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Meeting of the Year

IAEA General Conference

IAEA General Conference

IAEA General Conference. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

On 19 September 2011, the IAEA General Conference convenes for the fifty-fifth time at the Agency's headquarters in Vienna. The delegations from the IAEA's 151 Member States gather to consider an agenda of issues ranging from nuclear safety and security, development, health, energy to budgetary and administrative matters. During the five-day gathering, about 3 000 participants from Member States, international organisations, as well as NGOs and the media will be able to choose from among dozens of side events. An overview of these events is provided below:

Scientific Forum

Beginning on Tuesday, 20 September, the 2011 Scientific Forum focuses on Water Matters: Making a Difference with Nuclear Techniques. Currently, the world is facing acute water shortages. Over one billion people have no access to fresh water. In the future, ever more water will be needed to sustain the cities, agriculture and industry that will support growing global populations. The Scientific Forum will demonstrate how nuclear techniques and technical cooperation are used successfully today to help tackle the water crisis through water resource assessment, improved water use efficiency in agriculture, as well as the study and conservation of the marine environment.

For over half a century, the IAEA has developed unique expertise in using nuclear techniques to understand and manage water. In more than 90 countries, IAEA experts work with national counterparts to find, manage and conserve freshwater supplies and protect our oceans.

A water-related photo exhibition will be on display at the main entrance to the Austria Centre, leading to the Scientific Forum, providing an overview of the work conducted in this area by the Departments of Technical Cooperation and Nuclear Sciences and Applications.

Nuclear Safety After Fukushima

At the IAEA's June 2011 Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety, Ministers in their Declaration on Nuclear Safety (INFCIRC/821) stressed that the international treaties related to nuclear safety, security and liability for nuclear damage, for which the IAEA is depositary, should be universally adopted, implemented and reviewed to strengthen nuclear safety, emergency preparedness and radiation protection of people and the environment.

The Treaty Event organized by the IAEA's Office of Legal Affairs on Monday and Tuesday, 19 and 20 September, is designed to promote these Treaties' universal adoption. The Treaties' objectives and provisions are summarized here.

The International Nuclear Safety Group, or INSAG, will hold a Forum on safety issues following the Fukushima nuclear accident and on the actions needed to strengthen safety at the national and international level. The INSAG Chairman, Mr. Richard Meserve, will lead a roundtable discussion on Monday, 19 September 2011.

At a side event co-sponsored by the Government of Japan and the IAEA, a team of senior Japanese experts will provide further information on the impact of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident as well as on the efforts of the Japanese Government to mitigate the consequences. The event will also take place on Monday, 19 September 2011.

Experts from Member States and technical and scientific support organisations will share their experience and lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in a Round Table on Nuclear Safety and Security Knowledge Networking, organized under the framework of the Global Nuclear Safety and Security Network (GNSSN) by the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. The round-table will take place on Wednesday, 21 September 2011.

Senior regulators will meet to consider the following issues: regulatory challenges during and following a major safety or security event; how to address the safety and security challenges resulting from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in a synergistic manner; safety and security aspects of the management of high-level waste and spent fuel; disposal of high-level waste and spent fuel; and the preferred approach for improving safety, security and public acceptance. The senior regulators will meet on Thursday, 22 September.

Radioisotope Supply

On Monday, 19 September, the Departments of Nuclear Sciences and Applications and Nuclear Energy will jointly host an event to update Member States on the status of global Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) supply, which has been a matter of concern since a supply crisis occurred in late 2007. Although the situation has improved since then, the supply chain remains fragile due to ageing reactors and the slow pace with which the reactors, which produce these vitally important radioisotopes, are converted to use low enriched uranium for fuel. Monday's event will include a briefing on IAEA and OECD-NEA efforts to help ensure that global supply remains stable.

Nuclear Applications

Commencing with an official declaration that the cattle scourge, Rinderpest, has been eradicated worldwide, the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications (NA) will host a celebration on Tuesday, detailing the IAEA's contribution to the fight against the disease over the years. The event will be attended by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and high-level representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the African Union Commission.

The new Human Health Campus e-learning portal provides online resources for health professionals in radiation medicine. These resources enhance Member States' capabilities to prevent, diagnose and treat disease and health problems through the application of nuclear techniques. During this Thursday event, NA's Human Health Division will present an innovative vision to deliver these learning resources via mobile devices in the future. Access to mobile networks world-wide is expanding swiftly. According to the UN, mobile telephone penetration in the poorest Least Developed Countries already reached 25% in 2009. Over 90 percent of the world's population now has access to mobile networks, according to the International Telecommunication Union. These mobile "smart" devices, such as telephones and tablets, offer an affordable means to give medical professionals and students in developing countries the information and reference material they need, when and where they need it to learn and to improve medical services.

The Agency's Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), will brief participants on Thursday on the progress made in improving cancer care by increasing access to radiotherapy. The event will also provide information about the Indian initiative to support the fight against cancer in low- and middle-income Member States through PACT. Representatives from India are expected to announce donations to other Member States. And another donation announcement is expected by the Government of the Principality of Monaco to support the fight against cancer in Mongolia through PACT.

NA's Division of Physics and Chemistry will hold expert presentations on the current status of Fusion research, a research area that the IAEA has supported for over half a century through research grants, conference organisation, and the publication of a leading journal in the field Nuclear Fusion.

Nuclear Energy

The IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy will host a number of events all day on Wednesday, 21 September.

These include a briefing on the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) and its associated projects like: Global Architecture of Innovative Nuclear Energy Systems Based on Thermal and Fast Reactors Including a Closed Fuel Cycle (GAINS); Nuclear Energy System Assessments (NESA); and Proliferation Resistance: Acquisition/Diversion Pathway Analysis (PRADA).

A briefing on the developments in the introduction of nuclear power will highlight newcomer countries dealing with key issues such as the Build-Own-Operate approach, Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) missions and considerations when signing agreements to build the first nuclear power plant. The IAEA is now preparing a report on the benefits and challenges associated with the different approaches to aquiring nuclear power.

The afternoon session will begin with a Forum on decommissioning and environmental remediation, focusing on ways to break down the barriers that prevent the implementation of these programmes worldwide.

And later, there will be a nuclear industry cooperation Forum for senior nuclear officials to share operating experiences and management strategies to enhance safety and improve performance post-Fukushima.

The nuclear energy exhibit, on the first floor of the M-Building in front of the Plenary entrance, will highlight the many services designed to help Member States as they seek to acquire and operate nuclear power.

Nuclear Safeguards

The nuclear safeguards exhibit during the General Conference will focus on the evolution of verification methodology and "smarter safeguards". A video, a time line and experts on site will explain the mission and work of the Department of Safeguards to provide the international community credible assurances that States are in compliance with their safeguards commitments.

Safeguards are a set of activities by which the IAEA seeks to verify that a state is living up to its international undertakings not to use peaceful nuclear programmes to make nuclear weapons.

Countries declare to the IAEA the type, quantity and locations of their nuclear material, and the purposes for which this material is being used. The IAEA then independently verifies these declarations.

Safeguards are being applied in almost 180 countries, which have Safeguards Agreements in force with the IAEA. Verification measures include on-site inspections, visits, and on-going monitoring and evaluation.

The Agency has about 245 inspectors who go on approximately 2 000 missions each year to verify over 1 100 nuclear power plants, research reactors, conversion plants, fuel fabrication plants, reprocessing and enrichment facilities, as well as storage facilities.

The IAEA's safeguards system functions as a confidence-building measure, an early warning mechanism, and the trigger that sets in motion other responses by the international community, if countries are found to be violating their agreements.

Nuclear Safety and Security

Nuclear sites that have not been remediated or decommissioned, for example, former uranium production sites and sites where nuclear fuel cycle facilities have been operated, are called "legacy sites". Regulating and Supervising "Legacy Sites" is the focus of a side event on Tuesday. Focussing on the International Forum on Regulatory Supervision of Legacy Sites (RSLS), the event details the challenges and explains how the RSLS might assist Member States to improve safety.

Radiation protection of young patients is a particular concern of the Radiation Protection of Patients unit in the Department of Nuclear Safety. The event on Tuesday details the challenges of radiation protection for children. Presentations will describe the progress made thus far in improving protection for young patients, as well as how Member States can use the available resources to support further improvement.

The Ibero American Forum of Nuclear and Radiation Safety and Security Regulatory Agencies, or FORO, will meet to review progress in promoting a high level of radiation and nuclear safety and security in the Ibero-American region; as well as identify regional needs, share experiences to develop solutions such as a new web page for networking among the Forum's member. Held in Spanish, the Forum meets on Tuesday.

A day later, on Wednesday, the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security will gather experts to discuss means to address the the barriers that constrain IAEA Member States from implementing Decommissioning and Environmental Remediation programmes worldwide and explore ways to improve conditions for moving these activities forward in Member States where these activities are stagnant. The experts will consider how to increase technical capacities in Member States; how to remove barriers that inhibit cooperation between organisations with experience in decommissioning and environmental remediation; possible models for facilitating and strengthening partnerships for project development and the potential for establishing training centres to enhance technical capabilities at national and regional levels.

Member States concerned about illicit trafficking in radiological material are offered a briefing on Tuesday describing the improvements in securing these materials worldwide through membership in the IAEA's Illicit Trafficking Data Base.

Experts in nuclear forensics will be available on Tuesday to answer questions on investigating the illicit use of nuclear and other radioactive materials. The experts can provide insight into how nuclear forensics analysis and interpretation can derive information about the source and history of nuclear or other radioactive materials and potentially link samples to people, places and events.

On Wednesday, an exhibit of state-of-the-art radiation detection equipment, used routinely at border crossings to identify nuclear and radiological threats, and expert presentations will explain how to improve the detection system's effectiveness and assure their sustainable deployment in Member States.

Experts on Thursday will provide an overview of the IAEA's nuclear security training and education programmes. Annually, the IAEA conducts more than 60 training events for both Member and non-Member States. The event focuses on the newly established International Nuclear Security Education Network, a partnership between the IAEA and educational and research institutions and other stakeholders to enhance global nuclear security by developing, sharing and promoting excellence in nuclear security education. The Nuclear Security Support Centres, which building competence and skills through training and by helping establish technical and scientific support services, will also be profiled.

Since 2010, when the IAEA founded the Regulatory Cooperation Forum, its members have been engaged in sharing knowledge , expertise and resources to support Member States that are establishing independent, effective and robust nuclear power regulators. Friday's meeting will review the progress, challenges and lessons learned.

Technical Cooperation Activities at General Conference

Technical cooperation at the IAEA is coordinated through international agreements to foster the wider use of nuclear techniques and applications. During the 2011 General Conference the representatives of the regional agreements that undertake this work will be held. The regional agreements include: AFRA, or the African Regional Cooperation Agreement for Research, Development and training related to Nuclear Science and Technology; ARCAL, the Acuerdo de Cooperacion para la Promocion de la Ciencia y la Tecnologia Nucleares en America Latina y el Caribe (or the Regional Cooperative Agreement for the Advancement of Nuclear Science and Technology in Latin America and the Caribbean); ARASIA, the Cooperative Agreement for Arab States in Asia for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology; RCA, or the Regional Co-operative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology for Asia and the Pacific; as well as representatives from European Member States.

During the General Conference, the Department of Technical Cooperation will shine a light on exceptionally successful projects in almost two dozen countries, as well as areas of common interest to most Member States: water and the environment, food and agriculture, and human health. At the TC desk, videos and photo essays will also be displayed, where the Technical Cooperation Report and Supplement will also be distributed. They are also available on-line.

See Story Resources for more information.

-- By Peter Kaiser, IAEA Division of Public Information


(Note to Media: We encourage you to republish these stories and kindly request attribution to the IAEA).