Speech by the IAEA Director General at Qatar University

Doha, Qatar

(As prepared for delivery)

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be back in Qatar, less than two years after my last visit. It is also a pleasure to visit the very impressive campus of Qatar University for the first time.

Qatar has been a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1976.

The IAEA has just begun celebrating its 60th anniversary. We are proud of six decades of service to our Member States.

By making peaceful nuclear science and technology available to improve human well-being and prosperity, we have made a real difference to the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

We have also made a unique contribution to international peace and security through our work to verify that nuclear material remains in peaceful uses.

Today, I will try to give you a flavour of some of the many and diverse areas of activity of this remarkable organization.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA is often described as the world’s “nuclear watchdog” for our work in helping to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

But we also make important contributions to helping countries achieve their development goals.

Nuclear science and technology have many peaceful applications which can help countries to reduce poverty and hunger, improve energy supply, treat diseases such as cancer and respond to climate change – and much more.

Did you know that nuclear techniques are used to produce new varieties of rice and barley that can thrive in difficult conditions?

Or that they can help to tackle soil erosion, track environmental pollution and manage water supplies? Or that everyday items such as cables, computers, car parts and medical devices are treated or tested with radiation during manufacturing?

Did you know that something called the sterile insect technique is being used to help eradicate the tsetse fly in parts of Africa?

Or that radiography is one of a number of non destructive testing tools which have helped Nepal and Ecuador to determine which public building damaged in earthquakes are in danger of collapse?

These are just a few of the many ways in which nuclear technology has become part of our lives.

I summarise our very broad mandate as Atoms for Peace and Development.

In Qatar, our technical cooperation programme in recent years has focussed on issues such as enhancing radiation protection, developing new varieties of food crops using nuclear techniques and upgrading your country’s capacity to analyse food samples.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In September 2015, world leaders meeting in New York adopted the Sustainable Development Goals.

These are 17 ambitious goals covering areas including poverty and hunger, human health, clean water, affordable and clean energy, and climate change. 

We already work closely with our Member States in these areas, helping them to achieve their development goals through the use of relevant nuclear technology.

One of the goals set by the leaders is to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases such as cancer by one third by 2030.

Improving access to effective cancer treatment in developing countries has long been a priority for the Agency.

Many developing countries lack the capacity to offer radiotherapy treatment to cancer patients. This means that thousands of people die of conditions that could be managed effectively if they lived in a developed country. This is a great tragedy.

We help countries to establish nuclear medicine and radiotherapy facilities. We advise on the choice of the most appropriate equipment and provide education and training for oncologists, radiologists, medical physicists and other specialists.

We arrange for experts to receive training in areas such as radiotherapy and medical physics in hospitals and research centres in more developed countries, and through our own e-learning initiatives.

The IAEA dosimetry laboratory near Vienna helps to ensure that radiotherapy equipment throughout the world is correctly calibrated so that patients receive the correct dose. It has worked closely with partner laboratories in Qatar.

 We also help countries to ensure that patients and staff are protected from unnecessary exposure to radiation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA’s 168 Member States benefit from access to our eight nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna. These are unique within the UN system.

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

The labs are more than 50 years old and a long-overdue modernisation is now underway. I am very grateful to Qatar for pledging a generous contribution to this important project.

Since 1958, more than 48,000 scientists and engineers have held fellowships and scientific visitor positions through the IAEA technical cooperation programme, both at the Agency’s laboratories, and in the facilities of our partners around the world.

These included 53 fellows and scientific visitors from Qatar in the last ten years. They have mainly worked on radio-analytical techniques, radiation safety and the application of isotopes in food and agriculture.

Many of these scientists and engineers go on to play a key role in building capacity in nuclear science in their own countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

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

IAEA estimates show that global use of nuclear power is likely to grow steadily in the coming decades.

Around 30 countries are considering introducing nuclear power, on top of the 30 countries that already have it. In this region, the first of four nuclear power reactors in the United Arab Emirates is expected to come on line in 2017.

Since the Fukushima Daiichi accident five years ago, great efforts have been made throughout the world to strengthen nuclear safety.

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

Nuclear safety is a national responsibility, but the IAEA brings countries together to agree international nuclear safety standards and learn from each other’s experience.

The IAEA does not attempt to influence countries’ decisions on whether or not to introduce nuclear power. But if countries opt for nuclear power, our job is to help them use it safely, securely and sustainably.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me mention briefly that nuclear security is an increasingly important part of the work of the IAEA. This involves helping countries to prevent nuclear and other radioactive materials from falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

The IAEA plays the leading role as the global platform for strengthening nuclear security.

We have trained thousands of police, border guards and other officials around the world in nuclear security. We have given countries more than 3,000 instruments for detecting nuclear and other radioactive material.

The next IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security will take place at ministerial level in Vienna in December. It will consider ways of strengthening the nuclear security framework globally. I hope Qatar will be represented at ministerial level.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Implementing safeguards to verify that countries are not diverting nuclear material for military purposes is a key IAEA function.

Agency inspectors visit nuclear facilities all over the world to keep track of nuclear material. In recent years, two major issues have topped our list of concerns – the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea.

As far as Iran is concerned, the IAEA worked from 2003 onwards to try to resolve a number of outstanding safeguards issues. For years, little or no progress was made and the Iran issue was a cause of serious international tension. But we started to see some movement in the autumn of 2013.

In July last year, I signed a Road-map with Iran for the clarification of possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme. At the same time, Iran and the group of countries known as the P5+1 agreed on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

As a result of the IAEA Roadmap, I was able to present a final assessment of Iran’s past nuclear activities to the IAEA Board of Governors last December.

My report stated that Iran had conducted a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device before the end of 2003. However, these activities did not advance beyond scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.

Based on my report, the IAEA Board decided to close its consideration of outstanding issues related to the Iranian nuclear programme. 

Since January this year, we have been verifying and monitoring that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. 

Developments on the Iran nuclear issue show that even complex and challenging issues can be tackled effectively if all parties are committed to dialogue – not dialogue for its own sake, but dialogue aimed at achieving results.

The IAEA will be engaged in Iran for many years to come. It is important that all parties remain committed to the process that is now underway.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope I have succeeded in giving you some insight into the work of the IAEA.  

As you can see, nuclear science is a fascinating field. It has far more exciting applications than most people realise.

Nuclear technology is cool! I hope some of you will consider careers in nuclear science and technology. Perhaps some of you will come to work for the IAEA one day. It’s a great place to work.

I will stop here and will be happy to take some questions.

Thank you.