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IAEA Director General's Keynote Address to 3rd Philippine Nuclear Congress

Manila, Philippines

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

One of my first international trips of 2015 was to the Philippines, back in January. It was a most enjoyable visit, during which His Excellency Secretary Montejo was a very welcoming host. I also had an opportunity to visit some of your nuclear facilities.

So it somehow seems appropriate that my last trip of the year should also be to Manila. I am very pleased to be here to take part in the opening session of the 3rd Philippine Nuclear Congress.

The Philippines joined the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1958, a year after the Agency was established, and is extremely active across a broad range of IAEA activities.

I note that the theme of your conference is Meeting Challenges through Nuclear Science and Technology for Sustainable Growth. That is actually quite a good summary of the work of the IAEA.

We are best known for our work in helping to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. You may have seen media coverage in the last few days of my report on Iran’s nuclear programme, which I presented to our Member States last Wednesday.

But, in fact, our mandate is much broader than nuclear non-proliferation: it is to bring the benefits of nuclear science and technology to all humankind, while minimizing the risks.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA has been contributing effectively to sustainable development for nearly 60 years.

So I was very pleased when world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in September and explicitly recognised the importance of science and technology for development.

There is a striking overlap between the work of the IAEA and the 17 SDGs. The new goals cover areas including poverty, hunger, human health, clean water, affordable and clean energy, industry and innovation, and climate change.  

These are all areas in which we already work closely with our Member States to help them achieve their development goals through the use of appropriate nuclear technology.

Here in the Philippines, for example, the IAEA technical cooperation programme has focused on the application of electron beam, gamma irradiation and research reactor technologies. 

We helped with the establishment of the Electron Beam Irradiation Facility at the Philippines Nuclear Research Institute. The Institute is carrying out research and development on the many industrial applications of this technology.

After Typhoon Haiyan, the Agency worked with the Philippine authorities on assessing water and soil contamination, using nuclear and isotopic techniques.

We are working together closely on education projects aimed at encouraging young people to study nuclear science and technology. And there has been very successful collaboration on a project to improve management of water resources, known as IWAVE.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA technical cooperation (TC) programme is the main vehicle through which we transfer nuclear technology to developing countries.

Countries determine their own needs and priorities. We then do our best to assist in areas where nuclear science and technology have an important contribution to make.

This is an extremely important part of our work. Its impact in the daily lives of millions of people around the world is remarkable.  

More than 300 Philippine nationals have served as international experts under our TC programme, sharing their knowledge and experience with other developing countries.

Our Board of Governors has just approved the new two-year TC programme, which we will start implementing in January.

New projects in the pipeline in your country include establishing quality management systems in nuclear medicine and radiotherapy.

The IAEA’s 167 Member States also benefit from access to our nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna. These are unique within the UN system.

They offer training to scientists, support research in human health, food and other areas, and provide analytical services to national laboratories.

A comprehensive modernisation of the laboratories is now underway. I am grateful to the Philippines for its contribution to this project, which is known as ReNuAL.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The best known application of nuclear technology is, of course, nuclear power.

Despite the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011, many countries believe nuclear power can help them to achieve the twin goals of increasing electricity supply while curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Nuclear power can provide the steady supply of baseload electricity needed to power a modern economy. It is also one of the lowest emitters of carbon dioxide, when emissions through the entire life cycle are considered.

There are 441 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries today, while 65 reactors are under construction. Most of the growth is happening in Asia.

I understand that, while no national decision has been made in the Philippines, nuclear power remains under consideration.

This is a sovereign national decision for all countries, which we do not seek to influence in any way. But if states decide to proceed with nuclear power, our job is to help them with all aspects of what can be a lengthy and complex process.

We advise on how to put the appropriate legal and regulatory framework in place and offer know-how on the construction, commissioning, start-up and safe operation of nuclear reactors.

We establish global nuclear safety standards and security guidance. We offer expert peer review missions to assess the operational safety of nuclear power plants. We can help with the decommissioning of plants at the end of their lifetimes and with waste disposal.

The end-result, we hope, is that countries will be able to introduce nuclear power safely, securely and sustainably.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Needless to say, safety is the key to the future development of nuclear power.

The Fukushima Daiichi accident was a painful reminder that a terrible accident can happen anywhere, even in a developed industrial country.

Nearly five years on, I believe the necessary lessons have been learned. Extensive improvements in safety have been put in place all over the world and nuclear power is much safer than it was before the accident.

But this is no reason for complacency. Total and sustained commitment to the principle of “safety first” is a must. Nuclear safety will always be a work in progress.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The high cost of building a nuclear power plant is seen by some as an obstacle to future development. Nuclear power plants are indeed expensive to build, but once they are up and running, they are relatively inexpensive to operate throughout a life cycle of 30 or 40 years – or even more.

There is also a perception in some quarters that there is no technical solution to the issue of dealing with spent nuclear fuel and high level waste. This is not the case.

The Finnish authorities recently issued a licence for the construction of a deep geological repository at Onkalo. Expected to be operational in 2023, this will be the first repository in the world for the permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

Technologically, this is an exciting time for nuclear power. Remarkable research is being done on new generations of reactors which will be safer and generate less waste.

I am confident that technological developments already in the pipeline will make nuclear power not just safer, but much more efficient. I look forward to the development of new nuclear technologies which can generate electricity at competitive prices, with reduced construction times and operating costs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope I have given you some insight into the fascinating work of this remarkable organisation which I have the honour to lead.

Let me end by reaffirming the great importance which the IAEA attaches to our cooperation with the Philippines. We look forward to strengthening that cooperation in the coming years. I wish you a very successful conference.

Thank you.


Last update: 25 Nov 2019

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