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

Vienna, Austria

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

(As prepared for delivery)

Let me begin by welcoming The Gambia and Cabo Verde as new Member States of the IAEA since our last General Conference. This brings our membership to 177 States.

Madame President, ministers, distinguished delegates,

Having just taken my oath of office for a second term, I wanted to start by telling you that the trust you have placed in me to continue to serve you is both moving and inspiring. I am even more motivated, dedicated and enthusiastic than I was on 2 December 2019, when you swore me in as the sixth Director General of this remarkable institution.

At that time I don’t think any of us imagined that just a few months down the line we would be dealing with a pandemic the global magnitude of which the world had not experienced for a century. And as if that were not enough, we are now faced with a war in Europe in which, for the first time, the safety and security of a major nuclear power programme are under serious threat.

These two events are tragic in and of themselves, but they also make it more difficult – and urgent – to tackle the ever-more-present calamity of climate change and the very serious challenges of poverty, disease, hunger and food, water and energy insecurity.

I feel humbled and privileged to lead an institution with a unique mandate that allows us – everyone in this building today - to play a role in tackling these challenges.  

It is in our collaboration and our partnerships that we have achieved, and still can achieve, so much.

Seventy years after US President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his famous speech to the United Nations General Assembly, his Atoms for Peace vision has become an important, active part of our contribution towards international peace and security and furthering sustainable development. The IAEA is the operational instrument of this noble cause.

When I started as Director General, I was convinced of the formidable potential of this institution as an instrument for peace, stability and progress and the delivery of our programme since then is the most obvious illustration of the approach I have taken.

Let me begin with our work assisting Member States in tackling a growing crisis that has gone under the radar for far too long: the global cancer crisis. 

In my first year as DG, 10 million people died of cancer and there were 19 million new cases. By 2040, the number of new cases will jump to 30 million. If business as usual continues, far too many people will die of cancer in the coming decades because the burden of this crisis is falling disproportionately on those who have less: low and-middle income countries.

Over 70 per cent of Africans do not have access to radiotherapy. More than 20 countries on that continent don’t have a single life-saving radiotherapy machine.

Each individual death is a tragedy. That cancers routinely diagnosed and successfully treated in high income countries are killing increasing numbers of people in developing countries is an injustice. That we have the knowledge, the means, and the nuclear medicine to counter this cancer crisis, but are not scaling them to the degree necessary, is unacceptable. We can do something about it.

That is why we launched Rays of Hope, cancer care for all, at last year’s African Union summit, with the support of African heads of state and the World Health Organization. The initiative brings together all stakeholders, including Member States, development banks, and the private sector, to assist States seeking the tools and knowledge to address this crisis, to strengthen their health systems and to support their communities. So far 67 Member States have requested to join the initiative to strengthen their capacities in the fight against cancer.

So far, the IAEA has assessed the critical cancer care needs of seven African countries, and we are making real progress in providing them tangible support. We are delivering equipment and providing training for Benin, Chad, Kenya, Malawi, and Niger to increase access to radiotherapy, including cyclotrons and imaging equipment.

This July Botswana inaugurated its first public radiotherapy center, a crucial milestone that was supported by Rays of Hope via the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme.

In the coming months, Rays of Hope will begin to apply funds for activities in Latin American States. Since Rays of Hope was launched, donor countries have responded generously, committing more than €42 million.

But we need to scale up that support so that we can do more towards closing the growing gap between the challenges our Member States face and the tools they have to overcome them. In Rays of Hope, as with our other initiatives, I am fulfilling the promise I made at the start of my tenure to leverage partnerships outside our traditional donor base, including with international financial institutions and corporations.

I thank the donors for their generosity. Unfortunately, the need is still  greater than what we have achieved so far. I am confident that with your support we will meet the challenge of providing the required assistance.

Madame President,

COVID-19 taught us that the global defence against communicable diseases is only as strong as its weakest link. It reminded us that preparation is key when it comes to the threat of zoonotic outbreaks. The Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action, or ZODIAC, project is strengthening Member States’ preparedness and ability to quickly respond to zoonotic diseases. 

Coordinated research and development is an integral part of ZODIAC, which today has 150 national coordinators, and 127 national laboratories.  

ZODIAC works in partnership with the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH). 

Since its launch in June 2020, we have conducted training activities in all regions to ensure that all participating labs have the capabilities to effectively detect emerging zoonotic diseases.

Participants from more than 95 Member States have been trained and laboratories in 41 countries have been provided with equipment for serology and molecular diagnostic or genetic sequencing. 

Data and science underpin good decisions. The new ZODIAC Respiratory Disease Phenotype Repository will digitally analyse large data sets from research conducted all over the world to help identify emerging diseases. The Coordinated Research Project to enhance laboratory preparedness for detection and control of relevant priority diseases has started, beginning with a project in Korea for the Asia-Pacific region.

I thank those of you who are supporting ZODIAC and urge Member States in a position to do so, to consider making a financial contribution.

Another major cross-border challenge is plastic pollution, especially in the ocean.

NUTEC Plastics increases Member States’ capacity to use nuclear isotopic techniques to study microplastics in the ocean.

At our Marine Environment Laboratories in Monaco, scientists are honing powerful and accurate nuclear scientific tools to better understand the impact of such nanomaterials along the marine food chain all the way to our dinner plates.

The Agency’s Global Marine Monitoring Network established under the NUTEC Plastics Initiative continues to grow, with two high-level scientific workshops having been held in Egypt and Mexico.

To reduce plastic waste before it has a chance to blight our land or ocean, NUTEC Plastics currently is assisting seven countries in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region to use radiation recycling technology to convert plastic waste into high-quality products.

In Africa, sixteen countries are participating in a regional project that aims to accelerate the transition to a circular plastic economy by applying nuclear science and technology solutions.

At the 2023 UN Water Conference, the IAEA launched the Global Water Analysis Laboratory Network, GloWAL. GloWAL assists Member States in addressing water scarcity, quality, and hydrological extremes, challenges being accelerated by climate change.

The IAEA and FAO’s special relationship is key to so much of our work in food security and other areas. Last year, FAO and the IAEA agreed to intensify their collaboration to leverage innovative research and development.

Just as we have started bold new initiatives to protect us from zoonotic diseases and cancer, access to nutritious food and food security must be addressed effectively, efficiently and holistically. Very soon I will be making an announcement on this matter.

So many of our projects are sustained by our unique laboratories in Seibersdorf, where experts engage in applied research and we welcome scientists from all over the world for training and exchanges of knowledge. I am happy to announce that the full-scale modernization of these, now state-of-the-art, laboratories is in its final phase. I would like to thank Member States who have supported their renewal.

Madame President,

In 2022, the IAEA assisted 149 countries and territories through our technical cooperation programme, 35 of which were least developed countries. The main areas of work were Food and Agriculture, Health and Nutrition, and Safety. The programme achieved an implementation rate of 84.4%. We supported almost 1500 fellowships and scientific visits, and delivered more than 2,000 expert and lecturer assignments, as well as enabling more than 3,000 people to take part in training courses.

Thanks to the contributions of Member States, the TC Fund Rate of Attainment reached 97.5%. Human capacity building is at the core of sustainable socioeconomic development, and I thank our Member States for their consistent support to the TC programme. I take the opportunity to remind Member States of the importance of making their TCF and NPC payments on time and in full.

As requested by the General Conference last year, I plan to organize the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science, Technology and Applications and the Technical Cooperation Programme, from 12 to 14 November 2024, to be co-chaired by Dr. Kwaku Afriyie, Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation of Ghana, and Mr Kai Mykkanen, Minister for Climate and the Environment of Finland. This will be important to unlocking the full potential of nuclear science and technology across the world for the benefit of all, and I encourage Member States’ high-level participation.

Our work in widening the access to life-affirming nuclear science and technology is happening against a background of seismic shifts in our climate. The horrifying consequences of global warming are becoming ever more apparent, from wildfires in North America, to heat domes, droughts and floods across Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Africa. Our climate emergency is undeniable, but so is our ability to do something about it.

Four years ago, nuclear power was struggling to gain a place at the table in major global conversations and events on energy and climate change. Today, nuclear power not only has a place at the table but is increasingly recognized as part of the solution.

One of my first decisions after assuming office in December 2019 was to attend the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change because I felt nuclear needed to be represented at the important annual global climate change event. The IAEA and nuclear was again present at COP26 in Glasgow and at Egypt’s COP27 where the IAEA and its partners set up a pavilion, establishing a strong foothold for nuclear energy at the world’s most important global annual climate change event. It was at Sharm El Sheik that we launched Atoms4NetZero to help states map out the role of nuclear energy in the transition to net-zero carbon emissions. Building on its momentum, we expect nuclear energy producing countries and the IAEA, at the upcoming COP28 meeting in the United Arab Emirates, to deliver an important, unified message about nuclear energy’s role in mitigating climate change.

This week, the topic of nuclear energy and innovation will take centre stage here at our annual Scientific Forum, entitled Nuclear Innovations for Net Zero.

It is clear that each country or community must decide for themselves whether nuclear power is right for them. But it is also increasingly clear that more and more countries are expressing interest in nuclear energy, and that they are acting on this interest. This was evident last year in Washington at our International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century. Newcomer countries announced plans for introducing nuclear power, while established nuclear nations revealed ambitions to deploy a new generation of advanced reactors to address major challenges. And new efforts by the Agency were also showcased to help the world reimagine nuclear energy as a clean, reliable and sustainable source of energy for the 21st century.

Until the past few years, we had not been vocal enough about the benefits of nuclear power. But that page has been turned.

Even as public opinion polls around the world show the tide turning in favour of nuclear energy, countries still need to engage stakeholders openly and proactively in their nuclear power programmes. Concerted effort and action are warranted at an international scale and therefore this spring there will be a summit on nuclear energy. Bold decisions are required to get us on track towards an affordable, just and sustainable energy future that taps all viable low-carbon technology options, including nuclear energy.

Today the 410 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries provide approximately 369 gigawatts of installed capacity, supplying some 10% of the world’s electricity and around a quarter of all low-carbon electricity. There are 58 reactors under construction in 31 countries; these are expected to provide about 60 gigawatts of additional capacity.

Nuclear power capacity will need to grow significantly if the world is to meet its climate goals. Part of that growth could come from Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The IAEA Platform on SMRs and their Applications provides Member States with enhanced Agency support on this important emerging technology whose modular design allows for a more gradual scaling up of power capacity making SMRs especially relevant for developing countries. To further support the global deployment of safe and secure advanced reactors such as SMRs, I launched the Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI). It works towards enhancing the harmonization of regulatory approaches and also the wider standardization of industrial approaches. I am pleased to report that, since we started work a year ago, progress has been made on the two tracks of this key initiative, including the recent publishing of a white paper outlining why serially manufactured industrial products are crucial for the reliable deployment of SMRs.

Further down the line, nuclear fusion promises the possibility of abundant energy. Four years ago, IAEA activities on fusion were exclusively focused on science. Today, we have expanded our efforts, aiming also to accelerate development and deployment of fusion energy systems. We have come a long way, and I invite you to take stock of this progress next month in London at our biannual Fusion Energy Conference, where we will be launching a new publication, the IAEA World Fusion Outlook. It will provide a forum for discussing key physics and technology issues as well as innovative concepts of direct relevance to the use of nuclear fusion as an abundant source of low-carbon energy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Climate change requires us to take long-term responsibility for the wellbeing of our planet and its people. The nuclear field, with the IAEA at its centre, takes its long-term responsibility very seriously, whether in finding solutions to safely storing waste; by designing decommissioning into new nuclear power plants that will serve us for the good part of a century; or by having an ever-learning mindset when it comes to building a culture of nuclear safety and security that spans the globe.

Nuclear energy is safer than it has ever been, and it is safer than almost any other source of energy. That is in large part because of the field’s commitment and the role of the IAEA. This year is the 65th anniversary of the IAEA safety standards. Today, the IAEA is using those standards, its statutory mandate, its scientific knowledge and its global reach actively to help protect the environment from the consequences of a nuclear accident. Just a month ago, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) of Japan began to discharge into the sea the ALPS-treated water stored at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Fukushima.

The IAEA is providing live data from Japan on the release of treated water, as we receive it from TEPCO.

We have set up an IAEA office at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. It will continue independently to collect, assess, and report data from the release to ensure consistency and transparency. These independent sampling and impartial analysis and corroboration activities will continue during the entirety of the discharge, which is expected to take decades. As I have said before, the IAEA was there before, is there during and will be there after the completion of these activities, until the last drop.

I cannot think of many other cases where an international organisation is actively protecting our ecosystem by assessing, over decades, an industrial action to ensure it does no harm to the environment, sea, fish, and sediment. Our work in Fukushima is a testament to the unique mandate and expertise of the IAEA and the commitment of the nuclear community to do no harm. Through the IAEA’s ongoing work in Fukushima, the world is able to examine that an industrial activity of significant magnitude that poses legitimate environmental questions, is being addressed correctly.  

Ladies and gentlemen,

I alluded to the war in Ukraine at the very start of my remarks. When we met a year ago, I reported to you that the IAEA had established an ongoing presence at Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. In addition, we have also deployed teams and established an ongoing presence at Ukraine’s other four nuclear power plants.

As of 31 August, 53 missions comprising a total of 116 Agency staff members have been deployed as part of the continued presence at all five nuclear sites in Ukraine.

In the past year, 10 rotations of IAEA safety experts have crossed the front lines of war to Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.

In the past months, the IAEA has increased its presence at Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in order to monitor compliance with the five principles for protecting the Plant from a serious accident. These principles have the support of the United Nations Security Council, which I briefed earlier in the year.

As I have reported in my regular updates military activities are evident in the vicinity of the plant, causing concern about nuclear safety at the plant.  

In June, I led a team to assess how the damage of the Kakhovka dam impacts Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant’s safety. We continue to monitor the significant efforts being made to ensure enough cooling water for the six units.  

Actions have been taken to stabilise the site’s water resources. These are currently sufficient for several months of its cooling requirements in the current conditions. However, the challenges the site has been facing in this regard are further adding to the generally precarious nuclear safety and security situation there.

A new programme of assistance for the Kherson Oblast (ISAMKO) was announced in June. It aims to address the adverse medium- and long-term environmental, social and economic impacts of the flooding caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.

Overall, more than 20 deliveries of nuclear safety- and security-related equipment have been made to different organizations in Ukraine since the start of the war.

Nuclear security is an important domain where the IAEA has responded to Member States’ wishes for more support and increasingly sophisticated training.  I am delighted to announce that the construction of the IAEA Nuclear Security Training and Demonstration Centre at the Laboratories in Seibersdorf is complete. This first international centre of excellence on nuclear security will allow Member States to benefit from training, capacity building and collaboration like never before.

Madame President,

Since I assumed this office in 2019, I have been committed to strengthening the legal framework on which the continued verification of the peaceful use of nuclear material relies. I am pleased, therefore, to report that over the course of my first term as Director General of the IAEA, the number of States with safeguards agreements in force increased from 184 States to 190 States today; and those with Additional Protocols increased from 136 to 141.

There are now only four States Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty without comprehensive safeguards agreements in force. I call upon them to bring such agreements into force without delay. I also encourage States that have not yet concluded additional protocols to do so as soon as possible. And I reiterate my call for States with small quantities protocols based on the old standard text to amend or rescind them. The old standard SQP is simply not adequate for our current safeguards system. At present 78 States have an operative SQP based on the revised standard text.

Over the past four years, the amount of nuclear material under IAEA safeguards has seen an increase of seven per cent. This trend will continue into the future. As such, we must continue to strengthen the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of Agency safeguards.

Since September 2021, the issue of naval nuclear propulsion has been of considerable interest, and, for some, of concern. As I stated on numerous occasions, the Agency will continue working with the relevant States on this complex technical matter and will be guided by the Agency’s sole beacon: our safeguards and non-proliferation mission. That mission will be carried out in accordance with both the Agency’s statutory mandate and the relevant safeguards agreements, which should always be respected.

Madame President,

In relation to IAEA verification activities in the Islamic Republic of Iran, during my tenure I have continued to report to the IAEA Board of Governors on both Iran’s NPT Safeguards Agreement and verification and monitoring undertaken in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231.

With regard to the NPT Safeguards Agreement, I must reiterate that significant safeguards issues remain outstanding after a number of years. I also cannot but recognise that implementing the activities set out in the most recent Joint Statement between myself and Iran – in March this year - has not made the progress I was hoping for.

On this, and on matters related to the de-facto suspended implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the IAEA, and I personally remain actively engaged and ready to work with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Only full cooperation by Iran and tangible results will take us to credible assurances that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful.

The IAEA continues to monitor the DPRK nuclear programme. We have observed activities at several sites consistent with the DPRK’s continuation of its illegal nuclear programme, a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions that 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.

Madame President,

The nuclear field can only be as good as the people within it. The invisible barriers to women’s participation are real, and they are hurting us all, especially at a time when the sector faces shortages of skilled professionals, from welders to scientists.

Our Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme continues to grow. Applications for the next cycle of the programme are accepted until the end of this month. This year we are looking to award 200 fellowships, double our first round.

Since the launch of the MSCFP in 2020, scholarships have been awarded to 360 women from 110 Member States studying in 65 countries.

Many of our fellows have gone on to accept IAEA-facilitated internships at IAEA headquarters, our laboratories, Collaborating Centers, private sector companies or other partner organizations.

As a natural follow-on to the MSCFP, I launched the Lise Meitner initiative earlier this year. This new endeavor, named after the important Austrian-Swedish physicist who discovered fission and whose name now also proudly designates our library, aims to level the playing field by giving women in the nuclear field opportunities that will support their advancement. The visiting professionals programme for the first LMP cohort took place in the US in June and a second is planned for next month. I encourage Member States to support both these programmes, including by hosting professional visits.

Maximizing the IAEA talent pool and creating the conditions for gender equality and wide geographic representation are important priorities. At the start of my tenure as DG, I set a goal for gender parity by 2025 and put in place the policies that would get us there. At that point less than 30% of the Secretariat’s staff serving in the professional or higher category were women. Today that share has climbed to 43% and counting.

I am determined to meet our goal of gender parity across all levels of the Professional and higher categories of staff by 2025 and committed to the IAEA’s Secretariat being a place where everyone is able to do their best work. To do so, we will continue to work to attract, recruit and retain women from across all professional fields, and with as wide a geographical representation as possible. 

The 2024-2025 Agency’s programme and budget, recommended for your approval, strikes a balance that considers the financial constraints faced by Member States and the demand on the Agency’s services. You have my assurance that the resources you entrust to us will continue to be managed wisely and productively.

But I would be remiss not to tell you that the Agency is facing a serious liquidity challenge due to a delay in receipt of Regular Budget assessed contributions from Member States.

The Agency needs a stable and predictable financial foundation to meet its statutory and legal obligations. The delayed payment of contributions jeopardizes the timely implementation of the Agency’s programmatic activities and could eventually lead to their suspension. I appeal to those Member States with outstanding contributions to settle their overdue payments and I call on all Member States to honour their obligation to pay their assessed contributions in a timely manner.

Madame President,

Each year this gathering gives me a chance to meet with you, to listen to you and to offer you ways to support our mandate and the mission of Atoms for Peace and Development.  

I would like to thank you for your collaboration and express my gratitude to our host country, the Republic of Austria, for doing everything possible to enable our work. I would also like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Principality of Monaco for its steadfast support of the Agency and our unique Marine Environment Laboratories, which celebrate the 25th anniversary of their current premises this year. Finally, I would like to commend the Agency’s staff for their unwavering commitment to supporting our Member States and fulfilling the IAEA’s important mandate at a time when it matters more than ever.

Seventy years after the famous speech that helped found the IAEA, the dream of “Atoms for Peace”, now Atoms for Peace and Development, lives on. Making it a reality is up to all of us. Thank you.

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