You are here

Nuclear Technology: Looking to the Future

Vienna Austria
10th Scientific Forum during the 51st Session of the IAEA General Conference

Our world is changing rapidly.

The world population continues to grow, increasing its consumption of food, water and energy. Urbanization this year passed a milestone: more than half the earth´s inhabitants now live in cities. The planet itself is adjusting to the effects of these and other human behaviours. And science and technology continue to advance - with new discoveries driven by collaboration among such new fields as biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology.

At the IAEA, we have been given a mission - Atoms for Peace - that is of direct relevance to the challenges we face. We have been charged with sharing the benefits of nuclear technology with all countries and peoples, while preventing the misuse of this technology for destructive ends. For fifty years, we have been carrying out this mission. As you have heard yesterday, we have had many successes, but also some setbacks.

In this Scientific Forum, we are turning our vision to the future. What can we predict? How can we prepare - with effective policies, strategic partnerships, and focused research - for the changes we expect?

Nuclear Power

The first session of this Forum will deal with nuclear power. Even the most conservative estimates predict at least a doubling of energy usage by mid-century. Coupled with concerns related to the risk of climate change and the security of energy supply, this anticipated growth in energy demand is leading to predictions of a greater role for nuclear power.

Innovation will play a key role in determining the extent to which nuclear energy will meet future energy needs. Advanced fuel cycles are already being developed with the aim of better energy utilization of uranium, plutonium and other actinides; developing small reactors that meet the needs of developing countries; and with built in enhanced features for safety, security, waste minimization and proliferation resistance. The Agency´s International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) is currently considering collaborative projects that would address some of these innovation needs. In my view, a key measure of success in this area will be how well our policy and technology innovations are designed to serve all would-be users of nuclear power.

Last year´s Scientific Forum focused on A New Framework for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, so I will not go into detail here about our ongoing efforts to develop one or more mechanisms for the assurance of supply of nuclear fuel, and hopefully a multilateral mechanism for the management and control of the back end of the fuel cycle. But this is clearly is also an important component of planning for the future of nuclear power.

Looking further ahead: there is no denying that nuclear fusion promises an array of positive characteristics: an inexhaustible source of energy; inherent safety; and few negative environmental implications. With the beginning of ITER construction now in sight, this long term objective will likely be receiving serious attention.

Food, Agriculture and Health

The second session will focus on the use of nuclear technologies in food, agriculture and health.

Within the United Nations system, organizations are striving to work more closely together under what has become known as ONE UN. But the IAEA and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) have a unique history in this regard - and I welcome the participation of the FAO Director General in this forum. The two organizations have been collaborating successfully under our Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture for more than 40 years. Our efforts have focused on addressing three major challenges:

  • overcoming hunger and malnutrition;
  • agriculture as a contributor to economic and social development; and
  • sustainable management of land, water, and other natural resources.

New developments in promising areas such as biotechnology, gene sequencing and nanotechnology, are anticipated to have a significant impact in the coming years on food and agriculture production. These initiatives will also generate benefits in human and animal health and land and water resource management. Nuclear applications stand to make key contributions to meeting these goals.

Turning to the health sector: the incidence of cancer is rising quickly. Over the next 25 years, the majority of new cases and deaths will occur in low and middle income countries - in part because of population growth and greater longevity. A major challenge for many of these countries will be finding the sufficient funds to address these trends. Effective prevention can reduce the risk of cancer. Effective screening and early detection can lead to treatments and cures in many cases. But for too many developing countries, no such modalities are in place.

The IAEA technical cooperation (TC) programme already dedicates 28.6% of its total budget to projects focused on human health. There are currently over 100 TC projects related to radiotherapy in 70 Member States.

The Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) aims to place cancer front and centre on the global health agenda. We have developed strong working relationships with the World Health Organization and other key agencies such as the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, whose representatives we are pleased to welcome today.

Working with our partner organisations, we are establishing six model demonstration sites as multidisciplinary projects to build capacity in cancer management. These sites will also serve as longer term, larger scale fundraising platforms, the foundation of a strategy to relieve the suffering of cancer patients across the world.

Safety and Security: Building Robust Regimes

As a highly sophisticated technology, nuclear power plants require a correspondingly sophisticated safety and security infrastructure, well beyond that needed for other nuclear applications.

There continues to be a clear need to build up and maintain a global safety and security regime - a regime supported by international instruments, the application of IAEA standards and guidelines, national safety and security infrastructures and an active global network for knowledge sharing.

Recently, for example, we began offering an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS), which combined previous services ranging from nuclear safety and radiation safety to emergency preparedness and nuclear security. The IRRS is contributing towards a more active exchange of knowledge among senior regulators and more harmonized regulatory approaches worldwide.

Nuclear Verification: The Long-Term View

During the last decade, safeguards experienced a remarkable transformation. It evolved from a verification system focused on declared nuclear material at declared nuclear facilities to a much more comprehensive, information driven system, able to provide credible assurance regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in States as a whole.

The strengthening of safeguards in the early 1990s introduced new methods and techniques: for example, remote monitoring or environmental sampling. The Additional Protocol extended the legal framework and provided the Agency with access to additional information and locations.

As we look to the future, the Agency^acute;s verification role could evolve and expand in many aspects. An expansion in use of nuclear power could greatly increase the necessary size of the programme. The resuscitation of nuclear disarmament efforts could significantly add to our responsibility. But in addition, we will need to constantly be on the alert for the re-emergence of clandestine nuclear procurement networks. We will need more sophisticated approaches for information analysis. And we must plan more strategically for the continual updates to equipment and expertise.


As I mentioned yesterday, I have tasked the IAEA Secretariat with conducting a detailed review of the nature and scope of all IAEA programmes in the next decade. This review will take account of our statutory obligations, decisions of the Policy-making Organs and foreseen high priority activities, and will seek to establish the level of resources needed to fund these activities. We have given a name to this study - "20/20" - reflecting our effort to look ahead to the year 2020 with the clearest possible vision. I intend to set up a high level panel of experts to review and validate the 20/20 report and to suggest alternative options and approaches to funding. While the 20/20 study is focused on a shorter timeline than this Scientific Forum, we will be taking careful note of the ideas and projections discussed here, for their relevance to our study.

We are privileged to have with us this year The Honourable Gareth Evans, the President and Chief Executive of the International Crisis Group (ICG) - and one of the international community’s most distinguished scholars and political thinkers - to serve as the overall chairman of the Scientific Forum. Mr. Evans´ previous experiences include 21 years as a member of the Australian Parliament and 7½ years as Australia´s Foreign Minister - not to mention his earlier tenure as Minister of Resources and Energy, and his work on a number of high level commissions relevant to eliminating nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. I feel confident that - together with the other participating scholars, scientists, and distinguished guests - he will make this Forum a stimulating venue. I look forward to your conclusions and recommendations, which will be conveyed later this week to the plenary of the General Conference.

With these remarks I hereby open the 8th Scientific Forum, and turn the podium over to Mr. Evans.


Last update: 26 July 2017