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Lecture by the Director General at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Canberra, Australia
Rafael Grossi

(As prepared for delivery)

Since Enrico Fermi built the world’s first working nuclear reactor on a disused University of Chicago squash court in November 1942, nuclear energy and international peace and security have always been intimately linked.

The relationship has evolved and gone through many iterations. Today, the factors of energy geopolitics and nuclear energy are again converging in a very significant way as energy security and climate change redraw global relationships, define development priorities, and reshape industries. It is in this context that nuclear proliferation must be considered, and that the work of the IAEA becomes as indispensable as it has ever been.  

In my remarks, I will posit that we are reaching a defining moment for global nuclear non-proliferation. Though the international non-proliferation framework is strong and universal, the events and geostrategic calculations of countries from 1990 to the present, show that the tendencies towards proliferation continue and pose a problem for everyone.

The Strong and Universal Non-Proliferation Regime

It’s true there are more countries today with nuclear weapons than when the IAEA was founded in 1957. But there are far fewer than John F Kennedy forecast in 1960 when he said that “10, 15, 20 nations” would have nuclear weapons by the end of the four-year presidential term for which he was campaigning.

The case for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the NPT, remains strong. It remains strong also for regional nuclear weapon free zone treaties, such as the Treaty of Raratonga; and of the indispensable need for the IAEA. The NPT has 192 signatories and the IAEA has 175 Member States. 178 States have signed a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, with many of those strengthened by an Additional Protocol, and many countries with small amounts of nuclear material now have new Small Quantities Protocols fit for today’s circumstances. These frameworks are not only global, some near-universal, in scope, but they have stood the test of time. This year marks two notable anniversaries; the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the first Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement in connection with the NPT, and the 25th anniversary of the approval by the IAEA Board of Governors of the Model Additional Protocol, to which I will return in more detail a little later. The IAEA’s safeguards system remains the key non-proliferation mechanism that provides the world credible assurances that nuclear material is not being diverted to be turned into nuclear weapons and remains in peaceful activities, for example producing reliable, low-carbon power.

Australia has been a key part of building this unprecedented framework of international agreement and shared obligation. As one of the eight-Nation negotiating group, it was critical in drafting the IAEA’s statute. Ever since, it has been steadfast in its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, and in its support of the IAEA, both financially and politically.

Proliferation Tendencies, Past and Present

The success of the non-proliferation regime, has not, however, snuffed out the specter of nuclear proliferation. History has taught us valuable lessons and the current geostrategic consideration of nations show clearly that proliferation tendencies continue to pose a serious challenge.

Let me start in 1990. The main lesson of the first Gulf War was that while the Agency was dutifully safeguarding all of Iraq’s declared nuclear programme, which was peaceful, it was unaware of Iraq’s undeclared nuclear programme, which turned out to be far from peaceful. In places, aspects of Iraq’s latent nuclear weapons programme were being developed alongside the peaceful programme. But practically they were out of bounds to the Agency because Iraq had not declared them.  By virtue of its safeguards agreement, Iraq appeared to have upstanding non-proliferation credentials. In reality, the strict parameters of the agreement that defined the IAEA’s inspections remit at the time allowed Iraq to pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons programme without much fear of discovery.

By the end of the war, the illusion that the international non-proliferation regime was fit for purpose had been shattered. IAEA Member States sought to put things right by strengthening the safeguards system. This manifested itself most significantly through the development of a model additional protocol. This protocol complements the comprehensive safeguards agreement to which all non-nuclear weapon states must agree by virtue of being party to the NPT. Primarily, the additional protocol gave the IAEA more information and additional rights of access – most importantly to sites and locations not declared by the State. This has given the Agency the necessary tools to provide assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in a State as a whole. It served to address a major deficiency. Australia was instrumental in getting the ball rolling in the wide adoption of Additional Protocol by becoming the first country to conclude an AP. However, unlike the Safeguards Agreement to which it was attached, the Additional Protocol is voluntary and not all States have signed on yet. I am determined to make this important instrument universal and will continue to urge States to adopt it.

In May 1992, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea submitted its initial declaration to the IAEA under its Safeguards Agreement, and inspections began.  The IAEA was unable to verify that the DPRK had not diverted nuclear material from its civil programme and questioned the DPRK about certain aspects of its nuclear programme. It proved to have been a decisive finding; subsequently the DPRK developed a nuclear weapon programme and carried out its first nuclear test in October 2006. The DPRK has since been subject to UN sanctions, and the IAEA has not been present in the country for the past 13 years. The DPRK has continued to expand its nuclear weapons capability. There is no sign of resolution any time soon. The IAEA continues to observe the DPRK’s actions from outside its borders and maintains its enhanced readiness again to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme when that becomes possible.

In the mid-1990s, South Africa revealed it had developed six nuclear explosive devices in a clandestine weapons programme. At the time it had not been a party to the NPT. The dismantling of the weapons enabled South Africa to join the NPT and reach a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Although the context of this progress was regime change after apartheid, it was undoubtedly a triumph for disarmament. It eased any potential nuclear security concerns in the region and paved the way for the Treaty of Pelindaba, which established Africa as a zone free of nuclear weapons.

As a young Argentinian diplomat, I participated in my country and its neighbour Brazil stepping away from clandestine nuclear energy activities that could have led to a nuclear weapons race. The 1980s were a time of political trust-building between the countries as they agreed to work together to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, culminating in a common nuclear policy. In the early 1990s, they created a joint system for the accounting and control of nuclear materials, and the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), that would implement them. Shortly afterwards, Brazil, Argentina, the IAEA and the ABACC consolidate the system for the application of safeguards in a quadripartite agreement that is still in force. Latin America and the Caribbean, under the Treaty of Tlatelolco, is a nuclear weapons free zone and another example of how the exclusively peaceful use of nuclear energy can contribute to the peace and prosperity of hundreds of millions of people.

Libya, despite its safeguards agreement - but no additional protocol at the time - revealed in 2003 that it had a latent nuclear weapons programme that it had concealed from the IAEA. Perhaps affected by what had just occurred in Iraq, Libya voluntarily accepted the disarmament of this capability, a process which was facilitated by the IAEA.

As a counterpoint to Libya, let me cite the case of Syria as an example of the IAEA declaring a nuclear programme in non-compliance of its NPT Safeguards Agreement due to the lack of forthcoming information and cooperativeness. The IAEA has yet to be offered any new information that would alter our assessment that Syria’s destroyed Dair Alzour facility was very likely to have been a nuclear reactor that should have been declared to the Agency. That assessment was made more than a decade ago, following our verification of the site, which included the collection of environmental samples. I have extended to the Syrian government my readiness to discuss re-engagement, which I believe would be mutually beneficial.

This brings me to Iran. It is now 20 years since it was revealed that Iran – unbeknownst to the IAEA and despite having a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement - was constructing a uranium enrichment facility and a heavy water facility inside the country. The past two decades have been filled with countless interactions between the IAEA and Iran aimed at verifying that Iran’s nuclear programme is purely peaceful. There were UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran cease all enrichment. There were times when Iran provisionally applied an additional protocol and times when it did not. There were periods of cooperation and periods of tension. The IAEA assembled credible information indicating a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear programme. What remains constant is that the Agency is the ultimate guarantor of any agreement and that without the IAEA’s participation any agreement is unverifiable. 

Eventually in 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – or JCPOA - was negotiated between Iran and the P5 plus Germany. The IAEA was charged with verifying that Iran respected the new restrictions on its nuclear programme. Of great importance also was Iran’s acceptance once more of the additional protocol.

Prior to the JCPOA taking effect, the IAEA reported its assessment that Iran had conducted a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device as a coordinated effort before the end of 2003. Following this report, the way was opened for the JCPOA to move ahead.

The US withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. In response, one year later, step by step, Iran began to abandon all its nuclear-related commitments under the deal. Its stockpile of enriched uranium rose significantly; it enriched up to 20% U-235 and then to 60% - the only State without nuclear weapons to enrich to such a level; it developed more sophisticated centrifuges; and, most recently, it asked us to remove our JCPOA-related surveillance cameras. Diplomatic efforts to resurrect the deal are proving challenging.

In parallel, the Agency is seeking explanations concerning the discovery of man-made uranium particles at three undeclared locations in Iran. This indicates the presence of nuclear material and activities that Iran has failed to explain credibly. The Agency has offered Iran many platforms and processes by which to resolve these matters over the past three years. Such offers by the IAEA remain open because the Agency, and I personally, remain ready to resume the indispensable work that is required.

The negotiations around Iran’s nuclear programme are not happening in a vacuum and the context is important. The lack of progress in verifying the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme may affect other countries’ decisions. We are now in a situation where Iran’s neighbours could start to fear the worst and plan accordingly.  There are countries in the region today looking very carefully at what is happening with Iran, and tensions in the region are rising. Political leaders have on occasionally openly stated they would actively seek nuclear weapons if Iran were to pose a nuclear threat.

Beyond the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme, today’s geopolitics are shifting fast. Some governments around the globe may be reassessing whether it is in their greater interest to proliferate or to remain part of the system that has kept the world from nuclear proliferation and war for more than half a century. These recalibrations of risk are driven by forces out of the IAEA’s control, but States have more agency over them. Examples of these forces, include verbal threats of actually using nuclear weapons first rather than relying solely on deterrence, thereby weakening the long-held ‘nuclear taboo’; aggression by nuclear weapon States against non-nuclear weapon States that raises questions about whether nuclear weapons deter aggression or facilitate it; and the slow pace of disarmament, leading to disillusionment with the NPT. They all indirectly increase the danger of nuclear proliferation.  Given that we face all these forces today, it’s even more important to keep the IAEA and safeguards strong.

The stable and secure route is for States without nuclear weapons to know that their neighbours are not developing nuclear weapons. They can only receive such reassurance through the independent, objective and effective verification work of the IAEA.

The Agency can only be effective if it can use the tools at its disposal to do its job and is then backed by Member States when it uncovers indications of undeclared nuclear activity. The effective verification of those States that may harbour secret proliferation ambitions is not an easy task, it requires diplomacy, determination and persistence. But it is the ultimate test of a robust non-proliferation regime on which the future of humanity rests.  

Member States with a comprehensive safeguards agreement and minimal or no nuclear material are no exception. The original small quantities protocol of the 1970s simplified the implementation of their safeguards obligations and suspended the application of many provisions of the CSA. But it is no longer fit for purpose and in 2005 the IAEA’s Board of Governors strengthened the standardized text and called on existing signatories, as well as new ones, to adopt it. I continue to urge them to do so in person and in writing.  

The IAEA develops a safeguards approach for each State based on an objective, structured, technical method used to analyze the plausible paths by which nuclear material suitable for use in a nuclear weapon could be acquired. It enables us to use inspectors, resources and time wisely and in the right places, rather than diluting them through a lack of focus.

A significant reality that our safeguards teams are dealing with today is volume. There is much more nuclear material to inspect - 30% more now than in 2010 and it is growing. Significant quantities – the amount of a material, for example, plutonium, a State would need to make a nuclear explosive device – keeps increasing. Meanwhile, there are new technologies to consider in the inspection process. Smaller, more mobile, nuclear reactors, including SMRs, which I will return to in more detail a later.

As international security evolves, so does the non-proliferation regime. One of the most significant developments in this regard is the re-emergence on the global scene of the issue of naval nuclear propulsion and the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines by non-nuclear weapon States.

The possibility such States using nuclear energy for naval propulsion was foreseen more than half of a century ago and specific provisions are embedded in the standard text of the comprehensive safeguards agreement.

The IAEA must be able to provide assurances such activities remain within the remit of that States’ safeguards obligations, in other words, that nuclear material used in the context of AUKUS will not be used for purposes other than naval propulsion. The interactions I have had so far with the three parties and the non-proliferation commitments they have made, give me confidence this can be achieved. That the parties have already engaged with the IAEA at this stage where the extent of their partnership is not yet fully established, is an indication to me that they view their non-proliferation commitments as an integral part of this partnership.

As the project enters its more technical phase, it will require even more interactions and commitments from the three parties, so that the Agency is able to fulfil its responsibilities and understand all the issues and challenges intrinsic to the task of verifying the peaceful use of the relevant nuclear material.

I am also mindful that this specific verification work may set a precedent for other States that have already expressed a similar interest – Brazil for example has opened a formal dialogue with the IAEA on the matter of naval nuclear propulsion. I am determined to set the highest non-proliferation standards.

I belong to those who see the glass half full and see this new development as an opportunity for IAEA Member States to demonstrate their commitment to working with us, and for the existing safeguards framework to demonstrate its ability to address the issue.

Security and Safety

Our safeguards inspectors are not the only ones keeping people and the environment safe from the detrimental effects of ionized radiation, so do the IAEA experts who work in nuclear security and in nuclear safety.  

Before 2001, Member States had long put nuclear security on the backburner. But that changed when the September 11 attacks opened everyone’s eyes to the risk of nuclear terrorism. Nuclear security became the subject of a series of Presidential Summits and a common international approach was developed. The IAEA’s role becoming more prominent. The Agency helps Member States to prevent, detect and respond to acts and threats of nuclear terrorism. It does this by developing nuclear security requirements and guidance, and offering training, technical advice, peer reviews and other advisory services. Let me give you one example. Even small quantities of radioactive material, like disused radiopharmaceuticals from hospitals, can be used to elicit terror and chaos. You’ll find the IAEA assisting Member States from Cameroon to Brazil in ensuring such material is secured, especially ahead of big public events like the World Cup or the Olympics.

Though nuclear energy, on average, is safer than any other energy source except solar power, the potential severity of an accident requires a strong framework and universal implementation. The IAEA plays a central role in both.

It not only develops international safety standards but was crucial in creating a global safety-first culture after the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and in assisting Member States to implement it more fully following the accident at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Fukushima. One example are the IAEA’s peer reviews, which facilitate cross-border assessments of nuclear power programmes. Today, the Agency is reviewing and making transparent to the wider international community Japan’s handling of the ALPS-treated water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. This will be a central topic as I travel from here for discussions with the Pacific Islands Forum.

Let me give you a very current example of the IAEA’s work in safety, security and safeguards: our assistance to Ukraine.


The war in Ukraine has for the first time put in peril the staff facilities and communities of a major nuclear power programme. Every one of the IAEA’s 7 pillars of nuclear safety and security has been compromised.

Though the situation is unprecedented, the IAEA’s systems of response have operated flawlessly. The IAEA has been assisting Ukraine both remotely through our Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC), and on the ground in Ukraine, via missions I have led.

Through our close collaboration with Ukraine’s operator and regulator, we have been able to keep the world informed of the situation at Ukraine’s nuclear facilities through regular updates and reports. I have not only reported to the IAEA’s Board of Governors, but also to the UN Security Council and am in regular contact with world leaders.

The situation among Ukraine’s nuclear power plants took a very serious turn on the night between the third and fourth of March when the physical integrity of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant was violated, and a fire broke out at the nuclear facility. The IEC immediately went to the highest level of alert for the first time since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident.

Military action has compromised the safety of radiation sources; destroyed infrastructure at Ukraine’s Neutron Source and other nuclear facilities; damaged waste repositories; threatened collateral damage at nuclear power plants, and has negatively impacted Chornobyl NPP and Exclusion Zone, and Zaporizhzhya NPP, and their staff, in multiple ways.

Amidst these events, our missions to Ukraine, one to South Ukraine NPP and one to Chornobyl NPP and Exclusion Zone, accomplished real progress. At Chornobyl, for example, we took crucial measurements of radiation in the environment, assessed Ukraine’s needs, and started delivery of equipment. 

Our meetings, including my meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on 26 April, allowed us to develop a comprehensive programme of assistance.

In response to Ukraine’s request for equipment, which has included radiation measurement devices, protective material, computer-related assistance, and power supply systems, multiple IAEA Member States have offered their help. The IAEA’s process allows them to assist promptly and effectively, while avoiding duplications.

I am now working actively to lead an international mission to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya NPP to carry out essential nuclear safety, security and safeguards work.

The site of Zaporizhzhya NPP, Ukraine and Europe’s largest NPP, remains under the control of the Russian forces there. I am very concerned at the extremely stressful and challenging working conditions under which Ukrainian management and staff are operating the plant. Every day it continues, the risk of an accident or a security breach increases.

Our progress in getting us to Zaporizhzhya NPP has so far been affected by issues beyond our control, and by the practical and logistical challenges of travelling and working amidst a military conflict. But that mission is becoming more and more crucial, also from a safeguards point of view.

Under Ukraine’s CSA and AP, we continue to implement safeguards other than at Zaporizhzhya NPP, and we have not found any indication of the diversion of declared nuclear material or any indication that would give rise to a proliferation concern.

Since the beginning of the military conflict, the IAEA has conducted all time-critical safeguards verification activities. But this is now in danger of soon no longer holding true.

With Zaporizhzhya NPP under Russian control, Ukrainian’s regulator has informed us it has “lost control over” the facility’s nuclear material that is subject to the Safeguards Agreement between Ukraine and the IAEA. In addition, the remote connection to the IAEA’s safeguards surveillance systems at both Zaporizhzhya NPP and Chornobyl NPP has now been lost on multiple occasions.

It is vital Ukraine be able to continue to fulfil its safeguards obligations unimpeded, and that is why my primary focus is to get our teams to Zaporizhzhya NPP.

The Climate and Energy Crises and Nuclear Energy

The war in Ukraine is happening as the world grapples with two major crises, the climate and the energy crisis.

Whether it is wildfires here in Australia, floods in central Europe, or drought in Africa, the devastating consequences of a warming plant earth are becoming ever more apparent.

Nuclear power has been, is, and will be, indispensable to avoiding emissions that not only cause climate change, but also air pollution responsible for up to 8 million deaths a year.

In the last five decades, nuclear has avoided the release of about 70 giga-tonnes of greenhouse gases. That’s equivalent to the emissions from the entire global power sector for every year between 2015 and 2019. Today, about 440 nuclear reactors worldwide, provide more than a quarter of the world’s clean power.

Whether it is our analysts, or those of institutions like the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the International Energy Agency, forecasters agree that nuclear will have to play a major role if we are to achieve our climate goals.

In fact, the IEA says nuclear capacity will need to double by 2050. As nuclear energy increases and, in addition also provides heat and the energy needed to shift to a hydrogen economy, the IAEA’s work in safety, security and safeguards will become even more important.  

But nuclear energy is not only a way to make the shift to low-carbon energy production, it provides enhanced security of supply. That has become a bigger factor as the world faces the most serious energy crisis since the 1970s. Long before the start of the war in Ukraine, big swings in energy prices were occupying the minds of governments across the globe. Last year, European motorists were forming long queues at petrol stations and natural gas prices were up 400%. At COP26 in Glasgow, it was becoming absolutely clear the transition to green energy would be very disruptive without the reliability of nuclear power. Nuclear power provides a baseload of energy to solar and wind when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

The war in Ukraine has added the immediate high urgency of energy security into the consideration for many government leaders in Europe and beyond. Their decisions on how to respond – to turn back to fossil fuels or to supercharge the green transition - will define the path for decades to come.

In March, Belgium cited energy security concerns as a reason to delay by 10 years its plan to close all nuclear power plants by 2025, with the country’s two newest reactors allowed to remain in operation.

A significant shift has occurred in South Korea, with the new President reversing the nuclear phaseout policy of his predecessor and aiming now, not only to revive nuclear power at home, but to build more reactors abroad.

Meanwhile, about 30 newcomer countries are either planning or considering nuclear power plants.

In Asia, some 34 reactors are currently under construction – more than twice the 15 being built in Europe – and scores more are in the proposal stage. China and India have both announced ambitious plans to scale up their nuclear power programmes in the coming years. The conversation in Japan, a little more than a decade removed from the Fukushima Daiichi accident, seems increasingly open to restarting idled reactors.

Not only is Asia building more reactors it is also building them fast and often without the delays suffered elsewhere. The China General Nuclear Power Group started work on its two EPRs in Taishan, in southern China, after construction was already under way at two European nuclear power plants, Olkiluoto and Flamanville. China finished by 2019, Europe’s plants are still delayed.

As nuclear power plant construction booms in Asia, it will influence the geopolitics of energy and redraw energy relationships in the region.

China and Russia are the major builders of nuclear power plants at home, and particularly in the case of Russia, also abroad. France, the US, the UK, Japan and South Korea also build nuclear power plants.

The war in Ukraine and the world’s response have already had an impact on the nuclear industry. For example, the risk to project delivery, has prompted Finish Fennovoima to terminate a contract with Russia’s Rosneft to build Hanhikivi Nuclear Power Plant in northern Finland. Around the world, supply chain disruptions are further complicating matters.

Much of the energy technology that will get us to net zero carbon emissions is not yet on the market. In nuclear, Small Modular Reactors are a case in point. Around the world, from Argentina to France, some 70 designs are being developed and promoted, while Russia and China remain the only countries in which SMRs have already been deployed.

These advanced nuclear reactors have a power capacity about a third of the size of traditional nuclear power reactors. Given their smaller footprint, they can be used in locations poorly suited for larger nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, prefabricated units can be manufactured, shipped, and installed on site. This makes them more affordable to build, faster to deploy, and safer by design.

The IAEA’s Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative is facilitating the harmonization and standardization of SMRs, and therefore also their effective and timely deployment. This addresses a need of our Member States as I am often asked about SMRs by ministers from both developing and advanced nations.

Australia does not have a nuclear power programme, but it has long considered it. A poll published last month found that most Australians support building nuclear power plants in Australia, with only 23% disagreeing. Meanwhile, Australia, as the third largest producer of uranium and the country with the largest identified reserves, will likely continue to play a role in the global future of nuclear power.

Sustainable Development

Nuclear power is an important part of a sustainable future, but it’s not the only part. Four out of every five IAEA Member States do not operate nuclear power plants. Most States join the IAEA, not because of nuclear power or because we are the “nuclear weapons watchdog”, but because they are seeking assistance in accessing the life-saving benefits of nuclear science and technology.

Nuclear science and technology directly contribute to more than half the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the work of widening access to them is an integral part of the IAEA’s mandate. The Agency is also the only institution the NPT names with regards to the fulfilment of this part of the treaty’s remit. In a few weeks I will travel to New York to update the Review Conference on our work.

As climate change effects manifest themselves, the IAEA is helping its Member States to adapt. For example, by improving food security through plant mutation breeding of hardier crops, and by boosting water security through isotope hydrology to assess ground water reserves. In health, nuclear science is not only used in cancer, but also in the Sterile Insect Technique that helps reduce the population of disease-carrying insects like mosquitos and the Tsetse fly.

And in an emergency, Member States count on us to be there fast, whether it is to provide PCR kits and knowledge to stem COVID -19; assisting in addressing the oil spill off the Peruvian coast; or assessing the safety of buildings after the blast in the Port of Beirut.

In these efforts, our laboratories in Vienna and in Monaco play a central role. We are after all at our core a scientific institution and unique within the UN family.

Since becoming Director General, I have launched several initiatives that address the most urgent challenges IAEA Member States face.

COVID-19 was a major wake-up call for all of us. The IAEA launched its biggest ever emergency response programme, which delivered RT-PCR equipment and knowledge to some 130 countries. Even as the effort was in full swing, we developed an initiative that took a long-term view.  Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action, or ZODIAC, helps countries to prevent pandemics caused by zoonotic diseases. It does this by helping them to strength their preparedness and capabilities to detect and respond to outbreaks quickly. Under the One Health approach, ZODIAC benefits from the expertise of the joint laboratories of the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and from cooperation with partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). ZODIAC will help tackle a plethora of zoonotic diseases, such as the ones caused by coronaviruses, the Zika virus, avian influenza viruses and pathogens yet unknown. It is a unique holistic and global approach with associated laboratories and focal points on every continent.

The IAEA has also developed NUclear TEChnology for Controlling Plastic Pollution, or NUTEC Plastics, to assist countries in integrating nuclear techniques in their efforts to address the challenges of plastic pollution. Isotopic techniques allow for a better understanding of the abundance and impact of microplastics in the ocean, while gamma and electron beam radiation technologies move countries closer to a circular economy by complementing traditional mechanical and chemical plastic recycling techniques.

Cancer is another global crisis hitting low and middle-income countries particularly hard. Many of them lack even a single radiotherapy machine. The IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative, which I launched on the eve of this year’s African Union Summit, together with Senegal’s President Macky Sall, the current Chairperson of the African Union, and with the support of leaders including Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, steps up the global response. It galvanizes all stakeholders in assisting countries in procuring the equipment and knowledge they need, particularly in nuclear medicine.

One of my first initiatives was the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme. The nuclear field needs to achieve better gender balance. At the IAEA, I have instituted policies that have pushed us to 40/60 and towards my goal of parity by 2025. But that is not enough if the wider field still lags behind. The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship offers women financial support towards a Master’s degree in a nuclear subject. We are about to open the third round, with 150 fellowships.

Supporting gender equality and sustainable development is not only the right thing to do it is also integral to achieving international peace and security.

From addressing climate change to stopping nuclear proliferation, peace requires multiple approaches and can only be achieved when we work on a global scale. Today, more than ever, the IAEA plays an indispensable part.


Last update: 06 Jul 2022

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