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Statement to the Sixty-Fifth Regular Session of the IAEA General Conference

Vienna, Austria
Rafael Grossi

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Mr President,

Let me begin by welcoming Samoa as a new Member State of the IAEA, this brings the membership to 173 States.

For the second consecutive year we are holding the General Conference amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am pleased that by following the guidance of the Austrian authorities and the recommendations of medical services we are able to welcome you here.

This pandemic has truly woken all of us up to the profound dangers of zoonotic diseases.

I am proud of what we as the IAEA community have done in the battle to slow the spread of this terrible virus. Our emergency response has been the biggest in the Agency’s history. We have sent RT-PCR testing kits to 304 laboratories in 129 countries.

We know that COVID-19 will not be the last viral outbreak the world will face. Next time the international community must and will be better prepared.

The Agency is doing its share in this endeavour: Our largest initiative ever undertaken, the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action, or ZODIAC, is maturing. As of today, we have 143 ZODIAC National Coordinators and 116 designated ZODIAC National Laboratories. Having begun to assess them, we have started procurement arrangements to cover their needs. We will continue our assistance as we receive additional extrabudgetary support, so I call upon Member States in a position to do so, to consider making a financial contribution to our common goal.

Combatting zoonotic diseases will be the main theme of this year’s Scientific Forum, Preparing for Zoonotic Outbreaks: the Role of Nuclear Science, which I hope many of you will join me in attending.

COVID-19 was not the only emergency our Member States have faced. Following requests for support, the IAEA has taken swift action to deploy emergency assistance in response to situations that included flooding, volcanic eruptions, biological and chemical contamination, and hurricanes. We sent teams to Lebanon as part of our continued support in the aftermath of the explosion at the Port of Beirut, and assistance to Haiti after the earthquake last month.

The IAEA assisted 146 countries and territories last year through our technical cooperation programme, 35 of which were least developed countries. The main areas of work beyond the COVID-19 response were health and nutrition, food and agriculture, and safety and security. Capacity-building continued as much as possible, with training delivered in virtual formats where feasible. The Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy conducted imPACT Review Missions using a hybrid approach.

The Agency stepped up its efforts in helping Members States address one of the biggest environmental challenges we face: plastic pollution.

Through a series of international, high-level round tables, under the banner of NUclear TEChnology for Controlling Plastic Pollution (NUTEC Plastics), the IAEA has developed a collaborative approach to building States’ capacities in tracing and assessing plastic waste in marine environments, and in using nuclear technology to boost the rates at which plastic can be recycled.

As far as safeguards implementation is concerned, we continued to carry out all of our most time-critical in-field verification work as well as almost all safeguards activities that are normally carried out at Agency Headquarters and at our regional offices. I am grateful for the support of Member States that made this possible.

The number of States with safeguards agreements in force stands at 186, 137 of whom have brought additional protocols into force. I call upon those States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) without comprehensive safeguards agreements in force to bring such agreements into force without delay. I also call on States that have not yet concluded additional protocols to do so as soon as possible. I reiterate my call on States with small quantities protocols based on the old standard text, to amend or rescind them. This is essential to addressing a weakness in the IAEA safeguards system recognised by the Board more than 15 years ago. The old standard SQP is simply not adequate for our current safeguards system.

At last year’s General Conference, I announced that I had launched the COMPASS project to help further strengthen the effectiveness of State authorities and State systems of accounting for and control of nuclear material. I am pleased to report that, following a joint assessment of needs, the Agency is implementing tailored workplans with all seven pilot States that accepted to join COMPASS.

I report regularly to the Board of Governors on the Agency’s verification and monitoring work under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Since February 2021, the Agency’s verification and monitoring activities have been adversely affected as a result of Iran’s decision to stop the implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. At that time, I reached a temporary bilateral technical understanding with Iran that allowed the Agency to continue to have some access to its JCPOA-related surveillance and monitoring equipment. Nevertheless, Iran’s decision seriously compromises the Agency’s technical capability to maintain continuity of knowledge, which is necessary for the Agency to resume its verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments in the future.

Earlier this month, I travelled to Tehran and after constructive discussions, we issued a Joint Statement. That Joint Statement provided, inter alia, that Agency inspectors will service Agency monitoring and surveillance equipment and replace the storage media, which will be kept in Iran under seals of the Agency and the AEOI. The way this is to be carried out and the timing have been agreed between us.

During the past year I have continued to report on the NPT Safeguards Agreement with Iran, as there are still unresolved issues involving the presence of multiple uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at three locations in Iran not declared to the Agency and issues related to another undeclared location regarding natural uranium in the form of a metal disc. I reiterate the requirement for Iran to clarify and resolve these issues without further delay.

The Joint Statement that I mentioned earlier also refers to a meeting I will have with Vice-President Eslami on the sidelines of this IAEA General Conference meeting and my visit to Tehran in the near future to hold high-level consultations with senior Iranian officials.

The Agency continues to monitor the nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, using open-source information including satellite imagery.

The DPRK’s nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern. Furthermore, the new indications of the operation of the 5MW(e) reactor and the Radiochemical Laboratory are deeply troubling. The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.

I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the Agency in the full and effective implementation of its NPT Safeguards Agreement and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country.

The Agency continues to maintain its enhanced readiness to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme.

Mr President,

The second phase of the modernisation of the IAEA nuclear applications laboratories at Seibersdorf, under the ReNuAL2 project, is underway. It is essential for our work on climate-smart agriculture, resource management, food security and health. I thank Member States for their support and trust that I can continue to count on you for such financial assistance so that we can complete this essential work efficiently, within budget and on time.

In its Sixth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change said it was unequivocal that human influence had warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. At the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, the Agency will highlight the role of nuclear techniques in supporting mitigation and adaptation efforts, namely in climate-smart agriculture, sustainable land-water use, and the environment.

At COP26 I will personally deliver the message that nuclear energy is and must be part of the solution to climate change.

The IAEA’s latest forecast envisages a doubling of the present levels of nuclear-generated electricity production capacity by 2050 in the high case scenario. This relies on both lifetime extensions of existing plants and about 550 gigawatts (GW) of new build. According to the Agency’s low case scenario, however, a lack of willingness to embrace nuclear energy would curtail capacity growth, causing us to fall well short of doing what is necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe.

The 444 nuclear power reactors operating in 32 countries today provide approximately 395 gigawatts of installed capacity, supplying some 10% of the world’s electricity and more than a quarter of all low-carbon electricity. There are 50 reactors under construction in 19 countries, which are expected to provide almost 53 gigawatts of additional capacity.

Nuclear safety and security are and will continue to be a key part of our efforts.

The IAEA Safety Standards are used voluntarily by almost all Member States to protect people and the environment from harmful effects of ionizing radiation. Similarly, Member States are voluntarily using the IAEA Nuclear Security Series to establish, sustain and enhance their national nuclear security regimes.

Member States also make extensive use of expert peer reviews and advisory services provided by the Agency to help them continuously enhance nuclear safety and security.

Since the IAEA’s last General Conference, the Government of Japan has requested the Agency’s assistance with regards to Japan’s plan to discharge the ALPS treated water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The IAEA has appointed an internationally recognised group of experts from all over the world, including the region, that will support us in this effort. The IAEA will provide assistance to Japan before, during and after the discharge of the ALPS treated water.

Next year, we will convene the Conference of the Parties to the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, the first such conference under the Convention as amended. As depositary, we are working closely with the designated Co-Presidents and the Parties to make the Conference a success.

I would also like to highlight the importance of a facility which began construction at Seibersdorf this year. The IAEA Nuclear Security Training and Demonstration Centre will become operational in 2023 and will help strengthen countries’ abilities to tackle nuclear terrorism in areas such as the illegal trafficking of nuclear material; the physical protection of facilities; and protecting major public events. This is made possible through the generous financial support of a small number of Member States.

When it comes to basic programmatic needs, I believe that funding for the IAEA’s nuclear security activities needs to be put on a more sustainable footing. Nuclear security is much too important to be so dependent on extra-budgetary contributions, as is the case today.

The great benefits of nuclear technologies are sustainable only within a dynamic and robust legal framework that puts safety and security first. The IAEA continues to assist its Member States in establishing comprehensive national nuclear legal frameworks and in implementing the relevant international legal instruments.

In February, the IAEA will hold its first International Conference on Nuclear Law: The Global Debate, with a view to developing further the various areas of nuclear law and promoting international expertise in the field. The five-day conference will provide a unique discussion forum for leading global experts from governments, UN system organizations and regional organizations, industry, academia and civil society.

Mr President,

I attach much importance to creating a more gender balanced workforce within the IAEA and the nuclear sector more broadly. I am pleased to be able to report that the policies we put in place at the start of my time as Director General have facilitated significant progress. The balance between men and women working at the Secretariat is now more even than it has ever been. Overall, women make up 35% of the Professional and higher categories and well over that share at the most senior grade levels.

Meanwhile, our wider efforts are progressing, with the first 100 Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellows having received financial assistance towards their Master’s degrees in nuclear subjects, and some of them having begun their internships here at headquarters. The fellowship is growing. The second round of applications for 110 fellowship positions is now open and I trust you will support us in getting the word out to prospective candidates.

I am committed to managing the resources you entrust to us wisely and productively, and I appreciate the financial constraints in many countries. This was reflected in the budget we agreed for 2022-2023. For the first time, both years are based on zero real growth.

Referring to the topic of the sovereign equality of all IAEA Members, which was in some statements made in the June and September meetings of the Board, and which is also proposed to be considered at this 65th regular session of the General Conference, I note that Article IV.C of the Statute provides that the “Agency is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members”. I recall that in the context of discussions on the Amendment of Article VI of the Statute, this principle of sovereign equality of Member States requires each Member State be eligible for election to the Board, and that it is for the Board and the General Conference to act on the premise that each Member State belongs to some area.  I, therefore, welcome the deliberations of member States on this important topic.

Finally, I would like to thank our host country Austria, for steadfastly doing everything possible to facilitate our work. And I am particularly thankful to the Agency staff for their commitment and hard work, especially during the challenges of the past year and a half.

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