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Statement to the Fifty-Fifth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Vienna, Austria

The Millennium Summit in early September focused the attention of the world on a number of objectives for the new millennium: the establishment of enduring world peace, the eradication of poverty, the fight against disease, and the protection of the environment. In the efforts to realize these objectives, the International Atomic Energy Agency plays a modest but essential role.

I will speak briefly today about the three fundamental functions of the Agency: our role as a catalyst for the development and transfer of peaceful nuclear technologies; our efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and move towards nuclear disarmament; and our work to build and maintain a global nuclear safety regime.

Nuclear technologies provide preferred solutions — and sometimes the only solutions — to many economic and social problems. The IAEA, in accordance with its statute, serves as a catalyst for the development and transfer of these technologies.

Nuclear Power

In 1999, nuclear power supplied roughly one sixth of global electricity. Trends vary by region: some countries are phasing out nuclear power plants, while others have embarked on new construction or innovative research and development. While the future of nuclear power remains uncertain, it is clear that certain factors will be crucial to that future: the safety of facility operation; the demonstrated feasibility of safe and environmentally sound radioactive waste disposal; the ability to make nuclear power economically competitive; the growing need for environmentally clean sources of energy; and public acceptance. Projections of global energy demand, which take into account the development needs of developing countries and the predicted increase in population by two billion people over the next two decades, led the World Energy Council to conclude that a total reliance on fossil fuels and large hydroelectric facilities is not sustainable — and that the current position of nuclear power needs to be stabilized, with the possibility of future expansion.

In this context, the Agency’s role is to help ensure that the nuclear power option remains open, a process that requires: ensuring a fair hearing for nuclear power in the comparative energy assessment debate; preserving nuclear expertise as fewer young people pursue nuclear science careers; and, above all, development of innovative reactor and fuel cycle technologies.

To be successful, innovative reactor and fuel cycle technologies must be inherently safe (in terms of operation and waste disposal), proliferation resistant, cost effective, and adaptable to different applications and energy needs. The Agency intends to establish a task force on innovative reactors later this year, to assess the technology and energy demands of prospective users, consider existing efforts in this area, and determine what additional research and development should be encouraged to meet the needs of Member States. Naturally, we will work in close co-operation with other national and multinational initiatives in this area.

Nuclear Applications

A major part of the Agency’s nuclear technology activities are related to applications other than electricity generation. Agency-co-ordinated research projects, supported by our research and service laboratories, focus on the use of nuclear techniques and radioisotopes to, inter alia, increase food production, fight disease, manage water resources, and protect the terrestrial and marine environments. In the food and agriculture area, for example, insect sterilization techniques have produced significant gains in livestock production and fruit production; radiation induced mutations have been used to produce crops with greater yield and higher quality; and direct food irradiation has been employed to preserve freshness and eliminate disease causing organisms.

With each year new nuclear techniques are developed related to human health. This year the Agency’s programme of assistance and co-ordination placed significant emphasis on the validation of new nuclear tools for diagnosing drug resistant strains of malaria and tuberculosis. Other work was related to diagnostic procedures in support of medical applications ranging from paediatrics to cardiology and the use of stable isotopes in malnutrition studies to track the intake of vitamins and other nutrients.

The management of water resources is an area of increasing worldwide concern. Today, over one billion people are without access to clean water, and about two thirds of the global community will face clean water shortages by 2025. In addition to projects on desalination techniques, the Agency has supported extensive Member State use of isotope hydrology to plot groundwater aquifers for sustainable water resource management. We also have begun to support Member States’ exploration of the use of advanced electron beam accelerators to decontaminate and disinfect waste water and drinking water.

Other Agency projects focus on an array of environmental analysis and cleanup techniques. For example, the use of ionizing radiation to clean flue gases from coal-fired plants — a technology catalysed by the Agency — is now under demonstration or development in Bulgaria, China, Japan and Poland. Another important recent initiative is the Agency’s co-ordination of efforts to develop nuclear techniques for the detection of anti-personnel land mines — which continue to maim civilians in regions of past conflict.

In each of these areas of nuclear application, the Agency seeks to promote the development and application of techniques that serve the priorities of its Member States, with a focus on the special needs of developing countries. Where a nuclear technology is the most effective means of addressing a given problem, and where the recipient country has the necessary infrastructure, the Agency ensures that the technology is transferred safely and efficiently. In 1999, our technical co-operation programme amounted to approximately $64 million with more than 850 projects.

The IAEA Annual Report for 1999, which you have before you, provides a more detailed discussion of these and other Agency achievements.

Strengthening of the Safeguards System

The Agency’s safeguards system is designed to provide assurance that nuclear material and facilities are used exclusively for peaceful purposes. In recent years, we have strengthened our safeguards capabilities to enable us to provide assurance not only that declared nuclear material has not been diverted for non-peaceful purposes, but equally important, that no undeclared nuclear material or activities exist. This comprehensive assurance can only be provided, however, for States that have in force both a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the Agency and the complementary Additional Protocol. The Agency is also currently developing "integrated safeguards" — the optimum combination of traditional safeguards measures with the measures of the Additional Protocol to ensure a system that is cost efficient while achieving a high degree of effectiveness.

Earlier this year, the 6th Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) convened here in New York. The Final Document of the conference recognized IAEA safeguards as an essential component of the non-proliferation regime, and endorsed the strengthened safeguards measures of the Additional Protocol. However, the same Document noted that 51 States party to the Treaty have yet to bring comprehensive safeguards agreements into force. The Additional Protocol numbers are similarly disappointing: the 11 States that had Additional Protocols approved in the past year bring the total to 55, but so far only 17 of these have entered into force. I appeal to all States who have not done so to conclude and bring into force their respective comprehensive safeguards agreements and Additional Protocols.

Iraq
Since December 1998, the Agency has been unable to implement its mandate in Iraq under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 and related resolutions. As a result, we cannot at present provide any assurance that Iraq is in compliance with its obligations under those resolutions. In January of this year, with the co-operation of the Iraqi authorities, we carried out an inspection under Iraq’s NPT safeguards agreement. Our inspectors were able to verify the presence of the nuclear material under safeguards in Iraq. To be sure, this inspection was not designed to be, nor could it serve as a substitute for, the monitoring and verification activities mandated under the Security Council resolutions. The Agency must return to Iraq if we are to provide the enhanced assurances sought by the Council. We continue to maintain an operational plan and the capability that would allow us to resume our activities on short notice. Provided we could verify that Iraq’s past and present nuclear activities have not changed since December 1998, the Agency could move forward to a full implementation of its Ongoing Monitoring and Verification plan.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
The Agency also remains unable to verify that all nuclear material subject to safeguards in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been declared. To fully assess the accuracy of the DPRK’s initial safeguards declaration will require a series of Agency activities with full DPRK co-operation. Given that the entire verification process may take between three and four years, those activities should begin immediately, if the light water reactor project provided for in the framework agreement between the USA and the DPRK is to proceed as scheduled. With the recent positive developments in the Korean Peninsula, it is my hope that the DPRK will soon be ready to commence active co-operation with the Agency to that end. The normalization of relations between the DPRK and the Agency would also help us to provide important safety advice and expertise related to the light water reactor project.

Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East
In keeping with the General Conference mandate, I have continued my consultations with the States of the Middle East region regarding the application of full scope safeguards to all nuclear activities in the Middle East, and the development of model agreements that would contribute to the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in that region. Regrettably, little progress has been achieved so far. Needless to say, I will continue to use all available means within my authority to move that mandate forward. Movement towards an overall settlement in the region will certainly boost my ability to make progress. In this year’s General Conference, I was asked to make arrangements to convene a forum in which participants from the Middle East and other interested parties could meet to learn from the experience of other regions, including in the area of confidence building relevant to the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone.

Other Verification Activities
The Agency Secretariat continues to consult with the Russian Federation and the United States of America on methods of verifying nuclear materials excess to their military programmes. These verifications must be sufficient to assure the international community that the material has been irreversibly removed from military application. In September, the USA and Russia also signed a bilateral Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. This new Agreement commits each Party to the withdrawal of 34 tonnes of weapons grade plutonium from its weapons programme, and to early consultation aimed at concluding an agreement with the IAEA to allow Agency verification measures. I welcome this Agreement as a further step towards nuclear arms control.

The third major area of Agency activity is safety — nuclear safety, radiation safety, and waste safety. While safety is a national responsibility, international co-operation on safety related matters has proven to be indispensable. The continuing positive results from international collaboration towards safety upgrades at nuclear installations in Eastern Europe is an important case in point.

The international safety regime consists of three major components: international conventions, a body of internationally agreed safety standards, and mechanisms for applying these standards. Conventions in the safety area aim to establish binding norms that cover activities across the entire fuel cycle. To date, the Agency has developed conventions that cover the safety of power reactors, radioactive waste and spent fuel management, early notification and assistance in case of a nuclear accident, and physical security. The Agency continues to identify areas in which binding norms are needed, such as in the safety of research reactors and of fuel cycle facilities.

The Agency has made significant progress in the past several years on updating its body of safety standards — nearly 80 new or revised standards will be produced in total. To be effective, these standards must be comprehensive, internationally agreed upon and subject to regular peer review. In my view, once agreed upon, these standards must be uniformly applied by all States, as is the case in the aviation field, which is under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Agency safety services — such as our operational reactor safety assessments, design reviews, or regulatory reviews — also continue to make a significant contribution to promoting a global nuclear safety culture through peer review and information exchange.

The Agency continues to focus international attention on the threats to public health arising from so-called "orphan" radioactive sources — that is, sources that are no longer under the control of national authorities. In the past year, assistance was provided to several Member States. Regrettably, five people died during this same period as the result of accidents involving radiation sources. We have worked extensively to strengthen the ability of Member States to respond to such emergencies, focusing on infrastructure upgrades, the development of national registries of radioactive sources, and the enhancement of regulatory structures. In addition, we have intensified education, training, and information exchange among regulators, users, and manufacturers; and we recently circulated to all States and relevant international organizations a Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radiation Sources and Radioactive Materials.

But perhaps one of the most pivotal issues in the current debate over nuclear technology is the safety of managing spent fuel and radioactive waste. While experts are confident that geological disposal is safe, technologically feasible, and environmentally responsible, the public at large remains skeptical, and the volume of high-level waste continues to build. A number of countries are engaged in geologic disposal projects. Research is also active on waste disposal methods that are reversible, to allow retrieval of the waste at a later date if desired. Researchers are also focusing on waste transmutation and other techniques to reduce the activity or volume of long-lived waste. The Agency continues to maintain international focus on the waste issue in order to accelerate progress towards demonstrated solutions, and to bridge the gap in perception between technical experts and the public at large.

The foregoing review of portions of the Agency’s programme makes it clear that the scope of IAEA activities continues to grow — whether that growth is occasioned by a new assignment for verification of nuclear arms control measures, a request by a developing country for help with water resource management, or the need for safety assistance at a fuel cycle facility. But in a continuing environment of zero real growth budget, which the Agency has adhered to for over a decade, some of these priority demands cannot be accommodated or can only be accommodated through an increasing and excessive reliance on extrabudgetary resources — a reliance which impacts negatively on our ability to implement our programmes with the expected effectiveness and efficiency.

I should also mention that the Agency is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and keep qualified staff. Given our need for highly specialized technical personnel and a limited resource pool, recruitment and retention is especially problematic for scientific staff — as well as in fields such as information technology. This situation will only continue to intensify as UN salaries and conditions of employment continue to lose their competitiveness with the private and public sectors. The Common Service must become more flexible in order to respond to the needs of its organizations and support their reform efforts in human resources management. In that respect, the proposal by the Secretary-General on behalf of all Heads of UN System Organizations for a review of the International Civil Service Commission deserves serious consideration, with the ultimate aim of strengthening the international civil service and restoring the competitiveness of the Common System.

We have continued to look for ways to meet the growing demands on Agency resources. We are using a five year Medium Term Strategy to improve the planning, implementation, and evaluation of our activities. Our new results-based approach to programming and budgeting focuses more on outcomes — the real changes produced for our Member States — than on outputs (such as the number of meetings or publications) to ensure a more rigorous prioritization. An emphasis on a "one house" approach to all our activities ensures better co-ordination of our diverse programmes, better use of our resources, and a more streamlined Secretariat structure.

The IAEA continues to play a key role in ensuring that the benefits of nuclear technology are shared globally, that peaceful nuclear activities are conducted safely, and that the international community is provided with a credible framework for curbing nuclear weapon proliferation and moving towards nuclear disarmament. Naturally, our ability to continue to carry out these functions effectively depends on your political commitment and financial support, which I hope and trust will continue to be forthcoming.

Finally, I would like to conclude by expressing my sincere appreciation to the Government of Austria, which continues to be a generous and gracious host to the IAEA.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018

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