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The Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy

Vienna, Austria

It is a great pleasure for me to be in Jordan and to address this distinguished meeting at the Diplomatic Institute. At the outset I would express my condolences to you and all the Jordanian people on the loss of King Hussein, a great world leader for peace. I wish King Abdullah every success in leading Jordan to a peaceful and prosperous future.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been an active member of the Agency since joining in 1966 and is currently serving its second term on the IAEA Board of Governors. Jordan is a valued partner in the Agency's Technical Co-operation Programme both in national projects and in regional projects in human health, agriculture and technology transfer. In the very important area of nuclear safety, Jordan has joined the Model Project on Upgrading Radiation Protection Infrastructure to strengthen its regulatory system. I wish also to acknowledge Jordan's contribution to the strengthening of the safeguards system by moving quickly last year to conclude an Additional Protocol with the Agency.

My subject today is The Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy with particular reference to the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA was established in 1957 as the vehicle for international co-operation in the use of nuclear energy. It is guided by three complementary and equally important strategic objectives. These are: to assist Member States, particularly developing countries, in the use of nuclear technology; to promote radiation and nuclear safety; and to ensure to the extent possible that pledges related to the exclusively peaceful use of nuclear energy are kept.

As the only worldwide intergovernmental organization dedicated to nuclear science and technology, the Agency acts as an international focal point for technology sharing, the setting and application of standards and verification of non-proliferation undertakings. The reputation of the Agency - and therefore the value of the work that it does - depends on its scientific and technical competence and its objectivity. It is from this perspective that I make my remarks today under four headings: transfer of technology; nuclear power; nuclear safety; verification and illicit trafficking.

I begin with nuclear technology transfer for development. Meeting the needs and aspirations of the world's growing population requires the application of the best available technologies, including nuclear technology where appropriate. The goal of the IAEA's technical co-operation - or technology transfer - strategy is to promote the achievement of development priorities of participating countries.

The role of the Agency in this regard is threefold: to ensure that nuclear technology is the most effective and appropriate technology to address a particular problem; that the recipient country has adequate infrastructure to adopt and sustain such technology; and that this technology is transferred safely, in the most efficient and effective manner.

Nuclear techniques are often just one component of larger national and regional development programmes. They are frequently used to gather essential scientific data for project planning or to test results, thus acting as a catalyst and a contributor to the results obtained by other techniques. For this reason, the Agency places high priority on partnerships for development with other organizations. In order to support common interests between countries and permit better use of resources, we also foster regional co-operative agreements for technical co-operation among developing countries.

The Agency's technical co-operation programme is funded by Member States through voluntary contributions to the Technical Co-operation Fund. The size of the programme is modest - less than US $100 million per year - but the results in areas such as health, food security, pollution control, water resources management and safe and sustainable energy production have been outstanding.

For example, the Agency is assisting Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in studies on fertigation which is the application of fertilizers through drip irrigation. Increased crop yields and more efficient use of water have been reported in field trials of cotton crops.

Use of the sterile insect technique for the area wide eradication of agricultural pests has become an established environmentally friendly procedure for the control and eradication of harmful pests. The Agency is presently supporting Ethiopia in a project to eradicate tsetse in the southern Rift Valley (an area of 25,000 square kilometres) and Jordan in a regional project to apply such technology to Mediterranean fruit fly.

Freshwater scarcity is a problem that could affect two thirds of the world's population by the year 2025. In a Model Project involving nine North African countries, isotope hydrology techniques are proving particularly effective in the assessment and management of groundwater resources and in the investigation of water leakage in dams and reservoirs. Assistance is also being provided to five Arab countries in the development of national capabilities for planning and implementing demonstration projects for sea water desalination processes, possibly using small and medium size nuclear reactors. Negotiations are ongoing between China and Morocco for the installation of a 5 Megawatt nuclear desalination plant.

Nuclear techniques are becoming increasingly important in health and medicine. For example, thyroid deficiency, which can lead to stunted growth and deformities, is a curable illness if detected immediately after birth. The IAEA is assisting health authorities in several countries, including Jordan, in introducing neonatal screening programmes.

I turn now to nuclear power. In 1998, some 437 nuclear reactors, operating in 31 countries, provided about 17% of global electricity supply and accounted for the avoidance of about 8% of global carbon emissions. The accumulated operating experience reached a figure of over 8500 reactor-years.

Rapidly increasing energy demand, together with growing concern about the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on global climate change, would suggest that nuclear power will continue to play a key role in energy strategies. It has to be remembered that energy produced from fossil fuels accounts for about half of human-made greenhouse gas emissions. While there are many hopes for alternative clean energy sources, at present only hydro - which has limited growth potential in most countries - and nuclear power are available as economically viable, minimal greenhouse gas emission options for large scale power generation.

However, as we approach the new millennium, the role of nuclear energy is under challenge and its future is at a cross-roads. Three decades ago, nuclear energy was hailed as the energy of the future. Today, its growth is stagnant and its share in generating electricity is declining in North America and Western Europe, although it is expanding in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. The fact is that in many countries the use of nuclear power is either uneconomical or heavily challenged, particularly by the general public, because of concerns about safety and radioactive waste. Indeed, to my mind, a demonstrated safety record throughout all phases of the nuclear fuel cycle, including radioactive waste disposal, will be a determining factor in the contribution of nuclear power to the future global energy mix.

Nuclear safety is a national responsibility but a global issue. This was tragically demonstrated by the Chernobyl accident, which brought home to governments that "an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere". In this decade, the global safety record for nuclear power plants has shown continued improvement, but other challenges have emerged such as the serious problem of 'orphan' radiation sources. These are radiation sources that, for a variety of reasons, are not recorded in the inventories of national regulatory authorities. Serious cases of human exposure to such sources have been reported in Turkey and Georgia. The IAEA has responded very quickly to national requests for appropriate expert assistance, but prevention is always better that post facto radiological assistance. These examples underscore the importance of continuous efforts to ensure that effective national systems of regulation and control are in place and that all the technical and human related elements of safety are maintained everywhere at the highest level.

The contribution of the IAEA in this sphere is made through the development of an extensive nuclear safety regime consisting of binding international agreements and comprehensive safety standards, and measures for the application of these agreements and standards.

In recent years, several important international conventions, negotiated under the auspices of the IAEA, have helped to fill gaps in the international nuclear safety regime - conventions relating to physical protection, civil liability for nuclear damage, notification of emergencies, radiological assistance, the safety of nuclear power stations and the safety of waste and spent fuel management. The Agency remains responsive to initiatives from Member States concerning other areas in which the international community as a whole might benefit from binding norms.

The Agency's Safety Standards represent international consensus on safety norms. The Agency is undertaking the preparation or revision of the entire corpus of safety standards - a total of some seventy documents - to ensure that they are comprehensive, scientifically accurate and up to date.

However, the key to what is known as 'safety culture' is not just the conclusion of conventions or the adoption of standards, but the actual application of those conventions and standards. In this area, the Agency offers a wide range of services to assist Member States - various types of review missions, education, training, the fostering of scientific research, technical co-operation and information exchange. Through a technical co-operation project the Agency is currently assisting 52 Member States, including Jordan, to strengthen and improve their national regulatory infrastructures with regard to all aspects of safety and control over radioactive sources.

Waste management is an important aspect of nuclear safety and one which is the cause of much concern to the public. In this area, the Agency assists Member States in their management of low and intermediate level waste through the assessment of different technologies and information dissemination. With respect to high level radioactive wastes, we are encouraging Member States to develop disposal plans and construct disposal facilities nationally or in co-operation with each other. I believe that the availability and practical demonstration of technical solutions for the safe and permanent disposal of high level wastes are prerequisites for public acceptance of the advantages of nuclear power.

I conclude with the area of verification. I have to say here that it is my view that nuclear weapons do not increase security. On the contrary, they encourage dangerous arms races with incalculable outcomes and are a diversion from development. The hopes for a more secure world rest crucially on advancing the agenda for nuclear arms reduction and their eventual elimination. Effective verification is indispensable to the realization of these hopes.

I will divide my remarks under three headings: the broad outlook for nuclear disarmament, the strengthened IAEA safeguards system and the Agency's present activities including with regards to a possible Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ).

The Broad Outlook for Nuclear Disarmament

The past decade has brought profound international changes but with respect to nuclear non-proliferation it is a mixed picture of global hopes; regional tensions. On the one hand, the NPT, with 187 signatories, has been extended indefinitely, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty already has 152 signatories, the declared nuclear weapon States have taken some major steps in nuclear arms reduction, other States have dismantled, abandoned or foreclosed their nuclear weapons option and NWFZs have been established in Africa and Southeast Asia, in addition to the existing zones in Latin America and the South Pacific.

I am pleased that measures have been taken recently on two actions which, in addition to a complete ban on nuclear testing, have always been identified as being indispensable to nuclear arms reduction and nuclear disarmament. These are: freezing the production of fissile materials for weapon purposes and gradually reducing the stockpiles of such materials. I am particularly pleased that the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has at last turned its attention to a treaty to prohibit the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Also, progress is being made in consultations between Russia, the US and the IAEA to place under IAEA verification tons of nuclear material withdrawn from the military sector in the two countries.

On the other hand, in key areas of high tension including the Middle East and South Asia, regional accommodations have not yet been reached to enable the full application of the non-proliferation regime. Indeed, the nuclear weapon tests conducted last year by India and Pakistan sent two clear messages: the international community must accelerate its efforts towards nuclear arms reduction and disarmament; and it must focus increasingly on perceived and real regional instabilities and insecurities which are the driving forces behind the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The Strengthened Safeguards System
The IAEA is mandated to promote non-proliferation in conformity with the policies of the United Nations to further safeguarded worldwide disarmament. In the pursuit of the goals of non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, the role of the IAEA, through its verification and safeguards activities, is to provide the necessary assurance that States are complying with the nuclear non-proliferation and arms control commitments they have undertaken.

Since 1991, and as a result especially of the Agency's experience in Iraq, it has become clear that effective safeguards must provide assurance not only about the nuclear activities declared by a State, but also - in States with comprehensive safeguards agreements - about the absence of any undeclared activities. To do this, the system needs to move beyond its focus on nuclear material accountancy - essentially a quantitative audit system designed to keep track of material declared to the Agency - to a system based on more qualitative assessments. This has entailed development in three major directions: more information, wider access to locations and greater use of advanced technology.

In order to introduce the strengthened safeguards system, the IAEA Board of Governors approved in 1997 a Model Additional Protocol which provides the necessary legal authority for implementing the new measures. On the basis of the model, States are invited to conclude a Protocol additional to their existing safeguards agreement. Jordan was one of the first States to conclude such a Protocol. To date, Additional Protocols have been signed for 35 States and other Parties. I would hope that that by the year 2000 adherence would be global.

The introduction of the strengthened safeguards system will raise substantially the level of assurance, but it must be recognized that, even with full implementation, nuclear material safeguards cannot provide 100% guarantees. Some uncertainty is inevitable in any country-wide technical system that aims to prove the negative, that is to prove the absence of concealable objects or activities.

For this reason, while safeguards are a key element, they must be supplemented by other mutually reinforcing non-proliferation components. These include export control and, most importantly, regional and global security arrangements which aim at removing the incentives to acquire nuclear weapons. International co-operation in the exclusively peaceful use of nuclear energy should not be perceived as an intrusion on national sovereignty but, on the contrary, as a prerequisite for a State to exercise its sovereign right to use nuclear energy and nuclear technology.

Present Verification Activities
Over 180 States have undertaken to accept IAEA safeguards on their nuclear material and activities. In 1997, the Agency was applying safeguards at over 900 facilities involving more than 10 000 person days of inspection. While the vast majority of these activities proceeded without unusual difficulty, Iraq has been a special case.

In 1991, the Agency was mandated under Security Council resolution 687 to carry out on-site inspections of Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons programme and destroy, remove or render harmless the components of that programme. These inspection and verification activities have resulted in the development of a technically coherent picture of Iraq's clandestine nuclear programme. We have reported to the Security Council that clarification of the few remaining questions and concerns regarding the completeness of this picture can be addressed as part of our ongoing monitoring and verification plan. Before the most recent break in our activities in Iraq, the Agency was focusing mainly on the implementation and technical strengthening of this plan. We await the outcome of the Security Council's deliberations which, we hope, will result in resumption of Agency verification activities in Iraq.

Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone
This leads me to comment on the IAEA role with respect to application of safeguards to all nuclear activities in the Middle East and the establishment of a NWFZ in the region. Successive IAEA General Conference resolutions request the Director General of the IAEA to consult with the States of the Middle East "to facilitate the early application of full-scope Agency safeguards to all nuclear activities in the region as relevant to the preparation of model agreements, as a necessary step towards the establishment of a NWFZ in the region".

Consultations with States in the region have been ongoing since 1992. At the conceptual level a number of points have emerged, including: 1) that it would be desirable for Agency safeguards to apply to all nuclear activities in the Middle East; 2) that the establishment of a NWFZ with appropriate verification arrangements would be an important step in enhancing security and creating confidence; and 3) that a verification system for a NWFZ would most likely need to be comprehensive and intrusive to be able to deal with the legacy of conflict and distrust that exists in the region, and would most likely benefit from a system of mutual verification by the Parties in addition to global verification by the IAEA.

But, as I reported to the IAEA General Conference last September, opinions continue to differ on key issues of timing. Israel has reiterated its view that priority should be given to the establishment of comprehensive peace and security in the region which could later be followed by arms control and the establishment of the Middle East as a NWFZ, of which mutual verifications and safeguards would be an integral part. Other States of the Middle East express the view that the application of safeguards to all nuclear facilities in the region should not depend on the establishment of a NWFZ and/or the conclusion of a comprehensive peace. According to this view, the application of full scope IAEA safeguards to all of Israel's nuclear facilities through its accession to the NPT/1 would constitute a confidence building measure that would contribute to the establishment of a NWFZ and to the attainment of a peaceful settlement in the region.

These are issues which only the parties themselves can agree upon through a process of dialogue. Through consultations with the States in the region and, as requested, through events such as technical workshops, the Agency seeks to contribute to this process by familiarising government officials with safeguards concepts, tools, as well as with possible verification modalities that can apply in a future NWFZ in the Middle East. It is for the States of the region to agree on the scope and obligations of the future NWFZ. But once that agreement is reached, the Agency stands ready to assist in the development of a verification scheme that can credibly provide assurance that the agreed obligations are complied with. This is an important contribution we can make to the goal of establishing peace and security.

As is evident from this brief overview of just a small selection of the activities and programmes of the IAEA, the international nuclear agenda is growing rather than shrinking. Nuclear science and technology have always drawn two reactions: hope that their safe and peaceful application would help us along the path to a better future; and apprehension that their misuse could have catastrophic effects. I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to strengthen international co-operation in order to maximize the hopes and eliminate the sources of apprehension. This is a task to which the IAEA remains dedicated.

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Last update: 26 Nov 2019

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