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17 March 2014 | Tokyo, Japan
Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan

The IAEA's Activities in a Changing World

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The last time I had the pleasure of speaking to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan was in December 2010. I had been IAEA Director General for about a year.

Three months later came the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It was triggered by a powerful tsunami which followed the Great East Japan Earthquake. Human and organizational failings also played a part.

Helping Japan deal with the aftermath of the accident has been a top priority for the IAEA, and for me personally, in the past three years.

As nuclear safety is a hugely important issue, both in Japan and throughout the world, I will begin my remarks today by talking about the impact of the accident.

The situation at the site remains complex, and challenging issues must be resolved to ensure the plant's long-term stability. Many people in the affected region are still living with the consequences of the accident.

The IAEA has worked very closely with Japan. We helped to channel international technical assistance. Our international expert teams assisted in areas such as radiological monitoring and food safety. We organised numerous expert meetings examining every relevant technical aspect of nuclear safety. The latest International Experts' Meeting, which is on Severe Accident Management in the Light of the Fukushima Daiichi Accident, starts in Vienna today.

We have been working with our 162 Member States to implement the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, which was adopted soon after the accident. Just recently, the final reports of our international review missions on decommissioning, and on remediation of large contaminated off-site areas, were made public. Both missions observed good progress in their respective areas.

The IAEA is preparing a report on the Fukushima Daiichi accident, which will be finalized by the end of this year and shared with our Member States next year.

I welcome the way in which Japan is sharing its post-Fukushima experience with the rest of the world and I encourage all States to make full use of IAEA services in order to help raise levels of safety everywhere.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am often asked if nuclear power is safe.

My answer is that no technology is ever 100 percent safe. Nuclear is no exception. But I believe the lessons of Fukushima Daiichi have been learned, both in Japan and internationally. Additional concrete measures such as higher tsunami protection walls and diversified supplies of backup electricity, as well as of water for cooling, have been put in place. The concept of defence-in-depth, which involves multi-layered protection and mitigation measures, is being more thoroughly applied. I believe safety levels at nuclear facilities around the world are now higher than they have ever been. But we must never become complacent.

Please bear in mind that nuclear safety has always been the responsibility of each individual country. The IAEA does not have the same authority in nuclear safety as we do in nuclear non-proliferation, for example. Nevertheless, the global response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident reflects a deeper realisation that nuclear safety is an issue that transcends borders. Effective international cooperation, and the assistance of international organisations, are vital. The IAEA is playing the leading role in shaping a safer nuclear future throughout the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After the Chernobyl accident in 1986, nuclear power entered a period of stagnation. That did not happen after Fukushima Daiichi. There were 437 nuclear power reactors in operation throughout the world last year. Seventy-two new ones were under construction - the largest number for 25 years.

Growth is centred mainly in Asia, but countries in other regions, including Eastern Europe, also have significant expansion plans. It is clear that many countries expect nuclear power to be an important part of their energy mix for decades to come. They believe nuclear power can help them achieve energy security, boost their economic competitiveness and help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The IAEA does not attempt to influence the decision of countries on whether or not to use nuclear power. But, when requested, we provide comprehensive assistance to help ensure that nuclear power is used safely, securely and without increasing proliferation risks.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to mention briefly that the IAEA's role in nuclear security is growing steadily, in response to requests from Member States. This is about ensuring that nuclear and other radioactive material, as well as nuclear facilities, are properly protected from malicious actions.

You can imagine how devastating the consequences could be if a so-called dirty bomb - involving conventional explosives and radioactive material - was detonated in a major city.

The IAEA plays the central role in strengthening nuclear security globally. Our work covers a broad range of activities, from providing nuclear security guidance and supplying radiation detection equipment for countries to use at ports and airports, to helping to protect major public events against nuclear terrorism. We are ready to assist Japan in ensuring radiological security at the 2020 Olympic Games here in Tokyo, if requested to do so.

Japan has expressed its intention to invite an IAEA International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) mission later this year, or early next year, to review its arrangements for protecting nuclear and other radioactive material. This will be a good opportunity for Japan to further strengthen its nuclear security.

Next week, I will represent the IAEA at a nuclear security summit in The Hague, attended by leaders from around 50 countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I last spoke to you, I said that I was keen to make people more aware that the IAEA is much more than the world's "nuclear watchdog". That remains a priority for me as I start my second term.

Through the IAEA Technical Cooperation programme, we help to make nuclear technology available to developing countries for peaceful purposes.

We are active in areas as diverse as cancer control, child nutrition, the eradication of the tsetse fly, boosting food production and controlling water pollution.

To take cancer control as one example: cancer has reached epidemic proportions in developing countries, but many lack the basic equipment and trained personnel for treating the disease effectively. This means that thousands of people die of conditions that could be treated if they lived in a developed country. This is a great tragedy.

The IAEA, together with partners such as the World Health Organization, helps to make radiotherapy, medical physics, nuclear medicine, and imaging services available to developing countries. We provide training for medical and technical specialists and help them to gain access to modern technology.

Another example: tsetse flies infest vast areas of Africa. They transmit a parasitic disease which devastates livestock herds and spreads "sleeping sickness" among human beings.

The IAEA deploys what is known as the sterile insect technique, which is essentially a form of contraception for tsetse flies. Male flies are sterilised using radiation. They are then released into affected areas, where they mate with wild females. These do not produce offspring.

This technique can eventually eradicate entire populations of tsetse flies, as happened in Zanzibar in 1999.

These are just a few of the ways in which the IAEA helps to improve health and prosperity in developing countries and contributes to the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the core functions of the IAEA is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. We do this by verifying that countries are using nuclear material only for peaceful purposes.

The main verification issue on our agenda in recent years has been Iran.

For years, my quarterly reports to our Board of Governors stated that nuclear material declared by Iran was not being diverted from peaceful purposes. But I also stated that Iran was not providing sufficient cooperation to enable the Agency to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran was in peaceful activities.

Late last year, we started to see some movement.

In November, China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the United States agreed on a Joint Plan of Action with Iran.

The Plan is aimed at achieving "a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful."

The seven countries asked the IAEA to undertake monitoring and verification of voluntary measures to be implemented by Iran, which we are now doing, with the approval of our Board.

Separately, the IAEA agreed on a Framework for Cooperation with Iran under which Iran agreed to implement six practical measures within three months. Iran implemented them as planned.

Last month, the Agency and Iran agreed on the next seven practical measures, which are to be implemented by 15 May.

As I told our Board a few weeks ago, the measures implemented by Iran, and the further commitments it has undertaken, represent a positive step forward. But much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues.

In particular, clarification of all issues related to possible military dimensions, and implementation by Iran of its Additional Protocol, are essential for the Agency to resolve all outstanding issues related to Iran's nuclear activities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There has, regrettably, been no movement on a non-proliferation issue of more immediate relevance to this part of the world - North Korea.

It will be five years next month since Agency inspectors were asked to leave North Korea. Nevertheless, the Agency maintains its readiness to play an essential role in verifying the DPRK's nuclear programme.

I continue to call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations and to cooperate fully with the Agency.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The founding fathers of the IAEA clearly defined the objective of the IAEA, which is "Atoms for Peace".

Our work on Iran and North Korea is an example of our efforts to contribute to international peace and security. We have also been contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by making peaceful nuclear technology available to developing countries.

The IAEA delivers concrete results and our work is valued by our Member States. We will continue to pursue our multifaceted objectives in a balanced manner in the coming years.

I will stop here and will be happy to take your questions.

Thank you.