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International Cooperation for Enhancing Nuclear Safety, Security, Safeguards and Non-Proliferation - 60 Years Atoms for Peace and Development

Rome Italy
Edoardo Amaldi Conference

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, seen here at the 61st IAEA General Conference, gave a keynote lecture at the 20th Edoardo Amaldi Conference in Rome on 9 October 2017. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to speak at this 20th Edoardo Amaldi Conference in the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the oldest scientific academy in the world.

Italy was a founding member of the IAEA in 1957 and works closely with us in many areas of our work. Last month, at the IAEA General Conference in Vienna, Italy presented us with a bust of Enrico Fermi, who is often seen as an architect of the nuclear age.

As you know, Fermi was a collaborator of Edoardo Amaldi, after whom this series of conferences is named.

The European Commission Joint Research Centre, our co-organizer today, is a very important partner for the Agency. It provides significant financial and technical support for our work.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the past 60 years, the IAEA has helped to improve the health and prosperity of millions of people by making nuclear science and technology available in health care, food and agriculture, industry and other areas.

We also contributed to international peace and security by verifying that nuclear material stays in peaceful uses.

Our work was given special recognition in 2005 with the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded jointly to the Agency and to my distinguished predecessor Dr Mohamed ElBaradei.

We are probably best known in the public mind for our work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and especially – in recent years – for our activities concerning the nuclear programmes of North Korea and Iran.

I will talk about both of these issues in a moment. But first I would like to tell you about the development side of our Atoms for Peace and Development mandate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear science and technology have many peaceful applications which can help countries to produce more food, generate more electricity, treat diseases such as cancer, manage water supplies, protect the seas and oceans and respond to climate change.

These are all areas covered by the Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by world leaders in 2015. Helping developing countries to achieve the SDGs, using relevant nuclear technology, is an important part of our work.

Let me give you a few examples.

First, birth control for insects.

This is important in combating pests such as mosquitoes, tsetse flies and fruit flies. These cause nasty human and animal diseases and can destroy entire crops of fruit and vegetables.

The IAEA makes available something called the sterile insect technique, which involves sterilising male insects by applying radiation.

These sterilised males are released in a targeted location. They mate with females, but no offspring are produced. Over time, the wild population declines and the insect pest is greatly reduced, or completely eliminated in certain areas.

The sterile insect technique saves countries many millions of dollars per year and protects farmers’ livelihoods. It also helps to improve human health. With generous support from the European Union, we have made the technique available to countries affected by the Zika virus to help them combat the Aedes mosquito, which spreads the virus.

Second, food security.

The IAEA helps to increase food supplies by developing new varieties of crops such as rice and barley. These are higher-yielding and more resistant to drought and disease. 

By applying radiation in the laboratory, scientists accelerate the spontaneous mutation process that occurs in nature all the time. They can develop new varieties of crops very quickly. This does not involve genetic modification of the plants.

As a result, farmers in Peru are growing abundant crops of new varieties of barley at high altitudes, while farmers in Myanmar are growing more rice. Producing the new plants involves sophisticated science, but farmers do not have to change traditional growing methods. 

The IAEA has a Joint Division with the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which focuses on nuclear techniques in food and agriculture

The third area I want to mention is human health, and, in particular, cancer control. This is an important focus of our work.

Cancer used to be thought of as a disease of wealthier nations, but, in fact, it is reaching epidemic proportions in developing countries.

It is estimated that, by 2030, over 21 million people will be diagnosed with cancer every year. Around 60 percent of all new cancer cases will be recorded in developing countries, and that is where around 70 percent of cancer-related deaths will occur.

Unfortunately, many developing countries lack both equipment and the trained medical and technical experts needed to treat cancer effectively. In Africa alone, there are 28 countries which do not have a single radiotherapy machine.

The IAEA is working closely with partners such as the World Health Organization to change that.

Our technical support focuses on radiotherapy, nuclear medicine and imaging technology. We provide education and training for health professionals and sometimes supply equipment.

We have developed innovative e-learning initiatives which offer high-quality training for specialists in areas such as radiotherapy, medical physics and nutrition.

Finally, the IAEA is unique within the UN system in having eight specialist nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna.

These train scientists, support research in human health, food and other areas, and provide analytical services to national laboratories. The laboratories are now undergoing a long overdue modernisation. We also have environmental laboratories in Monaco which work on marine pollution and ocean acidification.

Since 1958, more than 48,000 scientists and engineers have held fellowships and scientific visitor positions through the IAEA technical cooperation programme, both at our laboratories, and in the facilities of our partners around the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The best known peaceful application of nuclear technology is nuclear power.

At present, 30 countries are using nuclear power. But many more countries, especially in the developing world, are interested in introducing it. In fact, global use of nuclear power continues to grow, despite the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan six years ago.

Nuclear power makes a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy security, while delivering energy in the growing quantities needed for development.

It is up to each country to decide whether or not to introduce nuclear power. The IAEA does not attempt to influence their decision. But if countries opt for nuclear power, our job is to help them use it safely, securely and sustainably.

Nuclear safety and security are national responsibilities, but the IAEA serves as the forum for international cooperation in these areas.

For example, the IAEA establishes international nuclear Safety Standards. These are not legally binding, but they are used voluntarily by almost all countries to protect people and the environment from harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

The Agency sends peer review missions, made up of top international experts, to give countries professional advice on safety issues.

The IAEA coordinated the international response to the most serious accidents at nuclear power plants – at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi in 2011.

After the Fukushima Daiichi accident, we quickly convened a ministerial conference which led to the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety. This helped to bring about a significant improvement in nuclear safety throughout the world.

As far as security is concerned, the IAEA helps countries to prevent nuclear and other radioactive material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

We train police and border guards, provide radiation detection equipment and advise on nuclear security at major events such as the Olympic Games and World Cup soccer championships. The EU is a major supporter of the IAEA’s nuclear security programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will now turn to the nuclear verification work of the IAEA.

We implement safeguards in 181 countries, sending nuclear inspectors all over the world to check that States are not secretly developing nuclear weapons. We use advanced technology that enables us to detect even minute particles of nuclear material.

We have state-of-the-art safeguards laboratories near Vienna which analyse samples of material brought back by our inspectors. Wherever possible, we monitor nuclear facilities remotely, in real time, using permanently installed cameras and other sensors.

The IAEA and EURATOM have for decades applied safeguards jointly in Europe, including through joint team inspections.

This brings me to the very topical issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.

The IAEA worked from 2003 onwards to try to resolve a number of outstanding safeguards issues in Iran. For years, little or no progress was made. But, a few years ago, we started to see some movement.

In July 2015, I signed a Road-map with Iran for the clarification of possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme. At the same time, Iran and the group of countries known as the P5+1 – plus the EU – agreed on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA.

As a result of the IAEA Roadmap, I was able to present a final assessment of Iran’s past nuclear activities to the IAEA Board of Governors in December 2015.

Our assessment was that Iran had conducted a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device before the end of 2003. However, these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.

Based on my report, the IAEA Board decided to close its consideration of outstanding issues related to the Iranian nuclear programme. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Implementation of the JCPOA began in January 2016. The IAEA is not a party to the agreement. We were asked by the UN Security Council to verify and monitor that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the agreement. Our Board of Governors authorised us to do so.

The JCPOA represents a real gain for nuclear verification. 

Iran is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime. Our inspectors have expanded access to sites, and have more information about Iran’s nuclear programme. That programme is smaller than it was before the agreement came into force.

Iran is provisionally implementing the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. This is a powerful verification tool which gives us broader access to information and locations.

As a result, I can state that the nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented.

The IAEA will continue to implement safeguards in Iran with a view to being able to draw what we call the “broader conclusion” – that all nuclear material remains in peaceful activities – in due course. This is likely to take many years.

But we can already point to some valuable lessons from the process so far.

The first is that even complex and challenging issues can be tackled effectively if all parties are committed to dialogue – not dialogue for its own sake, but dialogue aimed at achieving results.

My second observation is that the IAEA was able to make a vital contribution, and maintain the confidence of all sides, by sticking to its technical mandate and not straying into politics. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Unfortunately, it is not possible to report progress on the issue of North Korea.

I remain seriously concerned about North Korea’s nuclear programme. North Korea continues to conduct nuclear tests, launch missiles and threaten other countries, in complete disregard of the repeated demands of the international community.

The fact that North Korea is testing nuclear weapons with a large yield, as well as long-distance delivery systems, means this is no longer just a regional threat. It is a grave threat to global peace and security.

The IAEA used to have inspectors in North Korea, reporting on its nuclear programme, but they were required to leave in 2009. North Korea declared its withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). It is no longer a Member State of the IAEA.

We are still working hard to collect and evaluate information regarding North Korea’s nuclear programme, including by monitoring satellite imagery as well as open-source and trade-related information.

Without direct access, the Agency cannot confirm the operational status of North Korea’s nuclear facilities or what exactly is going on there. But all the indications suggest that North Korea is pressing ahead with its nuclear programme. When it comes to its nuclear programme, North Korea generally does what it says it is going to do.

In the present circumstances, it is difficult to be optimistic about possible solutions. The most important thing for now is that the international community gets united. Clearly many parties – key countries, the UN and the IAEA – have important roles to play.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you can see, the Agency has a remarkably broad mandate, covering many disparate areas, which needs to be implemented in a balanced manner.

Our work is unique – no other organization offers the range of services related to nuclear science and technology that we do.

In the coming decades, we will continue to focus on delivering concrete results for our Member States and improving the well-being and prosperity of the people of the world through the clever use of that technology.

Thank you.