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Speech at Conference on National Strategy for the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy in Tunisia

Tunis, Tunisia
Yukiya Amano

Good morning, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to speak at this Conference on National Strategy for the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy in Tunisia. It is four years since my last visit to your beautiful country and I am very pleased to be back.

Tunisia was a founder member of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957 and is an important partner in all areas of our activities.

As you may know, a key role of the IAEA is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by verifying that all nuclear material and activities in a country are in peaceful purposes.

In recent years, we have most often been in the international news because of our safeguards work in Iran. 

However, another key role of the IAEA is to make nuclear science and technology available to generate electricity, improve human and animal health, increase food production – and much more.

This is an extremely important part of our work, which I summarise as Atoms for Peace and Development. And that is what I would like to talk to you about today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA has been contributing effectively to development for nearly 60 years. We help countries to achieve their development goals through the use of relevant nuclear technology.

This technology is used to produce new varieties of foods such as rice and barley which can thrive in difficult conditions, to manage water supplies, and to monitor environmental pollution – and in many other areas.

We have an active programme to improve cancer control in countries which have limited, or no, capacity to offer radiotherapy to cancer patients.

Our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy – PACT – helps countries to use limited resources efficiently and effectively.

In Tunisia, for example, we assisted with the establishment of radiotherapy centres in Tunis, Sousse and Sfax.

Access to radiotherapy treatment for cancer patients is high in your country. But it is a problem for many other countries on this continent, some of which have no radiotherapy services at all.

Tunisia very generously shares its expertise in the nuclear field with other countries in Francophone Africa, for example by providing training and hosting technical workshops in cancer control and radiation protection.

I commend Tunisia for this excellent example of South-South cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA Technical Cooperation programme in Tunisia presently focuses on water resources management, human health, nuclear research reactors, human resource development and the introduction of nuclear power.

In the past 10 years, nearly 170 Tunisian nationals have held IAEA fellowships, or made scientific visits to our nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna.

These labs are unique within the UN system. They train scientists, support research in human health, food and other areas, and provide analytical services to national laboratories.

The best known application of nuclear technology is nuclear power.

Despite the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011, global interest in nuclear power continues to grow, although at a slightly slower rate than was predicted before the accident.

Energy is the engine of development and economic growth. Demand for energy continues to grow steadily in all countries.

Nuclear power can help to improve energy security, mitigate the effects of climate change, and make economies more competitive. Nuclear can deliver the steady supply of baseload electricity needed to power a modern economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are presently 444 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries. Another 65 are under construction.

Tunisia is one of a number of African countries which are considering adding nuclear power to their energy mix.

  I stress that it is the sovereign decision of each country whether or not to introduce nuclear power. The IAEA does not try to influence that decision in any way. But for countries that choose nuclear power, our job is to help in every way we can.

 We advise on how to put the appropriate legal and regulatory framework in place and how to ensure the highest standards of safety, security and safeguards.

 We offer know-how on the construction, commissioning, start-up and safe operation of nuclear reactors. We establish global nuclear safety standards and security guidance.

 The end-result, we hope, is that countries will be able to introduce nuclear power safely, securely and sustainably.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear power is a unique technology with unique requirements. It involves a long-term commitment and requires significant financial and human resources.

Countries need to put the appropriate legislation in place. I understand that a comprehensive Nuclear Law is under preparation in Tunisia.

A robust and independent nuclear regulator is also essential.

The high cost of building a nuclear power plant is seen by some as an obstacle to future development. Nuclear power plants are indeed expensive to build, but once they are up and running, they are relatively inexpensive to operate throughout a life cycle of 40 to 60 years – or possibly longer.  

Waste disposal is often cited as one of the major problems facing nuclear power.

In fact, the nuclear industry has been managing waste disposal for more than half a century. Dozens of facilities for low-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste are in operation throughout the world.

As far as the management of high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel is concerned, good progress has been made in recent years, especially in Finland, Sweden and France.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It goes without saying that safety is key to the future development of nuclear power. The Fukushima Daiichi accident was a painful reminder that a terrible accident can happen anywhere, even in a developed industrial country.

To prevent anything like it ever happening again, plant operators, nuclear regulators, and governments must demonstrate total commitment to the principle of “safety first.” Complacency in the area of nuclear safety must be avoided at all costs.

I believe that the lasting legacy of the Fukushima Daiichi accident will be a significant and lasting improvement in safety at nuclear power plants all over the world.

In fact, I have seen major improvements in safety features at every nuclear plant that I have visited since the accident.

To ensure safety, countries need a strong and independent regulator and appropriate nuclear legislation. I welcome the progress being made by Tunisia in this respect.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, let me assure you that the IAEA greatly values its cooperation with Tunisia. We will remain your reliable partner in all peaceful uses of nuclear technology in the coming decades.

Thank you. 

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