Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria
IAEA Board of Governors

The items on our meeting agenda relate to nuclear technology, safety and verification - all three of the Agency's areas of activity. I will discuss a few issues related to each area.

Nuclear Power

You have before you the draft Nuclear Technology Review - 2006.

In recent years, expectations for nuclear power as an energy source have been rising measurably. These rising expectations have been driven by growing energy needs worldwide, coupled with rising oil and natural gas prices, concerns in some countries regarding the security of energy supply, and environmental considerations, including fears of climate change. But equally important has been the sustained strong performance, in terms of safety and productivity, of existing nuclear plants.

The improving outlook for nuclear power takes different forms in different countries and regions. Countries such as China, India, Japan, Pakistan and the Russian Federation are already engaged in new construction, and have ambitious plans for additional expansion in the coming decades. In Western Europe, the picture is more mixed, with plans going forward for new reactors in Finland and France, while Germany and Sweden, by contrast, continue their nuclear phase-out policies.

At the General Conference last September, a large number of developing countries were discussing plans and possibilities for initiating or expanding their nuclear power programmes in the coming years. Without energy, there can be no development - and it is worth remembering that approximately 1.6 billion people - one in four of the world population - lack access to modern energy services. The Agency will continue to make it a priority to meet the growing demand for energy assessments, to assist developing countries in evaluating their energy needs and the relative suitability of various energy generation options.

Research continues on advanced reactor designs - both evolutionary and innovative - with improvements sought in three principal areas: cost reductions, safety enhancements and proliferation resistance. In addition to a broad array of national projects, the Generation IV International Forum and the Agency´s International Project on Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) are helping to promote evaluation of and cooperative research on innovative nuclear energy designs. The United States of America also recently launched its "Global Nuclear Energy Partnership", focused on developing proliferation-resistant recycling technologies and reactor systems that would facilitate the use of nuclear energy by developing countries.

Innovation in Policy and Infrastructure
But for nuclear energy to be a viable option for more countries, the international community will also need innovation in terms of policy and infrastructure development.

One example is for the international nuclear community to become more creative in developing regional approaches to energy needs. Regional approaches might be useful in addressing a number of issues that have made nuclear energy impractical for some countries, including: electrical grid capacity, upfront capital costs, infrastructure and workforce needs, design certification, licensing and operation. In this regard, I would note the announcement last week, by the Prime Ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, of their intention to cooperate in building a new nuclear plant and integrating the Baltic electricity market.

Such regional approaches are also consistent with concepts we are already exploring related to multilateral control of sensitive fuel cycle operations, and to providing the assurance of supply of reactor technology and nuclear fuel. I am pleased at the number of countries and organizations that have signaled their support for these concepts; however, it is urgent that we develop a unified approach and begin moving forward. At this year´s General Conference, we intend to hold a Special Event focused on these and other aspects of a potential "new framework" that would facilitate safety, security and proliferation resistance in the future utilization of nuclear energy.

Nuclear Applications

Nuclear applications continue to be used around the world to improve human and animal health, to aid in food production, to manage groundwater more effectively, and to provide other societal benefits.

Human Health
In the area of human health, stable isotope techniques are being used not only for nutritional research, but also for developing and evaluating nutrition intervention programmes in target populations - such as infants, children and people with HIV/AIDS.

The Agency´s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) continues to gain support and momentum. Last month, we marked World Cancer Day with the announcement of the first transfer under the PACT programme of a complete radiotherapy unit, donated by the MDS Nordion corporation of Canada, to the United Republic of Tanzania. We will continue our efforts to mobilize additional resources under PACT to enhance the capacity of Member States to combat cancer.

Groundwater Management
Groundwater management is a key issue for sustainable human development, particularly in arid regions. Some regions are seeing the rapid depletion of surface water resources due to the growing demand for clean drinking water, irrigation and industrial water uses. The Agency has embarked on an effort to compile and disseminate isotope data from aquifers and rivers worldwide, to assist decision makers in adopting better water management practices.

In cooperation with the World Bank, the Agency has also been using isotope hydrology to help Bangladesh mitigate the impacts of arsenic poisoning of water aquifers. In one village, Chapai Nawabganj, the mapping of a local arsenic-free aquifer resulted in millions of dollars of savings in water treatment costs.

Food Productivity
Nuclear techniques have long been an effective tool for plant breeders, through the use of radiation induced mutation - a process that has been enhanced by advances in genetics. In October, the first IAEA Collaborating Centre was opened, at the Institute of Nuclear Agricultural Sciences at Zhejiang University, in China. This collaboration will use research, development and training activities to enhance the use of nuclear agricultural techniques in China and the neighbouring region.

Nuclear Safety

The Nuclear Safety Review for the Year 2005, which you have before you, provides an overview of current and emerging nuclear safety trends and issues. Nuclear power plant safety, as well as radiation, waste and transport safety in both power and non-power nuclear activities, continued to show strong performance worldwide.

But nuclear safety is not an issue that can ever be regarded as "fixed". While the strong, steady safety performance of recent years is reassuring, events of concern continue to take place, even in countries with extensive operating experience and strong regulatory oversight. These events make clear that the management of nuclear safety, including the establishment of a strong safety culture for both operators and regulators, must always be viewed as a "work in progress".

The International Nuclear Safety Group has reinforced this message. As INSAG Chairman Richard Meserve wrote in a recent letter to me: "Nothing is more corrosive to continued safety performance than a belief that the safety challenge has been 'solved' and that attention can be focused on other matters."

More Attention to "Weak Links" in Nuclear Safety
From my own discussions with operators and regulators, I believe it is particularly vital that we work harder to fix the so-called "weak links" in the nuclear safety chain. Despite the efforts of the past two decades to upgrade reactor safety features, facilities still exist at which nuclear safety assistance needs to be made a priority. The symptoms at such facilities are evident: less than optimal design safety features; the lack of strong, independent regulatory oversight; and poor coordination among the international organizations providing safety assistance. For such facilities, the international community should move expeditiously, with coordination between all relevant organizations, to clarify the actions needed, the expected costs, and a strategy and schedule for proceeding. I am pleased to note that these focused efforts have recently been taking place at some facilities.

Harmonization of Regulatory Approaches
The Agency has also been pressing for increased harmonization in national regulatory approaches, to ensure high quality, independent oversight for nuclear activities. Last week in Moscow, we held an International Conference on Effective Nuclear Regulatory Systems - the first effort to bring together all senior regulators with oversight in nuclear safety, radiation safety and nuclear security. The conference made a number of recommendations, including: wider participation by all countries in international conventions and other instruments; and renewed emphasis on international cooperation in developing a comprehensive body of international safety standards and security guidance.

Adherence to International Instruments
Member States have been giving increased emphasis to the value of international instruments - both binding and non-binding - as part of the global nuclear safety regime. Increased emphasis is also being given to the Agency´s role in the implementation and enhancement of these instruments.

The second Review Meeting of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management will take place in May. I am pleased to note that membership in the Joint Convention has increased by more than 20% in the past year. With increasing interest in expanding the use of nuclear power, more countries are seeing the Joint Convention as an important mechanism to improve confidence in the safe management of radioactive waste worldwide - a topic that remains a point of skepticism in public acceptance of nuclear energy. I would once again urge all Member States to become parties to this Convention.

Research Reactor Safety
Research reactors continue to be widely used for radioisotope production, neutron beam utilization, material irradiation and other applications. Of the 274 research reactors operating in 57 countries, more than half are over 30 years old - and although many have been refurbished, the ageing of material and equipment is an increasing concern. In addition, a challenge in some countries is the lack of adequate regulatory oversight, compounded by a lack of finances for needed safety upgrades. In December, representatives from over 30 Member States met here in Vienna to discuss practical steps for implementing the Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors.

The Agency has been supporting international efforts aimed at converting research reactors that use high enriched uranium (HEU) fuel to the use of low enriched uranium (LEU). Roughly half of all operating research reactors use HEU fuel, and of these, almost three-quarters use fuel enriched to greater than 90%. In June, in cooperation with the Agency, Norway will host an international symposium in Oslo, on minimizing the use of HEU in civilian applications. One topic that has been under consideration - which will also be discussed at the symposium - is the technical feasibility of conversion to LEU fuel and LEU targets for all research reactor applications.

Radiological Protection of Patients
The focus on radiological protection of patients has been rising. In the past three years, we have seen almost a three-fold increase in the number of countries involved in technical cooperation (TC) projects in this area. The safety needs are many. Accidental exposures in radiotherapy continue to occur; radiation injuries continue to be caused in interventional medical procedures; and radiation doses in some cases are significantly more than necessary.

In part, this is because the considerable improvements in medical technology that employ some form of radiation have resulted in greater use. These medical advances are being used to save lives, but they also result in greater collective dose to patients - which is by far the largest human-induced exposure to ionizing radiation.

A key area of Agency assistance has been in training major users of X rays, such as interventional cardiologists and other medical doctors and technicians, in relevant radiation protection techniques. Training materials on these topics have been developed in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and relevant international professional societies. Training courses were held last year in all TC regions.

Nuclear Verification

Status of Safeguards Agreements and Additional Protocols
Nuclear non-proliferation continues to face a number of challenges. In this regard, I should mention the continuing failure of some countries to fulfil their legal obligations to conclude and bring into force safeguards agreements. I should note also the slow progress on the conclusion and entry into force of additional protocols. I am, however, pleased to report, since the last regular meeting of the Board, the entry into force of comprehensive safeguards agreements with Turkmenistan and Uganda, and additional protocols with Estonia, Slovakia, Turkmenistan, Uganda and Ukraine. The Board also has before it a comprehensive safeguards agreement, with a modified Small Quantities Protocol, and an additional protocol for the Central African Republic.

Despite these welcome developments, there remain 34 States party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) that have not yet fulfilled their Article III obligation to bring into force comprehensive safeguards agreements with the Agency, and 118 States that do not have additional protocols in force.

I would point out that, since the last regular Board meeting, the Agency has written to all States with Small Quantities Protocols (SQP), proposing to amend those protocols as directed by the Board at its September 2005 session.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea
Since the end of 2002, when at the request of the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (DPRK) the Agency´s verification activities were terminated, the Agency has been unable to verify the DPRK´s nuclear activities.

As I have reported before, the Agency stands ready to work with the DPRK - and other concerned parties - towards a comprehensive solution that addresses the security and other needs of the DPRK, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the needs of the international community to ensure that all nuclear activities in the DPRK are exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Implementation of Safeguards in the Islamic Republic of Iran
The report on the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran is before you. As you are aware, the Agency over the last three years has been conducting intensive investigations of Iran´s nuclear programme with a view to providing assurances about the peaceful nature of that programme.

During these investigations, the Agency has not seen indications of diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Regrettably, however, after three years of intensive verification, there remain uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran´s nuclear programme. As I mentioned in my report, this is a matter of concern that continues to give rise to questions about the past and current direction of Iran´s nuclear programme.

For confidence to be built in the peaceful nature of Iran´s programme, Iran should do its utmost to provide maximum transparency and build confidence. Only through clarification of all questions relevant to Iran´s past programme and through confidence building measures can confidence about Iran´s current nuclear activities be restored. This is clearly in the interest both of Iran and of the international community.

Conclusion

The work of the Agency continues to be central to international security and development. In recent months, we have received a great deal of recognition for our efforts; but clearly, there is too much at stake for us to rest on our laurels. The support you provide for the Agency´s work is key to our success, and I trust that support will continue.