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Statement to the Tenth Review Conference of Parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

New York, USA

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi (Photo:  C. de Francia / IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Mr President, Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and privilege to finally be here at the long-awaited Tenth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It gives me particular pleasure to see my esteemed colleague and dear friend from the Argentinian diplomatic service Ambassador Zlauvinen presiding over this most crucial of meetings on the international peace and security agenda. Mr President, you have my and the IAEA’s full support.

Today, we are meeting at a challenging time in history. We find ourselves at a convergence of threats to our common security and the wellbeing of all people.

Wars are ravaging communities across the world, and in Europe we are faced with a conflict so grave that the spectre of a potential nuclear confrontation, or accident, has raised its terrifying head again.

We are in the midst of  an energy crisis, a food crisis, a climate crisis. The very foundations of what we need in order to survive as a human race are faltering.

In this moment of uncertainty, anxiety, fear and distress, we must come together and recommit to the noble principles enshrined in the NPT – nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament, and cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

More than 12 years have passed since this community found common ground and expressed itself with one voice.

This difficult moment in our collective security calls on us to find the courage to do so once again, not only because those noble principles are right and just, but to show that multilateralism delivers. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency is the place where 175 Member States partner with scientists, inspectors, diplomats, doctors, engineers, and many other experts to bring the NPT to life every day.

Without this cooperation, the important contribution nuclear science and technology makes in the journey towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals; the robust safeguards system that has curbed nuclear proliferation; and the multitude of safety and security improvements that have limited accidents and harm, simply would not exist.

The Energy and Climate Crises, catalysts for Nuclear Energy

Mr President,

Today we are confronted with the first truly global energy crisis.

From electricity blackouts to quadrupling energy prices, shortages in supply have made their impact felt for more than a year, especially when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

In the past half year, the war in Ukraine has added concerns over energy security and exposed the inescapable implications of our interdependence.

Countries are now facing a choice: continue to depend on coal, oil and natural gas to provide that reliability of power generation or turn more decisively to a sustainable energy mix in which nuclear is already playing a valuable round-the-clock role. Among these choices, only the latter choice mitigates global warming and the air pollution that kills 8 million people each year.

Whether it’s wildfires in California, floods in central Europe, or drought in Africa, the devastating consequences of climate change are becoming ever more apparent.

If we are to meet our climate goals in the coming three decades, nuclear capacity will need to more than double.

History bears out nuclear’s mitigation credentials. In its lifetime, nuclear generation has avoided the release of about 70 giga-tonnes of greenhouse gases. That’s equivalent to the emissions of the entire global power sector for the five years between 2015 and 2019.

Nuclear energy currently provides about 10 per cent of the world’s electricity, including more than a quarter of its low-carbon power.

While some 440 nuclear power reactors operating in 32 countries already generate about 394 gigawatts of electricity, 55 reactors totalling almost 57 gigawatts of capacity are under construction in 17 countries.

Asia is seeing the highest capacity growth, with major economies building and investing heavily in nuclear power.

A little more than a decade removed from the Fukushima Daiichi accident, reactors are steadily coming back online.  

The conversation in Europe is changing too. Alarmed by the energy security implications of recent geopolitical events, some countries are re-evaluating their decision to phase out nuclear or delaying the shutdown of nuclear power plants. Many other countries are extending the lives of their existing plants, building additional ones or introducing nuclear energy for the first time.

In Member States with established programmes, the IAEA provides support for safe lifetime extensions and in the management of radioactive waste.

In newcomer countries, we support efforts to establish the infrastructure and institutions necessary for a safe, secure, safeguarded, and sustainable nuclear energy programme. 

It's clear nuclear energy is gaining public acceptance. Some 30 countries are at various stages of considering, or planning, to build nuclear energy programmes.

Nuclear technology is advancing. Small Modular Reactors, or SMRs, promise more affordability, flexibility, and safety inherent in their design. 

Every week, developing countries come to the IAEA because they want to know when they will be able to benefit from this technology. 

Some people ask whether nuclear can be built quickly enough and whether governments are willing to make the investment. The answer is yes; because it has been done before: Forty per cent of the nuclear power plants we still rely on today were built in the fast and sizable response to the oil shocks of the 1970s.

I believe we could see three catalysts fuel a similar endeavour over the coming decades: the energy crisis; energy security concerns aggravated by war; and the increased climate urgency.

Safety comes First

Mr President,

Everything in nuclear starts and ends with the guiding principle of safety and security first.

We have been tested by fire and flood. The flames that engulfed the reactor at Chornobyl in 1986 and the tsunami that submerged Fukushima’s safety systems in 2011 transformed the nuclear field forever. They forged fundamental changes in design and operation, and the global networks of communication and cooperation that prevent such failures from happening today.

Nuclear is safer than it has ever been.

But we are being tested once again. This time by war.

War in Ukraine is threatening one of the world’s biggest nuclear power programmes. Facilities and their people have also been put into peril through Russia’s past occupation of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant and Exclusion Zone and the ongoing occupation of Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.

In its March 3rd resolution, the IAEA’s Board of Governors expresses grave concern that the Russian Federation’s aggression was impeding the IAEA from fully and safely conducting safeguards verification activities at Ukrainian nuclear facilities in accordance with the NPT, Ukraine’s safeguards agreement and the Statute.

Lives and livelihoods are being put in danger because the IAEA’s seven pillars of nuclear safety and security are being violated. At Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, the situation is becoming more perilous by the day.

At the beginning of the war, I laid out these pillars.

The Seven Pillars

1. The physical integrity of the nuclear facilities, whether it is reactors, fuel ponds, or radioactive waste stores, must be maintained.

2. All safety and security systems and equipment must be fully functional at all times.

3. The operating staff must be able to fulfil their respective safety and security duties and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure.

4. There must be secure off-site power supply from the grid for all nuclear sites.

5. There must be uninterrupted logistical supply chains and transportation to and from the sites.

6. There must be effective on-site and off-site radiation monitoring systems and emergency preparedness and response measures. 

7. And finally, there must be reliable communications with the regulator and others.

Mr President,

Not one of these seven pillars remain intact. Every single one has been compromised. Every one of these cardinal principles has been, or is being, violated as I speak to you today.

While this war rages on, inaction is unconscionable. If an accident occurs at Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, we will not have a natural disaster to blame. We will have only ourselves to answer to.

For 2 months I have been ready to lead my team of international safety and security experts, and IAEA safeguards inspectors, to Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. Yet our vital mission has not been made possible.

We need everyone’s support to make it happen. We are ready.

The people of Zaporizhzhya and people far from Zaporizhzhya are relying on all of us to prevent war from causing a nuclear tragedy that would compound the catastrophe already befalling Ukraine and causing hunger and insecurity beyond its borders.

The importance of a robust and adaptable non-proliferation framework and safeguards mechanism

Mr President,

We cannot build a more secure world with more nuclear weapons in existing arsenals and if more countries seek to acquire them.

An important part of the NPT and the IAEA’s mission is the principle of non-proliferation. The task is as urgent as it has ever been.

Across the world, more than 1,300 facilities and locations are now under IAEA safeguards. The volume of nuclear material has increased everywhere, and the trend is going to continue.

A strong, robust, agile, and present IAEA and a safeguards regime up to the challenge are essential.

In the 1990s, the international community saw the weakening and the circumvention of its safeguards regime and decided to reinforce it through the Additional Protocol to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. This gave our inspectors the tools to provide the credible assurances that underpin international security.

A safeguards regime, reinforced by the additional protocol and the amended small quantities protocol, can give us the trust and confidence we need that those states using nuclear energy for the wellbeing of their people, are not hiding anything.

Those who truly favour effective safeguards, would never use their cooperation as a bargaining chip, or IAEA inspectors as pawns in a political game.

While diplomatic negotiations over the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear programme continue, the IAEA has been steadfast and clear: If we are to offer the world credible assurances that Iran’s sizable and growing nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes, Iran must grant IAEA inspectors access commensurate to the breadth and depth of that programme and provide us the requisite and complete information.

The negotiations around Iran’s nuclear programme are not happening in a vacuum; context is important. The lack of progress in verifying the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme will have consequences on the regional security landscape.

The situation in the Korean peninsula is also of serious concern. For the past 13 years, the IAEA has not been present in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and in that time the DPRK has continued to expand its nuclear weapons capability. The IAEA is ready to return to the DPRK as soon as a political agreement allows it to do so.

These challenges make it even more important that we work together to find common ground to keep the NPT, the IAEA and safeguards strong.

As we know, countries are working on projects involving nuclear naval propulsion. This development, while foreseen by the existing legal framework, raises important questions that require appropriate technical answers in order to protect the integrity of the non-proliferation regime.

The IAEA is seized of the matter and is working to arrive at arrangements that are in line with the NPT and the respective Safeguards Agreements.

The stronger your resolve and your unity at this critical Review, the more impactful the IAEA can be in underpinning peace and security by safeguarding nuclear material, and by widening access to the benefits of nuclear science and technology.

Social and economic development are key to peace and security

Mr President,

The NPT recognizes that international peace and security can’t be achieved without a steadfast and active commitment to improving the lives and livelihoods of all people around the world.

 The “peaceful uses of nuclear energy” have acquired huge significance in the wider international community.

Nuclear science and technology contributes directly to more than half the UN Sustainable Development Goals and indirectly to all of them. It cures diseases; helps feed the hungry; protects the environment, and powers progress without harming the planet.

The IAEA is where the international community keeps the promise implicit in the NPT: that peaceful nuclear science and technology will be accessible to all countries. Through the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme we bring this central principle of the Treaty to life.

As we gather in New York, communities in every part of the world continue to struggle under the burden of COVID-19.

The IAEA responded quickly and expediently to the pandemic, not stopping for a single minute until it had delivered to its Member States the biggest emergency response programme in its near seven-decade history.

Even as we were delivering urgently needed PCR equipment and training to every continent, we looked ahead and launched Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action, or ZODIAC. It allows countries to prepare and respond more quickly to the next zoonotic outbreak, be it Monkey Pox, Ebola, or one yet to be discovered.

As COVID-19 has shown, health challenges are harrowingly unjust. Cancer is a crisis threatening to overwhelm developing countries and erase many of the gains they have made.

Since the previous NPT Review, the IAEA has delivered more than 500 projects related to cancer, nuclear medicine, radiopharmaceutical production, and dosimetry.

Yet the cancer gap continues to grow.

It is unacceptable that half of Africa’s countries lack even a single life-saving radiotherapy machine.

This year in Addis Ababa we launched Rays of Hope, stepping up our commitment and galvanizing the international community to address this silent pandemic. It has the strong support of African Union leaders and the World Health Organization.

Our 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, accounting for almost a quarter of the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme in 2021.

Nuclear applications and techniques like isotope hydrology help farmers improve the management of their soil. Mutation breeding allows scientists to develop crops that produce higher and more reliable yields while saving water and reducing the need for harmful pesticides. The IAEA assists Member States in improving their capacity to do this important work, often in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Climate change is destroying our oceans and so is plastic pollution. Our Nuclear Technology for Controlling Plastic Pollution, or NUTEC Plastics, and the work of our laboratories, help countries harness environmentally friendly radiation techniques to recycle more plastic and use isotopic tracing to better understand problems like marine microplastic pollution and ocean acidification.

These are just some of the IAEA’s endeavours on behalf of our most vulnerable communities and these projects depend on the support of people like you who believe the spirit of the NPT must be turned into action.

In this regard, the 2010 NPT Review Conference created a valuable legacy because it was there that the Peaceful Uses Initiative was first proposed. The additional financial commitments through the PUI have contributed to hundreds of IAEA projects. I extend my sincere gratitude to those States that have contributed to the PUI and hope that through everyone’s support this initiative continues to benefit all.

In all our endeavours it is vital that everyone, regardless of gender, is able to fully contribute their talents. The IAEA’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship programme offers financial support to women studying towards a Master’s degree in nuclear subjects.

Mr President,

The IAEA is the vehicle by which we realize the goals of the NPT to spread the benefits of the atom while preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Much of this indispensable work would be impossible without the NPT.

The Treaty enables us to use nuclear material without inducing fear because it ensures that every gram that saves a life and supports a community is safe, secure, and safeguarded.

At this time of insecurity, fear, and anxiety, when multiple global crises are undermining our most basic needs, it is worth reminding ourselves of the extraordinary achievement the NPT represents.

The Treaty you are here to review is vital to peace and development.

That is why we must recommit to the NPT and protect it. The IAEA will be with you every step of the way.

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