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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,

Before I begin, I would like to welcome The Gambia as the 176th Member State of the IAEA.

On Saturday, I returned from Tehran where I held talks with senior officials including President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, H. E. Mr. Ebrahim Raisi; Minister of Foreign Affairs, H. E. Mr. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian; and Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), H. E. Mr. Mohammad Eslami.

These high-level meetings addressed the importance of taking steps to facilitate enhanced cooperation, to expedite as appropriate the resolution of outstanding safeguards issues.

Both sides recognize that such positive engagements can pave the way for wider agreements among state parties.

I will update Members of the Board in more detail about my visit to Iran and the situation pertaining to Iran’s obligations under JCPOA and under its NPT agreement, shortly.

First, let me turn to Ukraine, where it has been one year since the war started. This devastating war is the first to be fought amid the facilities of a major nuclear power programme. The IAEA’s response to Ukraine’s request for assistance has been both unprecedented in substance and scale; and swift; substantial; and sustained. The IAEA has built an on-the-ground presence at all five of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, and kept the world continuously informed of the conflict’s impact on the country’s nuclear facilities.

The report to the Board entitled Safety Security and Safeguards in Ukraine covers the period since my last report to you at the November Board. The Agency has issued a separate report to the public providing a one-year overview of the safety, security and safeguards of Ukraine’s nuclear and other facilities.

Having already established a continued presence of IAEA experts at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, the Agency, at the request of Ukraine, in January did the same at the remaining 4 nuclear power plants: South Ukraine NPP, Khmelnytskyi NPP, Rivne NPP, and Chornobyl NPP and its Exclusion Zone. The aim is to prevent a nuclear accident or incident, while gaining a better understanding of the situation, so that the Agency can fulfil its responsibility of keeping the international community informed of the situation at the sites in a timely, impartial and precise manner.

I am pleased to tell you that the long-delayed IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (IZAMS) rotation was successfully completed last week and that the sixth expert IAEA team is now on site. I thank our staff for their professionalism, courage and commitment in this indispensable endeavour to reduce the risk of a nuclear accident.

In the past few months, we witnessed the war’s significant impact on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure when, for the first time, all nuclear sites in in the country lost off-site power simultaneously.

Ongoing military operations and the stressful working conditions at Zaporizhzhya NPP caused by the war, continue to compromise the seven pillars of nuclear safety and security at the plant. Over the past few weeks there has been an increasing security presence at the site. Our team at the plant has reported   increases in military action near the facility. There is open discussion about offensives and counter offensives in the vicinity of the site.  My simple question is: are we waiting for a nuclear emergency before we react?

The situation at Zaporizhzhya NPP underscores the urgent need to establish a nuclear safety and security protection zone at the site. I have intensified my consultations with both Parties and rely on your continued active support to achieve this important measure without further delay.

Since November, the Agency has completed five deliveries of donated and procured equipment to different organizations in Ukraine, with many more expected in the coming months.

I am thankful for the continued commitment of Member States and their close cooperation with the Agency in the provision of technical support and assistance to Ukraine. I would like to thank the staff of the United Nations Secretariate and Secretary General António Guterres for their support of the IAEA experts’ rotation at Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.

In accordance with Ukraine’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, the Agency has continued to undertake its vital safeguards verification role in Ukraine, including by conducting in-field activities. As a result, we can 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.

Mr Chairperson,

The Nuclear Technology Review before you highlights recent nuclear technologies of increasing interest to Member States seeking to address priorities, such as food security, water and energy; tackling pollution and disease; and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Let me give you an example of our cutting-edge work in this space. As we speak, Sorghum and Arabidopsis seeds are orbiting the earth at the International Space Station. When they return next month, scientists of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre will study the effects of harsh space conditions - primarily microgravity, cosmic radiation and extreme low temperatures - and use what they learn to develop new crops able to withstand the harsh conditions of climate change here on earth.

The modernization of our Nuclear Applications laboratories in Seibersdorf under ReNuAL2 is making steady progress.  Construction of our new laboratory buildings is ongoing, and refurbishment of our Dosimetry Laboratory will soon begin. A tender process is underway for the final major project element – new laboratory greenhouses, for which we still need a balance of €3.2 million in extrabudgetary funding so that we can sign a contract. The planned greenhouses are critical to meeting Member States’ requests for training, research, and services to strengthen their climate resilience and food security. I hope you will consider contributing, and that you will join me in honouring recent contributors at our ReNuAL2 donor display at 13:00 tomorrow.

It is a central and unique strength of the Agency that we facilitate and produce data that is usable, comparable and accessible to all States. Our 

scientific work, and our assistance to Member States in designing their own studies and collecting, sharing and analysing data, advances global understanding on key issues and facilitates science-based policy decision with national, regional, and global impact.

This is the case in many areas, including the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative, which has made significant progress in the past months in connecting 127 ZODIAC National Laboratories and the 150 Member-State-nominated ZODIAC National Coordinators. It has not only provided capacity building and transfer of technologies to Member States but has also initiated research and development work in Asia.

Let me give you an ongoing example that began late last year. The avian influenza H5N1 virus (AIV) has killed millions of poultry and can cause severe disease and death in humans too. For the first time, it has been detected in Central and South America. The Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture organized an emergency technical response, providing assistance to the laboratories of the affected regions. Included in this assistance was support evaluating and sharing laboratory test protocols for AIV detection and characterization; selection of PCR primers and probes; technical assistance for samples collection and shipment to international reference laboratories; and the evaluation of the Member States’ laboratory needs for coordinated emergency response.

Meanwhile, under NUclear TEChnology for Controlling Plastic Pollution (NUTEC Plastics), the Agency recently initiated the Coordinated Research Project on recycling of polymer waste for structural and non-structural materials by using ionizing radiation, to support Member States in the verification tests for pilot plants.

At this month’s UN Water Conference in New York the IAEA will announce the establishment of the Global Water Analysis Laboratories Network (GloWAL). This network of isotope-enabled water analysis laboratories will involve Member States as well as organisations including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and is exploring collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Under Rays of Hope, our assistance to developing countries battling the cancer crisis continues. Besides working with the first group of beneficiaries, we are about to establish Anchor Centres and I thank Member States that offered their cancer institutes as candidates. Rays of Hope has received funds from our main partners, our Member States. This has allowed us to begin to implement Rays of Hope with seven inaugural beneficiaries, Benin, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, and Senegal. But we still face a funding-gap of more than Euro 60 million. I am forging new partnerships and tapping into diverse funding sources, including from the private sector, but the support from you, Member States, is indispensable to bridge this significant sizable shortfall and to ensure maximum reach, impact and sustainability.

To that end, in December, the Agency joined forces with 11 of the world’s largest professional societies in cancer care to help improve access to radiotherapy services and treatment. The Practical Arrangements signed are the Agency’s first multilateral partnership on radiation oncology, medical physics and diagnostic imaging.

The IAEA Technical Cooperation programme achieved an implementation rate of 84.4% in 2022. TC projects around the world are enhancing food security, improving health services and supporting better management of natural resources. Member States’ work in climate change monitoring, mitigation and adaptation was supported through some 300 ongoing projects.

The IAEA also continued to respond quickly and flexibly to emergencies, including in Cuba, Pakistan and Peru.

The earthquake of 6 February caused unspeakable devastation in Türkiye and Syria and the IAEA delivered immediate assistance, providing medical x-ray machines to Türkiye last month. We are sending additional equipment and offering our technical support to ensure medical professionals have the necessary tools and training to provide effective care to those affected. The IAEA will continue to support Türkiye and Syria in their response efforts and provide significant additional assistance under the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the United States of America and Japan for the immediate financial contribution, which has enabled us to respond so quickly.

In 2022, the Rate of Attainment for contributions to the TC Fund was 97.5%, demonstrating its enduring importance to Member States. To ensure that resources for the TC programme are Sufficient, Assured and Predicable, I urge Member States to contribute on time, and in full.

Mr Chairperson,

You are familiar with our still young, but thriving Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme, the first of its kind for women in nuclear.

During this Board of Governor’s week I will launch the Lise Meitner programme with the first cohorts of early and mid-career women who are participating in this initiative aimed at reducing the barriers to career advancement that women often face.

This is a new and practical way to facilitate the integration of women into the global nuclear workforce.

I hope you will join me for the launch this Wednesday (8 March) at 13:15 outside Board Room C. In addition, we will rename the IAEA Library after Dr Meitner in recognition of her considerable contributions to nuclear science, which for too long have been overlooked because she was a woman.  

The Lise Meitner initiative is a natural continuum of the IAEA’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme, which I launched in 2020. In this third round, 150 new students from around the world have been selected to receive scholarships to study for a Masters degree in nuclear subjects.

Attracting 522 applications from 97 IAEA Member States, the number of awarded scholarships in this latest round is the largest yet.

I would like to draw your attention to two conferences happening in May here in Vienna: the International Symposium on Uranium Raw Material for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle and the International Conference on Nuclear Decommissioning.

Investment in nuclear energy is growing as countries seek the twin goals of securing reliable energy supplies and meeting their climate goals.

Today, 442 nuclear power reactors operating in 32 countries make up approximately 378 gigawatts of installed capacity, providing about a 10 per cent of the world’s total electricity and a quarter of its low-carbon supply.

Given the important role Small Modular Reactors are expected to play in the coming years, including in developing countries, we continue at pace assisting in their timely and safe development and deployment. The Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI) is making progress, with regulators and industry focussing, within their separate tracks, on defining their scope of work and identifying outputs. In June, after one year of its official launch, a plenary will take place in Vienna to take stock and provide further impetus to this key effort.

Fusion energy marked a milestone in December as US-based scientists achieved ignition, extracting more energy out of a fusion reaction than was put in. As fusion science advances and investment by governments and the private sector increase, the IAEA’s role as fusion’s central global hub at the forefront of promoting development and facilitating international coordination and best practices is coming to the fore. In December, we published World Survey of Fusion Devices, providing a timely and first comprehensive picture of the status of global fusion efforts. Meanwhile, our Coordinated Research Project on “Artificial Intelligence for Accelerating Fusion R&D” is developing AI applications in fusion science at an international level. We are actively preparing the IAEA Fusion Energy Conference, which will be held in London this October.

Mr Chairperson,

Turning now to important updates in the safeguards area. Since our meeting in November, two additional technical meetings were 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 for the corresponding project in Brazil.

For the Agency, the non-proliferation aspects and the legal obligations of all concerned are central. In both cases, the Agency will continue to have its verification and non-proliferation mandate as its guiding principle.

The Agency will conduct its work on these matters in an independent, impartial, transparent and professional manner. I will keep the Board informed of future developments.

Returning to 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). As you are aware, 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 two years, including nearly nine months when the surveillance and monitoring equipment were not installed.

Following my discussions with Vice-President Eslami in Tehran on Saturday, I note Iran’s agreement to allow the Agency to proceed with further monitoring and verification measures indispensable to the Agency fulfilling its mission.

Achieving this will be very important because it would allow the Agency to begin to establish a new baseline necessary in the event of a resumption of Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.

I now look forward to the follow-up technical discussions and to the prompt and full implementation of Iran’s assurances and the Joint Statement between Vice-President Eslami and myself. You will find this joint statement attached as an annex to my latest report on the NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is before you.

In January, Iran implemented a significant change to the declared design information for the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) without informing the Agency in advance. This was contrary to Iran’s obligations under its Safeguards Agreement. Following discussions between Iran and Agency officials, Iran has since confirmed that it will facilitate the further increase in the frequency and intensity of Agency verification activities at FFEP, as notified by the Agency.

Also in January at the Fordow fuel enrichment plant, we found particles of high enriched uranium with enrichment levels well beyond the enrichment level declared by Iran. The Agency and Iran have initiated technical discussions to fully clarify this issue.

I welcome Iran’s high-level assurances that it is willing to implement further appropriate verification and monitoring activities, and to cooperate with the Agency to resolve the outstanding safeguards issues, including those pertaining to the three undeclared locations in which the Agency found traces of uranium particles of anthropogenic origin. In the spirit of the joint statement, I look forward promptly to engaging in technical follow-up discussions with Iran, as we have agreed. There is important work ahead of us

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.  Since the last regular Board meeting, Tuvalu has amended its Small Quantities Protocol (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, and I 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.

Since my report to the Board and General Conference in November, 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 November, 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. Last month, I briefed the United Nations Security Council on these matters.

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. 

Mr Chairperson,

You have before you the Nuclear Safety Review 2023 and the Nuclear Security Review 2023. Both present a global overview of trends and the Agency’s main activities in these areas in 2022. They also identify the top priorities for 2023 and beyond. In nuclear safety, these include continuing to strengthen the Agency’s safety standards, and in nuclear security supporting Member States, upon request, in developing, maintaining and implementing national nuclear security regimes. The final versions of these documents will be prepared in the light of discussions at this meeting and will be provided as information documents at the General Conference.

I am pleased to be able to tell you that the Agency published a record 17 safety standards in the past year, a number that was last reached 20 years ago.

I’d like to draw your attention to the open-ended meeting of legal and technical experts on the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources. It will be held this May to mark the Code’s 20th Anniversary.

This month, the IAEA will convene the Joint Eighth and Ninth Review Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, which now covers 6 years due to pandemic-related postponement.

I would like to take advantage of the upcoming 40th Anniversary of the IAEA’s flagship Safety Peer Review Service, the Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) missions to encourage Member States to continue to take full advantage of this valuable service.

Let me reiterate that when it comes to nuclear safety and security, business as usual is clearly not what the world expects from us. We cannot talk about having done the job on nuclear safety and security in 2022 and 2023 when the largest nuclear power plant in Europe is still under threat, and without a protection zone.

In Japan, the IAEA has made significant progress in reviewing the safety of TEPCO’s planned discharges of ALPS-treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.  In January the Task Force conducted its fourth mission to Japan and last month an Agency team visited the Pacific region to discuss the matter with interested stakeholders.  

A full comprehensive report, which will include our conclusions regarding Japan’s compliance with relevant IAEA safety standards, will be released this year as we continue to engage in this important matter, as pledged, before, during, and after the water discharges.

Mr Chairperson,

The Agency delivered almost 4,000 events in 2022, and issued 98 translated publications, three times as many as the year before.

You will soon receive for your consideration my proposed Programme & Budget for the 2024-2025 biennium. It is prepared with due consideration of the constraints faced by Member States in the prevailing financial environment. Despite increasing demands and higher operational costs, I have decided again to propose a Zero Real Growth budget. The proposed draft programme and budget maintains the balance among the different major programmes and identifies additional sets of cost containment measures and efficiencies to absorb the increased costs.

We are steadily on our way to achieving the objective of an even better qualified and more diverse workforce at the Agency. As of the end of 2022, the overall representation of women in the Professional and higher categories reached 41%. Over the course of 2022, the percentage of women in senior positions (D1, D2 and DDG) increased from 38 to 44 percent, keeping us on track to achieve gender parity by 2025.

On the agenda there are two documents related to Personnel Matters for your consideration. The first, reports on the decision of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to increase the base/floor salary scale of staff in the Professional and higher categories on a no-gain/no-loss basis, which I have implemented provisionally pending Board’s approval.  The second, reports on the decision of the UNGA to amend the articles 10 and 11 of the Statute of the International Civil Service Commission, which removes ambiguity in the text. Upon the Board’s authorization, I will complete the process of acceptance of the amended statute on the Agency’s behalf.

At this critical moment, when the stakes are so high, this Agency’s work is more important than it has ever been; in Ukraine, in Iran and on all continents. Together, through the IAEA, let us redouble our efforts in keeping nuclear material safe, secure and safeguarded while doing everything possible so that nuclear can play its indispensable part in addressing climate change, disease, pollution and hunger.

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