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Remarks by Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at Opening of Yukiya Amano Laboratories

Vienna, Austria

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi delivers his opening remarks at the official inauguration of the Yukiya Amano Laboratory at the IAEA Laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria, 5 June 2020. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

I warmly welcome Minister Schallenberg and thank him for his presence here today – on World Environment Day.

Austria is the perfect host country for the IAEA. This wonderful modern laboratory complex which is taking shape around us would not have been possible without the continued generosity of Austria.

I thank the co-Chairs of the Friends of ReNuAL, Ambassador Küntzle of Germany and Ambassador Molekane of South Africa, for their tireless efforts to raise funding for the labs. No fewer than 41 countries have contributed.

I welcome Ambassador Hikihara, who is representing not just the Government of Japan but also the family of DG Amano. I am grateful for Japan’s generous contributions to the modernisation of the Seibersdorf complex.

We are here to open the third major new facility planned under the ReNuAL project and to name it in honour of the man who did more than anyone else to make it happen – Director General Yukiya Amano.

DG Amano used to describe ReNuAL as one of the most important projects ever undertaken by the IAEA since it was founded in 1957. That was not an exaggeration.

The eight IAEA nuclear applications laboratories here at Seibersdorf provide unique services to all of our 171 Member States with applied research, training and specialist support in food and agriculture, human health, environmental monitoring, the use of nuclear analytical instrumentation – and many other areas.

The laboratories actually started life in early 1959 in the basement of the Grand Hotel on the Ringstrasse in Vienna, which was IAEA headquarters at that time. There was a physics laboratory, a chemistry lab and an electronics workshop. Early work included assessing the health consequences of the fall-out from the many nuclear weapons tests that occurred in those years.

It was clear that a cramped basement could not be a lasting solution. Austria made available the land on which we are standing at a nominal rent of one Schilling per year and on September 28, 1959, the IAEA’s first Director General, Sterling Cole, poured the first concrete as foundations were laid for new laboratories. These were officially opened in 1962.

Cole described the establishment of the labs as an expression of the “spirit, vision, faith and confidence in the future” of the IAEA’s Member States.

He expressed the hope that the laboratories would become “the centre of a great world scientific activity, not only to carry out the functions of the organisation but also as a centre of important research in the uses of atomic energy.”

I believe my distinguished predecessor would be very impressed if he could join us today and see what has become of the faith and vision of the Agency’s founding fathers.

The opening of this new building is especially timely as we begin to emerge cautiously from the prolonged lockdown caused by the COVID-19 virus.

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the threat that zoonotic diseases pose to human health and well-being. It has also underscored the importance of the IAEA nuclear applications laboratories in helping our Member States.

The Animal Production and Health Laboratory – the APHL - was at the forefront of our response to requests from 120 countries for assistance in detecting and diagnosing the coronavirus.

It drew on its considerable experience of dealing with previous zoonotic disease outbreaks such as SARS and EBOLA to provide Member States with detection equipment and diagnostic kits, as well as guidance and training.

The APHL did this from cramped quarters at the other end of the Seibersdorf site. When scientists and support staff move into the first floor of this building next month, they will be much better equipped to help countries respond both to COVID-19 and to future pandemics.

The Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Laboratory will have greater capacity to help countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen climate-smart agricultural practices, maximize crop yields, conserve soil and water resources and improve farmers’ livelihoods.

The Food and Environmental Protection Laboratory will be better positioned to help countries to control chemical contaminants in food, ensure the authenticity and safety of food and trace sources of food-borne disease outbreaks. This protects both producers and consumers and helps countries to export food.

The IAEA does not work in isolation and neither do our labs.

Let me highlight in particular our unique partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in managing five of the Seibersdorf labs through the joint FAO/IAEA Division on Food and Agriculture. Three of those labs will now be located in the new Yukiya Amano Laboratories building, giving fresh impetus to our efforts to help Member States address what are sometimes existential challenges.

We also have excellent and longstanding strategic partnerships with the World Health Organization and the World Animal Health Organization. Austria’s Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) is a vital partner. And we work with key academic and research institutions and reference laboratories around the world.

Last year, a new linear accelerator facility began operation at our Dosimetry Laboratory and the new cutting-edge Insect Pest Control Laboratory building started work. With the opening of the Yukiya Amano Laboratories building today, five of the eight nuclear applications labs have been upgraded.

The work will continue with the construction of an additional building to house the three remaining labs. We will need the continued support of all our Member States to make that happen. Given the marvellous support provided to date, I have no doubt that our Member States will step up to the plate.

The IAEA will not stop its efforts to help to address the challenges of the day. Our assistance to Member States in tackling COVID-19 needs to continue and we will also provide support through our new ZODIAC initiative, the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action project, which will establish a unified platform to help protect the world against future pandemics. 

Thank you.

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