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Statement at Event Marking 50th Anniversary of SAFARI-1 Research Reactor

Pelindaba South Africa
50th Anniversary of SAFARI-1 Research Reactor

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Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Let me begin by congratulating South Africa on the 50th anniversary of the SAFARI-1 Research Reactor.

The SAFARI-1 reactor is the leading producer on the African continent of medical isotopes, which are vital for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It is also one of the four largest producers in the world of one key isotope – molybdenum-99.

I compliment the South African authorities and the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation on these remarkable achievements.

South Africa is an experienced user of advanced nuclear technology, a leader in many areas, and a valued partner for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Your country provides an excellent example of how modern technology can be used effectively to advance development and improve people’s lives. The IAEA is proud to have worked closely with you on your journey.

South Africa is also a role model in terms of South-South cooperation, generously sharing its expertise in the nuclear field with countries on the African continent and beyond.

You do this in areas such as cancer treatment, about which I will say more in a moment, and through the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund. This is an admirable initiative which is building capacity to diagnose animal diseases across the continent.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Making nuclear science and technology available to improve human and animal health, and increase food production, is a key element of the IAEA's mandate.

These are just a few of the areas covered by our technical cooperation programme, through which we help countries to achieve their development goals.

Let me give you some examples.

Here in South Africa, the IAEA has made nuclear techniques available to eliminate harmful pests, which can destroy entire crops of fruits such as oranges and grapefruit.

We have done this by using the so-called Sterile Insect Technique. This is essentially a form of contraception that uses radiation to sterilise male insects.  These are released into the wild, where they mate with females. No offspring are produced, so the insect population falls.

Work is underway in South Africa on using the Sterile Insect Technique against tsetse flies, as we have done successfully in other African countries, and malarial mosquitoes.

In recent years, we have helped countries to combat deadly animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth, which can destroy the livelihoods of entire communities. And we helped to bring about the global eradication of rinderpest.

In the last few months, the Agency responded quickly to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We provided equipment, laboratory supplies, and technical advice to enable affected countries to make rapid diagnosis of the disease, using simple kits. South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) was one of the Agency's main partners on Ebola in Sierra Leone.

The Agency has just launched a project to equip and train African countries to be better prepared to rapidly diagnose future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases such as Ebola. NICD is again one of our indispensable partners.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear techniques do not just protect farmers' crops from pests. They also boost farmers' incomes in other ways.

The use of irradiation to extend the shelf-life of food has enabled South Africa to export grapes and persimmons to important markets such as the United States.

This does not affect taste, but gives buyers assurance that the products they import remain fresh and wholesome.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As far as human health is concerned, the IAEA is active in helping developing countries to establish comprehensive cancer control programmes.

We work with partners such as the World Health Organization to help countries create oncology and radiotherapy services. We provide extensive training for medical and technical staff.

I am very grateful for the active role which South Africa plays in sharing its cancer expertise with other countries, especially in providing specialist training and fellowships.

This is helping to bring life-saving treatment to patients who have had no access to it until now.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Science and technology are fundamental for development.

The IAEA is unique in the UN family in having eight nuclear applications laboratories at Seibersdorf, just outside Vienna.

These help countries to build capacity in using nuclear science and technology, and to undertake research.

They include the Animal Production and Health Laboratory, the Dosimetry Laboratory, the Food and Environmental Protection Laboratory and the Insect Pest Control Laboratory. Many talented South African researchers have worked at our labs.

The laboratories are more than 50 years old and in serious need of modernisation. We have therefore embarked on an extensive renovation project known as ReNuAL, which is aimed at building modern laboratories by 2017.

I ask all countries to contribute to the renovation of the laboratories. I am grateful to South Africa for the active support which it has provided, including by co-chairing a special Friends of ReNuAL group of IAEA Member States in Vienna.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Access to electricity is also essential for development.

Nuclear power is the best known peaceful application of nuclear technology. There are presently 440 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries. Another 68 are under construction.

The number of countries interested in nuclear power continues to grow, despite the Fukushima Daiichi accident, which happened four years ago this month.

Many countries see nuclear power as a stable and clean source of energy that can help to mitigate the impact of climate change.

South Africa is one of a number of countries which plan to expand their nuclear power programmes in the coming decades, while also investing in other important areas such as renewables.

Public confidence in nuclear power throughout the world was undermined by the Fukushima Daiichi accident. However, I believe that the main long-term consequence of the accident will be a major improvement in nuclear safety everywhere.

I have seen a strengthening in safety features in every nuclear power plant that I have visited in the past few years. The idea that "Safety Comes First" is unchallenged.

Nuclear power is now safer, throughout the world, than it was before Fukushima Daiichi.

Technological developments in the pipeline will reinforce that trend. Exciting research is being done on new generations of reactors which will be safer and more efficient, and will generate less waste.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I believe the work of the IAEA today could best be summarised as Atoms for Peace and Development.

When I addressed the UN General Assembly last November, I asked all Member States to help ensure that the importance of science and technology is explicitly recognised as a central part of the post-2015 development agenda.

In South Africa, I know that I am preaching to the converted.

I pay tribute to South Africa's success, for more than half a century, in using nuclear science and technology effectively to improve the health, well-being and prosperity of its people.

Africa as a whole is a very important focus of the work of the IAEA. As the most advanced user of nuclear technology on this continent, South Africa can take pride in sharing its expertise with its neighbours.

I encourage all African countries to continue to make their voice heard, loud and clear, in reinforcing international appreciation of the great benefits of this remarkable technology.

Thank you.

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Last update: 26 July 2017