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Statement to the Sixty-Sixth 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 Saint Kitts and Nevis and Tonga as new Member States of the IAEA, this brings the membership to 175 States.

Since we last gathered, the IAEA has actively assisted its Member States thraough some of the most challenging times in a generation, and we continue to do so.

It is a source of personal commitment of yours, I am sure, and mine, that what we do here at the IAEA can mitigate and even change some of these enormous challenges the world is facing.

Together we harness the benefits of nuclear science and technology to better prepare for the next zoonotic disease outbreak; to mitigate and adapt to climate change; to improve food and water security; to fight cancer; and to clean up the ocean.  At the same time, the IAEA has responded immediately to emergencies with missions as different as the ones I led to Ukraine in efforts to prevent war from causing a nuclear accident, and our experts visits to Latin America to assist Andean nations in preventing Fusarium Wilt from decimating their economically critical banana crops.

We are known as the nuclear watchdog and we take this task very seriously. We must prevent nuclear proliferation. We must make sure that this blessing of nuclear energy for peace and development is not turned into an instrument of destruction and suffering.

Our safeguards teams have risen to the challenge of inspecting ever greater quantities of nuclear material and increasing numbers of facilities, assuring the international community of their peaceful uses while remaining firm, unbiased and diligent at all times, most notably in challenging cases.

The context in which the Agency has, and continues, to operate has changed dramatically over the past year. The energy crisis has prompted many countries, and many ordinary people who in the past gave nuclear power little thought, to turn in its favour. This presents an opportunity for the sector and increases the volume and the importance of the IAEA’s work, especially in helping ensure that safety, security and safeguards come first amid the doubling of nuclear capacity that is expected over the coming three decades.

Let me therefore begin with one of the most crucial challenges before us, one that will shape the future of nuclear power and therefore also the ability of the world to exit the current energy crisis while making the transition to a safe, reliable, low-carbon energy future.

Since the onset of the war in Ukraine, I have not only expressed my concerns about the safety and security of the nuclear installations in the country and of the people who work and live there, but also endeavoured to improve it.  

We must do everything in our power to prevent a nuclear accident that would add tragedy to the suffering. We need to act. If something happens there, we will not have a natural disaster to blame, we will have to reckon with our own inaction.

Since the very first day, the IAEA has been keeping the world informed about the unprecedented situation of a large nuclear power programme being threatened by war. Our Incident and Emergency Centre has been in daily contact with Ukraine’s regulator. I have reported to the Board of Governors and the United Nations Security Council, and published more than 100 public updates.

Four IAEA missions have travelled to Ukraine, three of which I have led. Following our mission to the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant and its Exclusion Zone, safeguards and radiation monitoring data was re-established and, through our wider RANET system, Member States were able to provide Ukraine with crucial protective equipment.   

The most recent mission was the IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ISAMZ), Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. It took us six months of painstaking negotiation to get the team there and I want to thank you for your support in making it happen.

The IAEA now has a permanent presence at the site, allowing us to engage directly with the Ukrainian operator to see first-hand the situation, and to assess, assist and find ways to help stabilise it.

I have called for the urgent establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone to stop shelling damaging the plant and its crucial offsite power supply. Last week I held high-level meetings in New York where this proposal received strong international support. I have begun detailed talks with Ukraine and the Russian Federation aimed at agreeing and implementing the zone as soon as possible. We know what needs to be done. It is possible. I am ready to continue consultations in both countries this week so that we can protect this plant.

Like safety, security is a fundamental part of the foundation of public trust. In March-April 2022, the Agency successfully convened the Conference of the Parties to the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. It was the first time the Parties to the CPPNM as amended convened to review the implementation and adequacy of this key legally binding instrument in the area of nuclear security. Parties were able to agree by consensus on an outcome document acknowledging the importance of the A/CPPNM, and a majority of Parties have requested that I convene a further such review conference in no less than five years.

In June-July this year, the Agency held the Seventh Review Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management to present, discuss and review National Reports, and to address the measures taken by Contracting Parties to implement the obligations of the Joint Convention.

The Agency continues encouraging Member States to become Contracting Parties to the all the relevant safety and security Conventions.

Earlier this year we held the First International Conference on Nuclear Law: The Global Debate, providing a unique forum for leading global experts from governments, international and non-governmental organizations, industry, academia and civil society to share their experiences and discuss how to advance and promote this fundament of the nuclear field.

Mr President,

Since early 2020, the IAEA has been at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19. Its emergency response to the pandemic has been the biggest in the Agency’s history. We have sent equipment and materials to 306 laboratories in 130 countries. As we hope this pandemic nears its end, we must be ready for the next one. Member States have embraced and are actively participating in the IAEA Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC), established to integrate nuclear and related techniques into efforts to monitor and respond to outbreaks of zoonotic disease, and to enhance global preparedness for future pandemics. 149 Member States have nominated a ZODIAC National Coordinator, and 126 have nominated a ZODIAC National Laboratory. Several of the first in-person training courses under ZODIAC are being implemented between now and the end of the year. In this, we have worked closely with sister agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and benefited from cooperation with partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Though communicable diseases, such as COVID-19, have received most of the attention, especially in the past years, Member States are facing a growing cancer crisis. The global gap in cancer care continues to grow. Half of Africa’s countries lack even a single life-saving radiotherapy machine; 70% of the African population do not have access to radiotherapy. In Latin America, where I come from, and in some parts of Asia, people die of preventable and curable forms of cancer.

That is why, this year in Addis Ababa we launched Rays of Hope, stepping up our commitment and galvanizing the international community to address this silent killer. It has the strong support of African Union leaders and Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghereyesus, Director-General of the WHO, with which the IAEA is forging an ever closer and more effective relationship.

“Rays of Hope: Cancer Care for All” is the theme of the Scientific Forum being held during this General Conference, which I hope you will all join me in attending.

Rays of Hope is raising hopes. More than 20 Member States have already requested assistance through the initiative, which will help countries provide access to life-saving radiotherapy treatment, strengthen radiation safety legislation and infrastructure, and provide quality control, guidance, training and equipment.

By focusing on countries without radiotherapy or with inequitable access, Rays of Hope aims to conduct high-impact, cost-effective and sustainable interventions in line with national needs and commitment. The Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, a key part of Rays of Hope, continues to provide essential support for the development of national cancer control programmes through the conduct of imPACT Reviews and the provision of support for the development of key fund-raising documents. Support us. It is not difficult. It is not expensive. We have the technology and we know how to do it.

The IAEA is making a systematic effort to mobilise funding, including also from industry, development banks and other non-traditional partners, not only to address cancer, but also to generate resources for other activities, including ZODIAC and Nuclear Technology for Controlling Plastic Pollution, or NUTEC Plastics.

NUTEC Plastics, another flagship initiative that has captured the imagination and will of many around the world, helps countries harness environmentally friendly radiation techniques to recycle plastic and use isotopic tracing to better understand the problem of marine microplastic pollution. The initiative was included in a recent report of the G20 and it attracted interest at this year’s UN Ocean conference.

Our pollution, health and energy crises are being confounded by a food crisis for which we need both short and long-term answers. Food and agriculture remain a top priority for Member States and they accounted for almost a quarter of the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme in 2021.

In this and other areas, the IAEA and the FAO are deepening and expanding their already considerable collaboration. 

In total last year, the IAEA assisted 146 countries and territories through our technical cooperation programme, 34 of which were least developed countries. The main areas of work – beyond the COVID-19 response – were Health and Nutrition, followed by Food and Agriculture. Despite the continuing challenges of the pandemic, the programme achieved an implementation rate of 84.2%, an increase over 2020. We supported some 740 fellowships and scientific visits and the participation of almost 2,900 people in training courses.  Thanks to the contributions of Member States, the Technical Cooperation Fund Rate of Attainment reached 95.2%.  

In all these areas, the IAEA could not fulfil its mandate without the crucial and unique assets of its laboratories in Vienna, Seibersdorf and Monaco.

Completing the modernization of our Seibersdorf Nuclear Applications laboratories remains an urgent priority.  After months of hard work to identify efficiencies to cope with escalating costs, I am optimistic that we will soon be in a position to start on the main project under ReNuAL2 – construction of a new laboratories building.  I am grateful for Member States’ continuing strong extrabudgetary support for this important work and ask that you consider contributing toward the approximately €5.5 million still needed for the last major project element, the replacement of our laboratory greenhouses. 

Whether in water management or food security, our work with Member States is becoming increasingly important, given the urgent need to adapt to climate change.

Later this year, I will again be leading a team to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP, this time being hosted by Egypt. We will showcase, not only our work in climate change adaptation, but also present the unique attributes of nuclear power as a safe, secure and reliable energy source crucial to the world’s green transition. Within the past two years, nuclear has taken its rightful place at the COP table, and this year we will be hosting a nuclear pavilion. Times are indeed changing.

Today the 430 nuclear power reactors operating in 32 countries provide approximately 386 gigawatts of installed capacity, supplying some 10% of the world’s electricity and around a quarter of all low-carbon electricity. There are 57 reactors under construction in 18 countries; these are expected to provide about 59 gigawatts of additional capacity.

Taking into account the increased interest in nuclear power across the world, the IAEA has revised upwards by 10% its high-case projection for the capacity growth in nuclear power generation up to the year 2050. This projection sees capacity more than doubling to 873 gigawatts electric (GWe). A number of challenges would need to be addressed to achieve this increase, including regulatory and industrial harmonization and progress in high-level waste disposal.

As I have already mentioned, the climate crisis and the energy crisis have prompted more countries to look to nuclear power as part of the solution, with public opinion polls all over the world showing an increasing acceptance rate for it.

In the past year, the IAEA has supported its Member States in preparing for or continuing nuclear power programmes through various types of expert missions and peer reviews that help ensure the fundamentals of safety, security and safeguards.

The transition to a more sustainable energy future will require technology innovation, including in the nuclear arena.

Many developing Member States are coming to us because they also want to benefit from this source of clean energy, particularly in the form of Small Modular Reactors. The IAEA is helping to make that happen.

In June, I hosted the inaugural meeting of the Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative (NHSI), where senior nuclear regulators and industry leaders agreed to work towards enhanced harmonization and standardization of regulatory and industrial approaches in support of the global deployment of safe and secure advanced reactors, such as SMRs.

Next month the IAEA, together with our US hosts, will hold the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century in Washington, D.C.. This important conference will offer a forum for ministers, government officials, industry representatives, policy makers and experts from around the world to discuss the key challenges and opportunities for nuclear power. I encourage all Member States to participate at Ministerial level.

The IAEA’s safety review of the Government of Japan’s planned discharge of ALPS-treated water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has made significant progress. In implementing the Agency’s pledge to be part of the process before, during and after the planned discharge, we have so far held eight Task Force meetings, conduct two in-depth technical review missions, publish two mission reports, and began our planned sampling and analysis work. 

I was reminded of the importance of the IAEA’s unique role in offering transparency and scientific assessment to all stakeholders when I travelled to the Pacific Islands in July and spoke to representatives for whose nations the ALPS-treated water discharge is an important issue.

Mr President,

The world of nuclear proliferation and safeguards is evolving. With regards to naval nuclear propulsion, the IAEA must provide the necessary and indispensable technical answers to this development, which is foreseen in the existing legal framework.

Let me first address the subject of AUKUS, under which the United States and the United Kingdom have agreed to assist Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. The AUKUS Parties have been engaging with the Agency and I expect this to continue so that they deliver on their stated commitment to ensuring the highest non-proliferation and safeguards standards are met.

Brazil has also informed the Agency of its decision to initiate discussions with the Secretariat on an arrangement for Special Procedures for the use of nuclear material subject to safeguards in naval nuclear propulsion and in the operation of submarines and prototypes, as set out in the Quadripartite Safeguards Agreement. On this matter, the first meeting between Brazil, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) and the Secretariat was held in May and another meeting is planned next month in Brazil.

In its work with AUKUS parties and with Brazil, the Agency has its verification and non-proliferation mandate as its guiding principle.

Mr President,

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

As I stated during my remarks to the 65th Session of the General Conference, the Agency’s verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA have been seriously affected by Iran’s decision to stop the implementation of those commitments, including the Additional Protocol.

In the event of a full resumption of Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, the Agency will need to address the gap in its knowledge of what took place while our surveillance and monitoring equipment related to the JCPOA was not in operation. There will be considerable challenges to confirming the consistency with the situation prior to 21 February 2021 of Iran’s declared inventory of centrifuges and heavy water.

With regard to the NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Agency has made efforts to engage with Iran to resolve outstanding issues related to the presence of uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at three undeclared locations in Iran. Since June, Iran has not engaged with the Agency. Consequently, these issues have not been resolved and the Agency is not in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful.

The Agency remains ready to re-engage with Iran without delay to resolve these matters. We need to find common solutions to problems that are not going to go away if we don’t solve them in a collaborative fashion.

Mr President,

The number of States with safeguards agreements in force now stands at 189, and 140 of these States have brought additional protocols in force. I call upon the remaining five States Parties to the NPT without comprehensive safeguards agreements 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. I also reiterate my call for States with small quantities protocols (SQP) based on the old standard text to amend or rescind them. The old standard SQP is simply not adequate for our current safeguards system.

Since last year’s General Conference, we have continued to monitor the DPRK’s nuclear programme. This year my report provides an overview of developments in the DPRK’s nuclear programme since the extensive report presented in 2011, as well as an update covering the past year. We have observed indications that a nuclear test site has been reopened. Furthermore, we have observed indications of the operation of facilities and of construction work at the Yongbyon site, as well as activities at other locations.  

The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme, including the reopening of the nuclear test site, is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is regrettable and deeply troubling. 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.

I would like to draw Member States’ attention to the forthcoming Safeguards Symposium, to be held here in the week beginning 31 October. In the year in which we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CSA and 25th anniversary of the AP, we will seek to anticipate and prepare for the changing safeguards landscape in the decades ahead.

One way the IAEA is supporting States in applying safeguards is via COMPASS. Through activities such as training and State-to-State support, COMPASS assisted 7 States in strengthening their systems of accounting for and control of nuclear material

Mr President,

Our Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme continues to grow. Applications for the next cycle of the programme are now being accepted until 30 September 2022. This year we are looking to award 150 fellowships, 50% more than in our first round.

So far, the programme has granted scholarships to 210 women from 93 countries for their studies towards a Master’s degree in nuclear-related subjects.

I ask you to encourage women to apply and urge you to support the programme financially so that it can continue.

Gender equality is an important goal of mine and a growing priority of the wider IAEA and nuclear community.

Let me finish on a very positive note. In May, the Secretariat reached a new milestone towards our gender parity goal when the overall representation of women in the Professional and higher categories reached 40%. This is a 5 percentage-point increase from this time last year.

Efforts to attract, recruit and retain women from across all professional fields, and with as wide a geographical representation as possible, will continue so that we deliver on our commitment to reach full parity across all levels of the Professional and higher categories of staff by 2025.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We know that, when we work here at the IAEA, we have the enormous privilege of being part of the solution to some of the world’s biggest problems. I look forward each year to this gathering. To listen to you. To hear from you. And above all to get your support, which today is even more crucial.  

In closing, I would like to thank you for your unambiguous support for the Agency. While I am doing everything possible to fulfil your expectations, the Agency will need to be provided with funding to meet its budgetary gap in 2023. As you know, inflation is causing cost increases around the world and in Austria we are witnessing levels not seen since 1974.

I would like to express my gratitude to Austria, our host country, for doing everything possible to facilitate our work, and thank the Agency’s staff for their steadfast commitment to maximizing the benefit the IAEA delivers to its Member States no matter the challenges the world presents.

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