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17 September 2012 | Vienna, Austria
Fifty-Sixth Regular Session of IAEA General Conference 2012

Statement to Fifty-Sixth Regular Session of IAEA General Conference 2012

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Mr. President,

The IAEA's founding fathers were people of great foresight.

When they approved the Agency's Statute in October 1956, the world faced very different challenges from those of today. But the Statute was framed in a way that ensures that the Agency is more relevant than ever, nearly 60 years later.

Today, the Agency is making important contributions to tackling fundamental global problems identified in the UN Millennium Development Goals and at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20.

These include poverty and hunger, energy shortages, cancer and climate change. The Agency provides effective support to enhance the safe and secure use of nuclear energy in Member States. Agency inspectors monitor more and more nuclear facilities to verify that nuclear material is being used exclusively for peaceful purposes.

In my remarks this morning, I will consider how we have addressed these issues in recent years. I will also outline some ideas for responding to the challenges which we will face in the future.

I will start with technical cooperation. This is a high priority for the Agency because it helps to meet basic human needs. Through the technical cooperation programme, we help to make nuclear technology available to our Member States for peaceful purposes.

The IAEA is in a unique position within the UN system. We are the only organization with expertise in nuclear technologies and we help our Member States gain access to those technologies. Our specialist laboratories support our activities, developing innovative technology and providing training. We work closely with recipient countries and with partners such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and UNESCO.

When I visit Member States, I always try to see IAEA projects in action. The people I meet - scientists and scholars, farmers and fishermen - express great appreciation for the work of the Agency. It is touching to see how much impact our work can have on individual lives. When I see the distinctive blue IAEA logo at the project sites, I feel as if I am among family.

To take just one example: when I visited a laboratory in Peru, I was offered a cup of purple-coloured juice. I thought it was grape juice, but in fact it was made from a new type of corn, which was developed using radiation-induced mutation techniques supported by the Agency. In case you are wondering, the juice was actually delicious.

This is just one of several hundred IAEA projects which have helped to increase food production in dozens of countries.

Cancer in developing countries is high on the Agency's agenda. It is also my passion. I plan to strengthen our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT). I wish to establish a Cancer Training Centre at our laboratory complex in Seibersdorf, near Vienna, within the next few years. This will provide specialist training for health professionals from Member States, using advanced teaching technologies to complement the existing training offered by the IAEA Dosimetry Laboratory.

Alongside our safeguards laboratories, we have no fewer than eight nuclear applications laboratories in Seibersdorf. They are doing pioneering work related to human and animal health, food security and safety, agriculture, and environmental monitoring. But the laboratories have become obsolete and outdated. Space is severely limited and the equipment is not well adapted to our present needs.

Following the modernization of the safeguards laboratories, which is well underway, it is time to bring the nuclear applications laboratories up to the latest international standards. My goal is to carry out a complete modernization within a few years so these laboratories can offer even better services to our Member States.

At the Rio+20 Conference in June, the Agency announced the establishment of an Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre at the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco. This responds to concern among Member States about climate change, including the threat of ocean acidification due to increased carbon dioxide uptake by the oceans.

The 2012 IAEA Scientific Forum starts tomorrow, focusing on food. I hope it will make Member States more aware of the important contribution nuclear techniques can make in increasing food production, combating pests and diseases of crops and animals, and making food safer.

Thanks to the Peaceful Uses Initiative, launched in 2010, we are seeing an increase in the resources available for technical cooperation projects. However, the need for assistance is great. I ask all Member States to pay their contributions to the IAEA Technical Cooperation Fund in full and on time.

Mr. President,

Nuclear power remains the best known peaceful application of nuclear energy. When I became Director General three years ago, the talk was of a nuclear renaissance. Then the Fukushima Daiichi accident happened, raising fundamental questions about the future of nuclear energy throughout the world.

Eighteen months after the accident, it is clear that nuclear energy will remain an important option for many countries. Our latest projections show a steady rise in the number of nuclear power plants in the world in the next 20 years.

Most of the new nuclear power reactors which are planned or under construction are in Asia. Established users such as China, India, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation plan significant expansions of their nuclear power programmes. Developing countries continue to show keen interest in nuclear power. Vietnam and Bangladesh are among those with advanced plans to build their first power reactors.

The most important lesson that we have learned from Fukushima Daiichi is that we need a much more intense focus on nuclear safety. But nuclear energy offers many benefits. It can help to improve energy security, reduce the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices, mitigate the effects of climate change and make economies more competitive. It also has important non-electric applications such as seawater desalination, district heating and heat for industrial processes. The Agency is committed to supporting the development of new and emerging applications in these areas.

In recent years, we have devoted more staff and resources to helping newcomer countries. The United Arab Emirates recently became the first country in 27 years to start building its first nuclear power plant. Our expert assistance enables newcomers to learn from the experience of existing nuclear power users. We have extensive tools to assist newcomers with energy planning and infrastructure development, and in crafting sound long-term nuclear energy strategies. We stress that the highest standards of safety must be the basis of all nuclear power programmes.

Turning to the question of assurance of supply of nuclear fuel, the world's first reserve of low enriched uranium (LEU) under the Agency's auspices was established in December 2010 in Angarsk, in the Russian Federation.

A separate arrangement, originally proposed by the United Kingdom, for the assurance of supply of enrichment services and LEU, is also in place. Our work to establish an IAEA LEU Bank in Kazakhstan continues to make progress.

The safe management and disposal of radioactive waste and spent fuel remain key issues. The Agency works closely with Member States in this area. The nuclear industry has been managing interim waste disposal successfully for more than half a century. But no long-term disposal facility has so far become operational for nuclear spent fuel. This is often due to difficulties involving public acceptance.

Nevertheless, good progress has been made in a number of countries, including Finland, Sweden and France. Last month, I had an opportunity to visit the ONKALO facility in Finland, where a repository for the final disposal of spent fuel is being built deep underground. It is an impressive site. We expect the first deep geological repositories for nuclear spent fuel to become operational after 2020. The progress that is being made in this area deserves to be better known.

The International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century in St Petersburg, Russia, next June, will provide a valuable opportunity to consider nuclear power's long-term contribution to sustainable development.

Mr. President,

At the last General Conference, the Fukushima Daiichi accident was uppermost in all our minds. The Agency provided practical assistance to Japan and shared information, openly and transparently, with governments and the public.

We are now well into the post-accident phase. The focus is on implementing the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety which the last General Conference endorsed. Progress has been made in many areas. Let me highlight one example. One of the key problems at Fukushima Daiichi was the loss of all electrical power as backup generators were disabled by the tsunami. After the accident, securing alternative reliable electricity supply during a prolonged blackout was recognized as an area requiring swift action by plant operators around the world.

We have expanded the content of IAEA expert peer review services to Member States to include the first lessons learned from the accident. Peer reviews involve assessments of plant safety, regulatory effectiveness or emergency preparedness and response. Possible safety weak points at nuclear power plants have been identified and are being addressed.

We undertook a systematic review of IAEA Safety Standards, taking into account lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. We took a self-critical look at our own response to the accident and identified areas where we could have done better, including in communication. We launched a series of international expert meetings focussing on different technical issues. And we have continued to support our Member States in their efforts to enhance the international nuclear safety legal framework.

In December, the Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety, organized by the Government of Japan and the IAEA, will take place in Fukushima Prefecture. At this Conference, we will present a report outlining the conclusions of the international expert meetings held so far. We will also prepare a comprehensive report on the Fukushima Daiichi accident, to be finalized in 2014.

Nuclear safety remains the primary responsibility of individual countries. However, governments have recognized that effective international cooperation is vitally important and that the IAEA has a unique role to play in this regard. It is essential that the Nuclear Safety Action Plan is implemented in full. We must never become complacent. The ultimate goal is to make nuclear power as safe as humanly possible everywhere and to restore public confidence.

Mr. President,

In the last few years, world leaders have given considerable attention to the threat of nuclear terrorism. They have recognized the Agency's central role as the global platform for strengthening nuclear security. We have unique technical competence in this field. We will significantly expand our nuclear security activities in the coming years.

The IAEA has trained over 12 000 people in more than 120 countries in nuclear security in the last decade. We provided assistance at high-profile events such as the UEFA European Football Championships. Considerable amounts of high enriched uranium have been put into more secure storage. Our Illicit Trafficking Database keeps track of thefts or other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and other radioactive materials.

Despite the enhanced global interest in nuclear security, there is still one important item of unfinished business: ratification of the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The Amendment was agreed in 2005 but it has still not entered into force. Entry into force of the Amendment would make an important difference to global nuclear security.

Nuclear security is a priority for the Agency. We are carefully examining ways of maximizing the synergy between nuclear security and nuclear safety. I plan to strengthen our Office of Nuclear Security in the near future. In July 2013, the Agency will organize a high-level International Conference on Nuclear Security.

Mr. President,

I will turn now to nuclear verification.

When I took up office as Director General, I said that full implementation of all safeguards agreements between the IAEA and its Member States, and of other relevant obligations, would be the Agency's guiding principle. That remains the case.

I have presented regular reports to the Board on safeguards implementation in three countries in particular - the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the Syrian Arab Republic.

Each case is different, but they share one common feature - each of these countries is failing to fulfill its obligations. Dealing with cases such as these represents one of the major challenges which the Agency must confront in the coming years.

In the case of Iran, I have presented the situation with the utmost clarity since 2010. The Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. However, Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable us to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities. Therefore, we cannot conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.

Last November, I reported to the Board that the Agency had credible information indicating that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. I requested Iran to clarify these issues.

Based on the Board of Governors resolution adopted in November 2011, dialogue has been intensified between the IAEA and Iran. However, as I stated in my latest report, no concrete results have been achieved since November 2011.

Last Thursday, the Board of Governors adopted a resolution urging Iran to comply, fully and without delay, with all of its obligations under the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, and to meet the requirements of the Board.

The Agency is firmly committed to intensifying dialogue. We will continue negotiations with Iran on a structured approach to resolving all outstanding issues. I hope we can reach agreement without further delay, to be followed by immediate implementation.

Mr. President,

I remain seriously concerned about the nuclear programme of the DPRK. Its statements about uranium enrichment activities and the construction of a light water reactor are deeply troubling. As you are aware, the Agency has not been able to implement any safeguards in the country since April 2009. I call upon the DPRK to fully comply with its obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions, and with the NPT, and to cooperate promptly and fully with the Agency.

In the case of Syria, you will recall that, in May 2011, I reported that it was very likely that a building destroyed at the Dair Alzour site was a nuclear reactor which should have been declared to the Agency. I reiterate my request to Syria to hold further discussions with the Agency to address all outstanding questions related to Dair Alzour and other locations.

In November 2011, we were able to host an IAEA Forum on Experience of Possible Relevance to the Creation of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East. That was 11 years after the General Conference decided to hold such a meeting. This reflects the complex nature of the issue. The Forum provided an opportunity for Member States to engage in a constructive exchange of views on this important issue.

However, as my report on Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East shows, there remain fundamental differences of views among countries of the region on this issue. In these circumstances, it has not been possible to make further progress in fulfilling my mandate from the General Conference in this area. I will continue my consultations.

Mr. President,

The number of States with additional protocols in force continues to rise. It now stands at 117. This is very encouraging because the additional protocol is an essential tool for the Agency to be able to provide credible assurance that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities in a country.

The number of countries without safeguards agreements in force has fallen to 13. I ask all of them to bring safeguards agreements into force as soon as possible.

Last year, I reported to you on the completion of our new Clean Laboratory Extension at Seibersdorf, on schedule and slightly under budget. Since then, good progress has been made in building a new Nuclear Material Laboratory. When completed in 2014, it will provide the Agency with a modern capability for analysis of nuclear samples.

Finally, Mr. President, I would like to update the General Conference on recent developments in our efforts to improve the management of the Agency.

I am pleased to report that The Agency's Financial Statements for 2011 were the first which comply with International Public Sector Accounting Standards, known as IPSAS. The External Auditor released an unqualified opinion on the Financial Statements. The successful introduction of IPSAS was a milestone in our management reform efforts. I intend to improve the Agency's outreach activities to the media and general public by strengthening our public information function. I also intend to further improve the gender balance, especially at senior management level.

As we prepare the Programme and Budget for 2014-2015, technical cooperation and nuclear safety and security remain the Agency's top priorities. Looking beyond the next budget cycle, I count on you to ensure that we have sufficient resources to fulfill the many important tasks you have entrusted to us. I, for my part, will ensure that those resources are deployed prudently and effectively.

Mr. President,

The work of the IAEA covers many very different fields. As Director General, I try to pursue the Agency's multiple objectives in a balanced manner. I am guided by our basic mandate, which is to contribute to the welfare and security of the world through peaceful nuclear technology, and to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The IAEA should remain first and foremost a technical organization, although our work can have important political implications. I believe we contribute most effectively to addressing the challenges I have outlined when we approach them from a technical perspective. We must manage the Agency as efficiently as possible. That way, the IAEA will remain an effective organization that truly delivers.

I would like to end by thanking you, the Member States, for your steadfast support for our work. I am very grateful to Austria for being a model host country. And I express my deep appreciation to all Agency staff for their hard work and dedication.

Together, we can take pride in the achievements of recent years. I am confident that, together, we will meet the many challenges facing us in future.

Thank you.