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Statement to the Fifty-First Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Vienna, Austria

Mr. President,

It is an honour for me, on the occasion of the submission of the Annual Report of the IAEA for 1995, to address the General Assembly and give an up-to-date account of the activities and concerns which engage the IAEA.

One hundred years ago the French Professor, Henri Becquerel, discovered radioactivity. Some fifty years later - at the end of the Second World War - two nuclear bombs were launched over Japan demonstrating the destructive power of nuclear energy. Ten years later the peaceful potential of nuclear energy came to the fore at the First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy at Geneva. Much of the secrecy which had surrounded nuclear science during and after the War was lifted, which led to widespread optimism about the potential benefits of the various uses of nuclear energy.

Since then a nervous world has watched the belligerent atom during some 2000 nuclear weapons' tests and a nuclear armaments race. In the same period there has been rapid development and deployment of the beneficial uses of nuclear energy to generate electricity, to combat cancer and help diagnostics, to improve food production and to measure and reduce pollution - to mention but a few uses.

Throughout this period the IAEA has served Member States by helping to compile nuclear-relevant data, to disseminate knowledge and know-how about peaceful uses of nuclear energy, to draft common radiation protection and other safety standards and to verify that nuclear material under international safeguards is used only for peaceful purposes.

Over time the work of the Agency has both expanded and changed considerably. Governmental involvement in the promotion of nuclear science has given way somewhat to emphasis on regulatory work in the fields of safe use of nuclear installations and safe disposal of nuclear waste. A similar change of emphasis has occurred also in the IAEA. While some of the provisions of the IAEA Statute concerning ownership and operation of nuclear installations, e.g. for the storage of plutonium, may have been overambitious and remain unused so far, the rule of the Non-Proliferation Treaty obliging parties to submit all their present and future nuclear activities to IAEA safeguards has resulted in a sizeable verification activity of growing importance. Development co-operation, based both on the IAEA Statute and called for under the NPT, has similarly become a large activity. However, UNDP financing which was once a large source of funding for the IAEA technical cooperation has now become a minor source. Moreover, the orientation of programmes has shifted somewhat from basic nuclear science and technology to projects with more direct impact on sustainable development - increased food production, identification of water resources, eradication of insect pests, development of new plant mutants, etc.

As the world changes and the problems facing governments change, intergovernmental organizations, which are their joint tools, must also change. Moreover, unforeseen events influence the agendas of governments and this is reflected also in the agenda of the IAEA. Suffice it to mention the names Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, Iraq and the DPRK, Semipalatinsk and Mururoa, to evoke the growing engagement of the IAEA in the fields of nuclear safety, safeguards verification and assessment of the radiological situation at nuclear weapons test sites.

Change is occurring also in the methods and techniques used by the IAEA to fulfil its functions. Information compiled by the Agency from Member States, e.g. on the operation of nuclear installations, is now processed electronically and often made available on line not only to Member Governments but to all interested parties. To take an example, INIS, or the International Nuclear Information System, is a truly international bibliography of material published in the nuclear field. It is available on line. I might further mention that although meetings of the Agency's Board of Governors are closed and the records restricted, under a recent decision practically all Board documentation older than two years is declassified and will soon be available to all on line. In addition, a home page on the Internet now offers a wealth of information about the Agency and its current work. In the safeguards field, the control of nuclear material is being made more effective and efficient by the use of remote monitoring and automatic transmission of data. Another innovation is a direct line between the Secretary-General of the United Nations and myself to ensure rapid communication in case of a crisis. The Agency has also indicated its readiness to have a televised link to the Security Council to enable the Council to be briefed at any time without delay. So far the need has not been felt for this but a practice of informal briefings for the Council is developing thus ensuring close liaison between the nuclear inspection arm of the UN System and the enforcement organ.

It is possible that continuous change and adaptation have been made easier within the IAEA by the practice of the Agency of rotating most professional staff. Long-term serving staff are most valuable for stability, experience and institutional memory, but for flexibility in programming, for awareness of current problems in the field and their possible solutions and for innovation, a steady inflow and outflow of professional staff has proved helpful in the case of the IAEA.

There is no lack of new challenges in the nuclear sphere and Member Governments would want the organization to respond to many of these. The problem is that the zero real growth policy, combined with the difficulty of abandoning existing essential programmes and of making sufficient resources available through economies, limits what can be tackled. Many new tasks, e.g. measures countering illicit trafficking in nuclear materials or ad hoc projects concerning nuclear safety and waste are, in fact, handled in large measure on the basis of extrabudgetary voluntary contributions. This is not satisfactory but far better than inaction.

Let me now turn to some of the challenges currently facing the IAEA.

Energy and the Environment

With the nuclear arms race over, a number of nuclear arms control or disarmament treaties have been concluded or are in the making. I shall soon address the verification tasks which this may place on the IAEA, but at this point I would like to pose the important question whether putting the evil genie of the belligerent atom back into the bottle will contribute to a more general acceptance of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, in particular exploitation of the potential for the generation of electricity and heat. It is too early to know the answer, but it is not too early to recognize its importance.

Among the vital issues facing the world is the risk of global warming caused by excessive emissions of some gases, linked in large measure to energy use, notably carbon dioxide and methane. The Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed at the Rio Conference in 1992, did not specify how the risk is to be met. While the UN System has at its disposal a group of prominent scientific experts in climatology - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - which examines the problems, probability and causes of climate change, the system does not have any single organization providing impartial expert data and analysis of different sources of energy. As a result some of the energy scenarios designed by the IPCC, in response to the risk of global warming, are questioned by outside energy experts.

At the IAEA the goal of sustainable development is fully accepted and it has been considered important that all energy sources be impartially and scientifically analysed for their impact upon life, health and the environment, including climate. For this reason co-operation has been sought with several other international organizations in a joint project - named DECADES - dealing with electricity generation. The project develops methods and software through which individual countries are able to assess and compare the health and environmental impact - as well as cost - of different ways of generating electricity, taking into account the full cycle - e.g. from the extraction of fuel to the disposal of waste. Not surprisingly, these analyses show that the fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas, in this order - are at the top of the scale of energy sources contributing greenhouse gases - particularly carbon dioxide - while nuclear power and renewable sources of energy contribute the least greenhouse gases emissions. These findings are entirely consistent with the experience reported by Mr. Priddle, the Head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) of the OECD, at the Second Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change in Geneva last summer, namely that, I quote:

The reason why nuclear power expansion is not very actively discussed by most governments - despite its significant potential as a response to the risk of global warming - lies in the controversy which surrounds this source of energy in many industrial countries. Although nuclear arms control and disarmament will eliminate one past common concern, others remain - notably regarding safety in nuclear power operation and safety in nuclear waste disposal and illicit trafficking in nuclear materials. The IAEA is actively engaged in all these subjects.

Nuclear Safety

The accident at Chernobyl in 1986 had very serious consequences for human health and the environment and a major negative impact on the further expansion of nuclear power. This makes it all the more important that all the lessons be drawn that can be drawn from this tragic event. On the tenth anniversary of the accident the IAEA, the World Health Organization and the European Commission co-sponsored an international conference last April to "sum up" the results of the various assessments made and specialized meetings held on the consequences of the accident. It attracted the participation of over eight hundred experts from 71 countries and concluded with a remarkable degree of consensus. Among the conclusions was a confirmation of a significant increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer among children born before and within some months after the accident. No increase in any other form of cancer has been identified. The social and psychological consequences of the accident combined with the consequences of the political and economic changes have been severe. At the technical level renewed attention must be paid to the "sarcophagus" around the destroyed reactor. The question of the closure of the whole Chernobyl plant needs also to be conclusively settled.

Moscow Nuclear Safety and Security Summit

A Summit of eight States on Nuclear Safety and Security was held in Moscow on 19-20 April this year resulting inter alia in recognition of the importance of nuclear power as an energy source which is consistent with the goal of sustainable development and in commitments to an international nuclear safety culture as well as to strengthening the IAEA safeguards system. Needless to say, this attention at the highest levels to nuclear matters is of great importance as guidance both to those working in the nuclear sphere and to the general public.

Conventions Relevant to Nuclear Safety

Last week on United Nations day, 24 October, the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety entered into force. While recognizing that national authorities have the responsibility for supervising the safety of nuclear power plants, this Convention lays down a number of basic principles which must be respected. It also provides a procedure under which the parties are obliged to submit reports on the safety of nuclear power plants on their territory and accept review of these reports by other States.

In the coming year three new legal instruments relevant to safety are expected to be finalized. A new convention will contain basic rules concerning the safe management, including disposal, of radioactive waste. Like the Convention on Nuclear Safety it will oblige parties to submit periodic reports on implementation and to accept review of them by States parties. Other instruments will bring about a revision of the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage and an arrangement for supplementary funding.

The development of conventions and other legal instruments and standards, together with a variety of international services and assistance programmes and heightened national attention to nuclear safety, help to establish the international nuclear safety culture to which the participants in the Moscow Summit committed themselves. Results of the efforts to strengthen nuclear safety can be seen in the reduced number of unplanned stoppages in nuclear power plants around the world.

Non-Power Applications of Nuclear Techniques

Before I move on to discuss the IAEA's various tasks relating to the belligerent atom I must touch briefly on the Agency's work to disseminate nuclear techniques to developing countries. I referred in my introduction to the changes that have occurred in the IAEA's programme of development co-operation and in particular the shift in emphasis from basic research to projects which promote sustainable development and benefit the end user - e.g. the cancer patient or the farmer. I am pleased to report also that by raising the level of ambition and through better management it has been possible to reach record high levels of programme delivery. Let me give but two examples of projects, both in Africa.

Water resources management is essential for sustainable development and isotope hydrology techniques have unique capabilities to trace and map water resources so that best use can be made of them. Within a major regional project in Africa the IAEA is helping to apply these techniques. For instance, the Moyale region in South Ethiopia, covering 45 000 km2, which has three million inhabitants and one of the largest cattle herds on the continent, depends entirely on scarce groundwater resources. Isotopic data have now made it possible to distinguish between renewable and non-renewable water resources, leading to better estimates of the total sustainable capacity for meeting water requirements in this region.

The other example which I want to mention relates to the use of radiation in the eradication of some insect pests that affect food production and health. The sterilization of certain insects, like the Mediterranean fruit fly and the tse tse fly, and the release of large quantities of sterile males makes it possible, after campaigns with conventional means, to actually eradicate an insect pest. Thus, through a major effort by the IAEA and the FAO a few years ago, the new world screwworm was eradicated in Libya. Right now the focus is on a very promising project to eradicate the tse tse fly from Zanzibar in Tanzania, thereby permitting better cattle rearing on the island. The aim is complete eradication before the end of 1997. The expected successful outcome is likely to stimulate similar projects in some larger sites in Africa.

IAEA Verification of Arms Control and Disarmament Agreements

I turn now to the growing role of the IAEA to help prevent a further spread of nuclear weapons and to verify nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements.

The most important event in this field during the past year was undoubtedly the recent adoption by the General Assembly of the convention prohibiting all nuclear weapons tests. Although there was considerable discussion during the negotiations in Geneva about the possible financial and other advantages of using the IAEA to run the verification activities under the CTBT and to provide the Secretariat, the solution eventually adopted was a small separate organization to be located in Vienna. At this juncture it is difficult to know whether simple co-location, welcome as it is, will offer much by way of synergy. While there is some uncertainty about the formal entry into force of the CTBT, it is worth noting that all non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the NPT are already obliged under the NPT not only to refrain from nuclear weapons tests, but also from preparing for such tests and the IAEA has the duty to verify in these States that these obligations are respected.

Comprehensive Safeguards

The dominant verification task of the IAEA consists in the operation of comprehensive safeguards under the NPT and nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. The 180 non-nuclear-weapon States now party to the NPT have committed themselves to conclude comprehensive safeguards agreements with the IAEA. I regret to report that, despite periodic reminders, over 50 of these States have yet to do so.

Treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones are increasing in number and play an important role consolidating commitments to non-proliferation on a regional basis and providing specific supplementary arrangements and undertakings responding to needs of the particular region. All rely on the IAEA for verification. The Tlatelolco Treaty for the Latin American and Caribbean region will hopefully enter into force for its entire zone of application during the next year.

The Pelindaba Treaty, signed in Cairo last April - and establishing a Nuclear-Weapon- Free-Zone for Africa - goes further than the NPT. For example, it prohibits any armed attacks against nuclear installations.

Similarly, the South East Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty, signed in Bangkok last December, goes beyond non-proliferation and deals also with issues of nuclear trade, nuclear safety and radioactive waste.

A nuclear-weapon-free zone for the Middle East has been on the agenda of the United Nations and of the IAEA for a number of years. The General Conference of the IAEA has requested me to consult with countries in the region concerning the verification issues linked to such a zone. From my many discussions in the region I conclude that existing comprehensive safeguards, alone, will not suffice as means of verification. Most likely some combination of international and regional or bilateral arrangements will have to be worked out. I have been requested to convene a second workshop on these verification issues in 1997 and I shall do so.

The Agency's verification of Iraq's compliance with its obligations under Security Council resolutions has, since August 1994, involved more than 600 inspections, the majority of which were conducted without prior notice. These inspections, plus the analysis of the vast amount of documentation handed over to the IAEA and UNSCOM after the departure of the late Lt. General Hussein Kamel Hassan Al-Majid and the follow-up of procurement transactions, are part of the assessment of Iraq's re-issued "full, final and complete declaration" of its former nuclear weapons programme. The carrying out of joint IAEA-UNSCOM multi-disciplinary inspections at weapons capable sites contributes to the effectiveness of the ongoing monitoring and verification programme for the detection of any attempt by Iraq to conduct activities proscribed by the Security Council resolutions.

In the case of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the information and access provided to us have been and remain insufficient for a comprehensive picture of the nuclear programme and questions remain about the completeness of the initial declaration of nuclear activities. Although present verification arrangements give confidence that nuclear installations subjected to a freeze under the Agreed Framework between the United States and the DPRK, are actually frozen, confidence about the DPRK's compliance with its non-proliferation commitments under the NPT can only come about through more information and full implementation of the safeguards agreement.

A considerable strengthening of NPT-type safeguards became acceptable and was, indeed, demanded by most governments after the discovery of clandestine nuclear weapons activities in Iraq. In particular, greater assurance was sought about the absence of non-declared nuclear material and activities related to such material. It was clear that such assurances could only be obtained by giving the IAEA access to more information, by allowing inspectors greater access to relevant sites and by the introduction of new techniques, such as the analysis of environmental samples.

Many of the measures contemplated have been introduced under the authority given to the Agency under existing comprehensive safeguards agreements. For the introduction of measures which may go beyond the authority given in these agreements, an additional draft protocol has been worked out by the Secretariat and is now the subject of discussion in a Committee under the Board of Governors. Most of the measures now discussed have been tried out in several industrialized States without great problems for the Agency or the State concerned. Although these measures will in the long run bring efficiency gains and be cost neutral, it is inevitable that they will also add some burden and inconvenience to the inspected party. Regrettably, as we all know from our experience of controls at airports, security against possible violations by a few requires some inconveniencing of many.

One of the objections currently raised to the proposed strengthened safeguards system is that it unfairly exempts nuclear-weapon States from measures which are seen as burdensome by some of the non-nuclear-weapon States required to accept them. As disarmament progresses such inequality of burden should diminish. Verification in States which still have nuclear weapons obviously cannot aim at establishing the absence of nuclear weapons - which is the purpose of the strengthened safeguards system! However, verification in nuclear-weapon States could aim at providing assurance that fissionable material from dismantled weapons does not go into new weapons and that a "cut-off" agreement prohibiting the production of plutonium or highly enriched uranium for weapons use is respected.

A "cut-off" agreement remains to be negotiated. Meanwhile the United States and Russia are, in fact, dismantling nuclear weapons and the Moscow Nuclear Safety and Security Summit last April endorsed the idea of IAEA verification that material from dismantled weapons and other military stocks remain in peaceful storage or use. The IAEA is, in fact, already safeguarding some such material in the United States and Russia appears willing to accept similar inspections in due course. At a recent trilateral meeting of the Russian Minister of Atomic Energy, the US Secretary of Energy and myself on the occasion of the IAEA General Conference, it was agreed jointly to explore technical, safeguards-related and financial issues which are connected with such verification. It is my hope that we are here witnessing the first steps toward verification of nuclear disarmament.

One final word of caution is needed after this optimistic note: even with a keen eye on efficiency, the management of multilateral nuclear co-operation including verification of arms control and disarmament, requires resources - well-qualified personnel, state of the art equipment, etc. Without adequate funding such personnel cannot be recruited or retained and the purchase of advanced cost-effective equipment would be curtailed.

In concluding let me express appreciation to the Government of Austria for its continued support to UN system organizations in Vienna.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018

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