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Peaceful Applications of Nuclear Technology: Current Situation and Future Perspectives

Yukiya Amano

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to be here at the National University of Asuncion. This is my first visit to Paraguay [as IAEA Director General].

I had an opportunity to visit some of your science facilities today and was very impressed. It is always a pleasure for me to spend time with bright young people.

You may be used to hearing the International Atomic Energy Agency mentioned in the media in connection with our work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

So you may be surprised if I tell you that my remarks to you today will cover subjects as diverse as sterilising fruit flies, cancer diagnosis and treatment, developing new varieties of food crops, and monitoring environmental pollution.

These are all areas in which the IAEA works to help countries use nuclear science and technology to improve the health and prosperity of their people.

Paraguay was a founder member of the IAEA in 1957. As we start to celebrate our 60th anniversary this year, we have 168 Member States. New countries join almost every year.

Many of them are developing countries. They are very interested in the important contribution which nuclear science and technology can make to development. And that is what I will focus on today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Science is fundamental for development, and technological advances are a must if we are to tackle the many challenges that face humankind today.

Those challenges include generating enough energy, tackling climate change, producing enough food to provide for a growing world population, and making the benefits of modern health care available to everyone.

As I mentioned, the IAEA is active in all of these areas. The impact of our work in the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology is significant.

In a nutshell, our mandate is Atoms for Peace and Development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The main focus of the IAEA technical cooperation programme in Paraguay until now has been human health – especially cancer control – the environment, and food safety. These are the priorities set by your government.

Let me take the example of cancer. This used to be thought of as primarily a disease of prosperous developed countries.

In fact, cancer is reaching epidemic proportions in developing countries. The tragedy is that many of them lack the equipment and trained personnel to diagnose and treat it effectively.

The IAEA has an extensive programme known as the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), which helps developing countries to improve their capacity in radiotherapy treatment and nuclear medicine.

Today, I visited the Aregua Cancer Hospital and the Children's Cancer Hospital at San Lorenzo.

It is always sad to see adults or children suffering from serious diseases. But it is encouraging to see the dedication of the doctors, nurses and technical staff who are determined to give them the best possible treatment.

Over the years, the IAEA has helped by providing equipment such as a new gamma camera for the Institute of Research in Health Sciences, and arranging training for physicians, technicians, pharmacists and physicists.

An international expert team put together by the IAEA conducted a thorough review of cancer treatment in Paraguay in 2011. We have helped your government to develop a national cancer control plan.

Our current activities in Paraguay are focussed on improving the provision of nuclear medicine services to provide early diagnosis and treatment of a broad range of diseases.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I mentioned food production as another important area in which the IAEA contributes to development.

Paraguay is participating in a new regional IAEA project in Latin America to combat fruit flies. These are a major pest and cause  great damage to fruit and vegetable crops.

We make available something called the sterile insect technique, which involves using radiation to sterilise male flies. It is essentially a form of contraception for insects, which has proved highly successful in reducing, or even eliminating, certain insect pests in many countries.

This means farmers can produce larger crops of healthy fruit and vegetables and countries can increase their food exports.

Another important regional project is aimed at tackling the New World Screwworm, a nasty parasite that affects both animals and humans and is unique to Central and South America.

The IAEA is working with scientists from Paraguay to increase the productivity of farm crops and improve soil quality, using nuclear techniques.

The Agency has helped Paraguay to build up a network of 10 food safety laboratories as part of government efforts to develop an effective national food safety food programme.

To take one final example, Paraguay is taking part in a regional IAEA project to reduce the health and environmental impact of persistent organic pollutants.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

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

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

More than 80 scientists from Paraguay have spent time at the laboratories, or other facilities arranged by the IAEA, as fellows or scientific visitors.

They work with other top international scientists in their fields and return home to share their expertise with their colleagues.

A comprehensive modernisation of the laboratories is now underway. Once completed, the laboratories will be better able to serve the interests of all Member States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The best known peaceful application of nuclear technology is nuclear power. Many countries see nuclear power as a stable and clean source of energy that can help to mitigate the impact of climate change.

The Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011 put a global spotlight on nuclear safety. Safety is a national responsibility, but the IAEA brings countries together to agree international nuclear safety standards, learn from each other's experience and provide specialist training.

I have visited many nuclear power plants in the past few years, and in each one, I have seen a strengthening in safety features. The idea that "Safety Comes First" is unchallenged. Nuclear power is now safer, throughout the world, than it was before Fukushima Daiichi.

Despite the accident, global use of nuclear power continues to grow. Around 30 countries are considering introducing nuclear power, on top of the 30 countries that already have it.

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

Ladies and Gentlemen,

That concludes my brief overview of key IAEA activities.

I hope that some of you will consider careers in the field of nuclear science and technology, which is extremely broad and very exciting.

Perhaps some of you will come to work for the IAEA in Vienna one day. It is a great place to work.

I will now be happy to take some questions.

Thank you.


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