IAEA's Feruta thanks Members States for 'steadfast support'

16 September 2019

The last few months have been a testing time for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but with the "steadfast support" of its 171 Member States and the dedication of its excellent staff, it has demonstrated strength and resilience in continuing to fulfil its responsibilities, Cornel Feruta, acting director general of the Vienna-based agency said in his opening address to the 63rd regular session of the IAEA General Conference.

Cornel Feruta, acting director general of the IAEA (Image: D Calma / IAEA)

The untimely death of IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in July “left us deeply saddened”, Feruta said, adding, “We are grateful for his outstanding legacy.” An important part of this legacy is the expanded IAEA motto, Atoms for Peace and Development, which encapsulates the unique dual role of the agency, he said.

"I am very pleased that the General Conference has designated the new Flexible Modular Laboratory The Yukiya Amano Laboratories. This is well-deserved recognition of the key role that DG Amano played in the modernisation of the IAEA nuclear applications laboratories."

The IAEA contributes to international peace and security by verifying that nuclear material remains in peaceful uses, he said, and it helps to improve the well-being and prosperity of the people of the world through the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

"No other international organisation offers the range of services related to nuclear science and technology that the IAEA does," he said. It contributes directly to the achievement of nine of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and indirectly to several more, he added.

“We help countries on all continents to generate electricity, produce more food, manage their water supplies, combat deadly infectious diseases affecting humans, plants and animals, and treat cancer - to name just a few of the many valuable uses of nuclear science and technology.

"Our safeguards inspectors are on the road every day of the year, keeping track of nuclear material to verify that it is not diverted from peaceful activities. We serve as the global platform for cooperation in safety and security, helping countries to keep nuclear and radioactive material and technologies safe, and out of the hands of terrorists and other criminals."

For more than six decades, the agency has won the trust of Member States through its technical expertise, impartiality and independence, he said.

"Despite pressure on our budget in recent years, we have continued to deliver high-quality services. We have seen steady growth in our membership over the decades and a constant increase in demand for our services. As we look to the future at this time of transition, the focus of all agency staff will be on continuing to deliver tangible results that make a real difference to the people of the world."

The IAEA now implements safeguards for 182 States. The number of facilities and the quantities of nuclear material under IAEA safeguards continue to grow. The number of States with additional protocols in force stands at 134. Two countries will sign additional protocols during this session of the General Conference.

In the past year, the agency has continued to verify and monitor Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and it will continue to do so, he said.

"A week ago, I visited Tehran for talks with senior Iranian officials. We discussed our activities under the JCPOA and the implementation of safeguards in Iran. I continue to emphasise the importance of full and timely cooperation by Iran in the implementation of its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol."

The agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. Evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran continue.

It is more than 10 years since IAEA inspectors were required to leave North Korea, but it continues to monitor the DPRK's nuclear programme, including through satellite imagery, he said.

"The DPRK's nuclear activities remain a cause for serious concern. The continuation of that programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.The agency remains ready to play an essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme if a political agreement is reached among countries concerned. I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the Agency and to resolve all outstanding issues."

One of the highlights of the year since the last General Conference, he said, was its first-ever ministerial-level conference on nuclear science and technology, he said, and the Ministerial Declaration recognised the importance of science and technology for development. The IAEA Technical Cooperation Programme is its key mechanism for helping Member States to make optimal use of peaceful nuclear science and technology.

The main focus of Technical Cooperation spending last year, he said, was on health and nutrition, nuclear safety, and food and agriculture. It is important that this funding be maintained at a level that ensures it can meet growing demand for agency services, he said.

This year, the IAEA has provided assistance to Member States in response to crises. In Bangladesh, for example, an emergency mission including experts from the agency and the World Health Organisation (WHO) visited the country’s capital Dhaka last month to assess the feasibility of applying the sterile insect technique to control the worst outbreak of dengue fever since 2000.

Cancer remains a key focus of the IAEA’s work, he said, and its 2019 Scientific Forum, which starts tomorrow, will highlight its work in this important area in the last decade. The agency and WHO have developed a Roadmap towards a National Cancer Control Programme, which sets out milestones which countries can follow in establishing nuclear medicine, diagnostic imaging and radiotherapy services. This document will be launched tomorrow at the Scientific Forum and should serve as an “indispensable tool” for Member States, he said.

The installation of the IAEA’s first Linear Accelerator at its Dosimetry Laboratory in Seibersdorf, near Vienna, this year enables it to provide expanded dosimetry calibration services to Member States. This was part of the modernisation of the IAEA nuclear applications laboratories, which he said was one of the most important projects ever undertaken by the agency.

In August, the Insect Pest Control Laboratory was handed over by the contractor and the agency began a phased transition into operation. The new Flexible Modular Laboratory building, now known as The Yukiya Amano Laboratories, will be ready for use next April.

Feruta stressed the importance of involving young people in its work to promote the benefits of nuclear science and technology. Agency initiatives, in collaboration with partners including the International Youth Nuclear Congress, encourage young people to consider careers in the nuclear field, he said.

The IAEA's latest annual projections show that, despite the declining trend for installed capacity up to 2050, nuclear power will continue to play a key role in the world’s low-carbon energy mix.

The transition to clean energy will be the subject of its International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power next month. This will provide a platform for objective discussion of the scientific case for making more use of nuclear power to help combat climate change, he said.

It is in the final phase of making the IAEA LEU Bank in Kazakhstan operational, he said, and expects the first delivery of low-enriched uranium to the Storage Facility to take place within several weeks, at which point the IAEA LEU Bank will become established.

The great benefits of nuclear technologies are sustainable only if they are used safely and securely, he said.

"IAEA Safety Standards are used voluntarily by almost all countries to protect people and the environment from harmful effects of ionising radiation. This year, we completed a revision of the structure of the safety standards to make them stronger and easier to use."

Member States make extensive use of expert peer review and advisory services provided by the agency to help them continuously enhance nuclear safety and security, he said, adding, "We continue to assess these services to ensure that they meet the needs of Member States.” The next IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security will take place at ministerial level in Vienna next February.

Increasing the proportion of women on the Agency's staff, especially at senior levels, remains a priority, he said, adding that, for the first time, women represent more than 30% of staff at the professional level and above.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News