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IAEA Director General's Speech at Matías Romero Institute in Mexico City, 4 February 2016

Matías Romero Institute, Mexico City

IAEA Director General's Speech Yukiya Amano at the Matías Romero Institute in Mexico City on 4 February 2016.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be back in Mexico City, almost exactly four years since my last visit.

The Matías Romero Institute enjoys an excellent reputation for the high quality of the training which it provides for diplomats from Mexico and other countries. It is an honour to speak to you today.

On my last visit to Mexico, I took part in an event marking the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, generally known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco.

That Treaty established the world’s first nuclear-weapon-free zone in a populated area. Latin America led the way, providing inspiration for the whole world in making this key contribution to arms control and disarmament.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been your partner in that endeavour, as well as in many other areas.

A key role of the IAEA is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by implementing safeguards to verify that all nuclear material and activities in a country are in peaceful purposes.

You may have seen media coverage in the last few weeks about an important international agreement concerning Iran’s nuclear programme.

The IAEA played an important role in helping to bring about that agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. We will verify and monitor Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the agreement.

But the IAEA also helps 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 often summarise as Atoms for Peace and Development. And this is where I will begin my remarks to you today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA has been contributing effectively to development for nearly 60 years.

I was in New York last September when world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. For the first time, they explicitly recognised the importance of science and technology for development.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals cover areas including poverty, hunger, human health, clean water, affordable and clean energy, and climate change. 

These are areas in which we already work closely with our Member States, helping them to achieve their development goals through the use of appropriate nuclear technology. Countries determine their own priorities and we provide the necessary assistance.

Major fields of cooperation with Mexico include energy planning, nuclear power, human health, radioactive waste management, water and environmental protection. We have worked with Mexico on extending the lifetime of two of the nuclear reactors at Laguna Verde.

Our work in Mexico this year and next will include projects on improving radiotherapy treatment for cancer, food irradiation, and the use of nuclear techniques against dengue fever, a deadly disease borne by mosquitoes.

As far as dengue fever is concerned, the IAEA deploys what is known as the sterile insect technique, which is essentially a form of contraception for mosquitoes. Males are sterilised using radiation. They are then released into affected areas, where they mate with females. These do not produce offspring.

A number of pilot projects on dengue and other viruses have been successfully completed. 

In my visits to countries throughout Central America in the past 10 days, I have discussed efforts to use the sterile insect technique to control mosquito populations that carry the Zika and other viruses.

The Agency tries to respond quickly to emerging crises of this nature. We will hold an international experts’ meeting on the Zika virus in Brazil on February 22nd and 23rd.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to say a few words about our work in cancer control, which is a major issue for many countries in this region.

For more than 30 years, the IAEA has worked with Member States and international partners to improve countries’ capacity in cancer detection, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care.

Many developing countries, in Latin America and elsewhere, lack the capacity to provide radiotherapy, which is a vital element of cancer control. Patients often die of cancers which could be treated if they lived in a country with well-developed cancer facilities. This is a great human tragedy.

Our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy – PACT – helps countries to use limited resources efficiently and effectively. The IAEA has invested nearly 300 million euros in cancer and radiotherapy projects throughout the world.

Our mission is to transfer technologies to help save lives. We provide training for medical and technical personnel. Sometimes we help to make equipment available.

In Mexico, we will work with national counterparts in 2016 and 2017 to increase the availability of radiation oncology services and improve cancer management at regional hospitals.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA’s 167 Member States benefit from access to our 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.

More than 170 Mexican nationals have held fellowships or undertaken scientific visits to the laboratories. 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. I ask all IAEA Member States to contribute.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The best known peaceful application of nuclear technology is nuclear power. Mexico is one of around 30 countries that have opted to include nuclear power as part of their energy mix.

Energy is indispensable for development. Many countries believe nuclear power can help them to address the twin challenges of ensuring reliable energy supplies while curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

An interesting feature of the last few decades is that access to nuclear power is no longer limited to developed economies. Of more than 30 countries which are preparing, or considering, nuclear power programmes, no fewer than 25 are developing nations.

It is up to each country to decide whether to introduce nuclear power, or to expand existing programmes. I understand that Mexico is examining the possibility of building a number of new nuclear reactors.

The IAEA does not attempt to influence countries’ decisions. If they opt for nuclear power, our job is to help them do so safely, securely and sustainably.

I am grateful for the important work which Mexico does in sharing its expertise in the nuclear field with other countries in this region, including by providing specialist training. For example, next month Mexico will host a regional training course on nuclear reactor technology.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finally, let me say a few words about our contribution to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. We implement safeguards in around 180 countries to verify that nuclear material is not being diverted from peaceful purposes.

As I mentioned a moment ago, considerable progress has recently been made on Iran’s nuclear programme. Regrettably, the nuclear programme of North Korea remains a major concern.

I also mentioned Latin America’s pioneering role in establishing the world’s first nuclear-weapon-free zone in a populated area.

The Treaty of Tlatelolco provided the inspiration for four similar treaties in Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. A total of 133 countries – nearly two-thirds of the countries of the world – now belong to nuclear-weapon-free zones. This is a significant achievement, and it started here – in Mexico.

I have long been convinced that nuclear-weapon-free zones are a highly effective means of non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament. The IAEA helps with the establishment and maintenance of such zones, including by implementing safeguards in the countries concerned.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope I have given you some insight into the remarkable work of the IAEA.

Let me conclude by saying that the Agency attaches great importance to its cooperation with Mexico. We look forward to deepening that cooperation in future.

Thank you.


Last update: 25 Nov 2019

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