 abstracts were submitted, the highest number of abstracts for all ICONS conferences up to now.  Australia and Kazakhstan, co-Presidents, will lead an inclusive process to develop the Ministerial Declaration through a series of Open-Ended Working Group meetings.

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 stockpile of enriched uranium continues to increase, even though the level of uranium enriched up to 60% has fallen slightly.  The Agency has lost continuity of knowledge in relation to the production and inventory of centrifuges, rotors and bellows, heavy water and uranium ore concentrate. It is three years since Iran stopped provisionally applying its Additional Protocol and therefore it is also three years since the Agency was able to conduct complementary access in Iran.

You also have before you my report on the NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. There has been no progress in resolving the outstanding safeguards issues. Iran has not provided the Agency with technically credible explanations for the presence of uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at Varamin and Turquzabad or informed the Agency of the current location(s) of the nuclear material and/or of contaminated equipment.

I note the corrected nuclear material accounting reports provided by Iran regarding the discrepancy in the nuclear material balance at UCF. On the basis of these reports, the Agency considers, at UCF, the discrepancy in the nuclear material balance to have been rectified. I also note this indicates that the amount of uranium contained in the solid waste sent from JHL to UCF for dissolution was less than had been declared by Iran in 2003-2004. This new element requires further consideration by the Agency.  

Iran also needs 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. Public statements made in Iran regarding its technical capabilities to produce nuclear weapons only increase my concerns about the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations.

I am seriously concerned that Iran has unilaterally stopped implementing the Joint Statement, which raises doubts that Iran remains committed to what we have agreed. I also deeply regret that Iran has yet to reverse its decision to withdraw the designations for several experienced Agency inspectors.

I reiterate that only through constructive and meaningful engagement can all of these concerns be addressed and once again I call upon Iran to cooperate fully and unambiguously with the Agency.

Mr Chairperson,

I have made it a priority to strengthen the indispensable legal framework on which the continued peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology rest. Since the last Board meeting in November, Nauru and Sierra Leone have amended their original Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) and Bolivia has brought into force its additional protocol. The number of States with safeguards agreements in force remains 190, and 142 of these States now have brought additional protocols in force. I call upon the remaining four 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, and I reiterate my call for States with SQPs based on the original standard text to amend or rescind them. With the new developments I just summarized, 80 States now have an operative SQP based on the revised standard text.

Since my report to the Board and General Conference in August 2023 we have continued to monitor the DPRK’s nuclear programme. As I noted in my Statement on Recent Developments in the DPRK’s Nuclear Programme on 21 December 2023, the Agency has observed the discharge of warm water from the cooling system of the Light Water Reactor (LWR) at Yongbyon, which is consistent with the commissioning of the LWR. Since my Statement, the Agency has continued to observe a strong water outflow from the LWR’s cooling system.

Other activities continue at the Yongbyon site. There have been ongoing indications of the operation of the 5MW(e) reactor since early-October 2023, and also indications of the ongoing operation of the reported centrifuge enrichment facility and its annex.

The Nuclear Test Site at Punggye-ri remains occupied and 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.

The continuation and further development of the DPRK’s nuclear programme, including the construction and operation of the LWR, are clear violations of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and deeply regrettable. I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations, 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.

The nuclear non-proliferation regime requires our constant efforts and determination to make sure that legitimate nuclear activities are carried our in a peaceful manner. In this spirit, I welcome the invitation I received from the Foreign Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic, Faisal Mekdad, to visit Damascus to re-establish a meaningful, constructive dialogue and process to facilitate the clarification of remaining issues from the past. I look forward to this important mission that will take place 19 March, immediately after my visit to Baghdad, Iraq, which I am also looking forward to as a confirmation from Iraq of its unwavering commitment to non-proliferation.

Mr Chairperson,

Gender equality in the nuclear sector remains high on my agenda, as does the development of the future workforce needed to drive the expansion in nuclear energy that so many countries are planning. On 7-8 March, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, almost 500 participants in the IAEA’s Marie Sklodowska‑Curie and Lise Meitner programmes will be able to gather in Vienna for the first time to network and discuss ways of boosting gender equality in the nuclear field. We will also celebrate and thank those who have supported the programmes so far, and urge those who can to lend their support in the future. I hope to see many of you there.

At the IAEA Secretariat, we continue to make progress towards gender parity. By the end of February, the overall representation of women in the Professional and higher categories had reached almost 46%, up from 41% a little more than a year ago, and less than 30% when I took office.

In 2023, the Agency continued its focus on outreach with almost 4,000 events, using multilingualism effectively, including by translating more than 88 publications. The number of our online publications increased and were accessed via the website more than 3 million times in 2023, which is a new record.

The Agency’s Draft Budget Update for 2025, which adheres to zero real growth and contains no changes to the Agency’s programme approved last year, was presented to Member States last month.

I thank those who paid their outstanding regular budget contributions, as well as advances for 2024, which helped us tide over the liquidity challenges of 2023 and allowed the Agency to start 2024 in a better cash position. I wish to underline the importance of paying outstanding assessments for 2024 in a timely manner so we can avoid the difficult moments we experienced just a few months ago.

As I did in my Statement to the Board last November, I encourage you to consider restoring the Agency’s Working Capital Fund to the equivalent to one month of Agency expenses. This would equip the Agency to address limited liquidity challenges. I hope we can address some of these aspects of the financial rules in the not-too-distant future.

Mr Chairperson,

The IAEA continues its indispensable work assisting Member States to address local, national, regional and global challenges. As we move further into 2024, a year that looks to be no easier than the one we have just completed, you have my assurance that I will do everything possible to maximise, efficiently and sustainably, the IAEA’s positive impact.

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