Atoms for Peace in the 21st Century

by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano - 28 April 2011

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking Secretary-General Angel Gurria for inviting me to speak to you today. We at the IAEA greatly value our cooperation with the OECD, and, in particular, with the Nuclear Energy Agency.

When I accepted the invitation last October to address the OECD Council, I expected to talk to you about current developments at the IAEA across the broad range of our activities. However, our work at the moment is heavily focused on the very serious accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan which occurred on March 11. I will therefore begin by saying a few words about the accident and its implications for global nuclear safety, before giving you a brief update on key IAEA activities in other areas.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, the accident at Fukushima Daiichi was caused by an earthquake and tsunami of unprecedented severity. Seven weeks later, the overall situation remains very serious, but there are signs of recovery in some functions such as electrical power and instrumentation. The most important thing for now remains the full stabilisation of the nuclear power plant. The plant operator TEPCO recently presented a roadmap for achieving this goal, which is expected to take at least a year. I hope that it will be implemented successfully. The IAEA is providing all possible advice and assistance.

The release of radioactive material into the environment following the Fukushima Daiichi accident has caused great anxiety, not just in the vicinity of the plant, but also in countries far from Japan. Although the levels of radioactivity measured in other countries are very low and do not represent a risk to human health, the anxiety should be taken very seriously. Public confidence in the safety of nuclear power plants has been deeply shaken throughout the world. We must therefore continue to work hard on improving the safety of nuclear power plants and ensuring transparency about the risks of radiation. Only in this way will we succeed in addressing the concerns that have been raised by Fukushima Daiichi.

The Fukushima Daiichi accident will need to be properly assessed and the appropriate lessons must be learned. More than ever before, our watchword must now be "Safety First." The IAEA is where the international discussion about the way ahead should take place. We have broad membership and considerable technical expertise, accumulated over five decades. We can also ensure the necessary transparency. In order to provide high-level political support for this important process, I have proposed that an IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety should take place from June 20 to 24 in Vienna. The Conference, to which the OECD/NEA has been invited, is likely to make a preliminary assessment of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, to discuss ways of strengthening emergency preparedness and response and to review nuclear safety generally.

It remains to be seen what the long-term consequences of the accident will be for the nuclear power sector. As I mentioned, it has already had a negative impact on social acceptance of nuclear power and some countries have announced reviews of their plans in this field. However, the basic drivers behind the resurgence of interest in nuclear power which we have witnessed in recent years have not changed as a result of Fukushima Daiichi. These include rising global energy demand as well as concerns about climate change, volatile fossil fuel prices and energy security. It is advisable for countries to frame their energy policies in a broad context and with a long-term perspective in mind. Nuclear power will remain an important option for many countries, so it is essential that we continue to work on improving nuclear safety.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Responding to the Fukushima Daiichi crisis is a major effort for the IAEA right now, but it is not distracting us from our many other activities. We continue to work hard in areas including nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear security, health, food and water. I would like to give you a brief overview of current developments in these areas.

In safeguards, the Agency's job is to verify that States are fully complying with their non-proliferation obligations and to confirm that nuclear material is being used for peaceful purposes.

My basic approach since taking up office in December 2009 has been very simple: all safeguards agreements between Member States and the Agency, and other relevant obligations, should be implemented fully.

In the case of Iran, I have reported regularly to the Board of Governors that the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material. But Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the Agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.

Full implementation by Iran of its obligations is needed to establish international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. In particular, Iran needs to engage with the Agency to clarify outstanding issues which give rise to concerns about possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme.

The case of Syria is quite different. It involves questions about the nature of the Dair Alzour site which was allegedly destroyed by Israel in 2007. Agency inspectors were granted access to the destroyed site once, in 2008, but since then Syria has been stonewalling. Therefore, we have not been able to make progress towards resolving outstanding issues related to that site. I have asked Syria to provide the Agency with prompt access to relevant information and locations and to cooperate regarding the Agency's verification activities in general. We have still not been granted the level of access which we requested, but we have been collecting and analysing information from our own sources. This situation cannot continue indefinitely and it is important that it is brought to a conclusion.

The nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea remains a matter of serious concern for the North-East Asia region, as well as for the wider international community. As you may be aware, the DPRK ceased all cooperation with the Agency and our inspectors are no longer in the country. Reports last year about the construction of a new uranium enrichment facility and a light water reactor in the DPRK were deeply troubling. I regard the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as a matter of great importance. As the only multilateral organization for nuclear verification, the IAEA has an essential role to play in verifying the DPRK's nuclear programme and it should be present in the country.

Another important part of the Agency's work is helping countries to reduce the risk of terrorists obtaining nuclear or radioactive material and to prevent sabotage at nuclear facilities. Throughout the world, there is too much nuclear and radioactive material which is not properly secured. The IAEA has an extensive nuclear security programme which covers everything from physical protection at facilities to radiation detection and response. We also help States to ensure nuclear security at major public events. For example, we are currently discussing possible support to the London Olympic Games next year and have a well-developed programme of assistance to Poland and Ukraine as hosts of the 2012 European Football Championship. Last year, President Obama hosted a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington at which leaders expressed strong support for the work of the IAEA in this field. I look forward to the follow-up summit in Seoul next year.

The IAEA maintains an Illicit Trafficking Database, which is the most authoritative global source of information on thefts or other unauthorized activities involving nuclear materials. We have trained around 9,000 people in 120 countries on all aspects of nuclear security and helped to repatriate highly enriched uranium research reactor fuel to the countries which produced it.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The IAEA's statutory objective is "to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world." That has often been summarised as "Atoms for Peace." Our work in making nuclear techniques available in areas such as health care and nutrition, food security, the environment and water resource management is extremely important for many Member States. IAEA assistance is delivered through our extensive Technical Cooperation programme.

I made cancer in developing countries a high priority for my first year in office because I wanted to ensure that these countries derive maximum benefit from the IAEA's expertise in nuclear medicine and radiotherapy. Cancer was once considered a disease of rich countries, but it has now reached epidemic proportions in the developing world. Many of these countries are completely unequipped to provide adequate diagnosis and treatment for cancer. Some do not have a single radiotherapy machine. This means countless thousands of people die of cancer in developing countries who could be successfully treated, or even cured, if they lived in developed countries. Since 1980, the IAEA has delivered an extensive programme of cancer-related assistance to developing countries. This has involved establishing and upgrading radiotherapy and oncology centres and providing training for medical and technical staff. Cancer in developing countries will remain a high priority for me. I will be grateful for all the support which OECD Member States can provide to this noble cause.

This year, we are focussing on nuclear techniques for water. This encompasses three important areas of the Agency's work: water resources assessment, agricultural water management, and aquatic pollution control. Nearly a billion people still lack access to adequate drinking water. The Agency is in a special position to help countries to undertake comprehensive assessments of water resources by making available unique information provided through the techniques of isotope hydrology. The IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco, which celebrate their 50th birthday this year, make isotopic techniques available to help track phenomena such as ocean acidification and improve understanding of climate change. OECD members, including European countries, the United States and Japan, have been very active in water-related issues. I count on OECD member states to support IAEA efforts in this area.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to conclude by expressing my appreciation once again for the excellent cooperation between the IAEA and the OECD/NEA. I am in regular contact with Director General Luis Echavarri, who is an active member of the International Nuclear Safety Group (INSAG), which provides valuable advice on nuclear safety approaches, policies and principles. The IAEA has a unique role in areas such as nuclear safeguards, nuclear security and technical cooperation. But our membership overlaps with that of the NEA and the work of our two organizations is complementary in nuclear safety, nuclear energy and related fields. We worked effectively together in 2009-2010 to help alleviate a global shortage of the radioisotope Molybdenum-99, which had potentially life-threatening consequences for thousands of patients throughout the world. Since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, our technical teams have held regular video conferences to share information. I expect cooperation between the IAEA and the OECD/NEA in developing new generations of nuclear reactors with enhanced safety features to increase in the coming years. Sharing the experience of countries with advanced nuclear power programmes with those introducing nuclear energy for the first time will be another important area of collaboration for us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Many of the challenges which the IAEA faces today are very different from those envisaged by our founders more than 50 years ago. Today, it is not the risk of the most industrialised countries developing nuclear weapons that preoccupies the international community. Concern is focused instead on countries such as North Korea, which, contrary to its non-proliferation commitments, has developed nuclear weapons, or Iran, which is not fully implementing its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the Agency and its other relevant obligations. For decades, nuclear power generation was the preserve of developed countries. Today, dozens of developing countries are considering launching nuclear power programmes. The possibility of nuclear terrorism was simply not an issue in the 1950s. Today, it is high on the agenda of world leaders. Cancer was long considered a disease of the rich world, while today it is spreading to a frightening extent in the developing world.

Despite these changes, the core objective of "Atoms for Peace" — making the benefits of nuclear science and technology available for peaceful, but not military, purposes — remains valid. My goal as Director General is to help our Member States to use nuclear techniques to meet the challenges they face in many areas in the 21st century. In working towards that goal, I greatly value our relationship with the OECD/NEA. I look forward to strengthening our cooperation with you in the years to come.

Thank you

Last reviewed: 2 May 2011