IAEA kicks off annual meeting in Vienna

September 22, 2020, 12:00PMNuclear News

IAEA General Director Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks to socially distanced attendees at the agency’s 64th General Conference plenary session on September 21. Photo: D. Calma/IAEA

With special precautions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Atomic Energy Agency commenced its week-long 64th General Conference yesterday with a plenary session that included remarks from Rafael Mariano Grossi, the agency’s director general.

“The latest IAEA annual projections show that nuclear power will continue to play a key role in the world’s low-carbon energy mix, with global nuclear electrical capacity seen nearly doubling by 2050 in our high-case scenario,” Grossi said, referring to a recently released agency report. “Climate change mitigation remains a key potential driver for maintaining and expanding the use of nuclear power.”

The IAEA conference runs through September 25.

Grossi touched briefly on a range of topics in his comments, including:

The pandemic: Grossi highlighted the IAEA’s continued verification work during the pandemic to prevent the misuse of nuclear materials, as well as the launch of what he termed “the largest operation in the agency’s history to help countries confront the coronavirus.” He said that 1,300 consignments of equipment for virus detection and diagnosis and other supplies have been delivered, or are in transit, to 123 countries.

Grossi also encouraged member states to support the IAEA’s Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action project to establish a global network of national diagnostic laboratories for the monitoring, surveillance, early detection, and control of zoonotic diseases using nuclear or nuclear-derived techniques.

“Member states will have access to equipment, technology packages, expertise, guidance, and training,” Grossi said. “Decision-makers will receive up-to-date, user-friendly information that will enable them to act quickly. We will work closely with partners such as the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I encourage all member states to fully support this important initiative.”

Technical cooperation: The IAEA assisted 147 countries and territories last year through its Technical Cooperation Program, 35 of which were “least developed countries,” Grossi said. He added that the main focus of the agency’s work was on health and nutrition, nuclear safety and security, and food and agriculture.

Safeguards: The IAEA continues to carry out all of its most time-critical in-field safeguards verification work, while rescheduling some less urgent activities, such as equipment installation and maintenance, Grossi said. He noted that for the first time the agency chartered aircraft to enable its inspectors to reach their destinations. The number of states with safeguards agreements in force stands at 184, according to Grossi,136 of which have brought Additional Protocols into force.

“The performance of state or regional authorities [SRA] and state systems of accounting for and control of nuclear materials [SSAC] has a direct impact upon the effectiveness and efficiency of safeguards implementation,” he said. “I have therefore launched a new initiative, known as COMPASS, to help states further strengthen the effectiveness of their SRA and SSAC. Building on existing capacity-development programs, this initiative will offer additional, tailored assistance to member states.”

Iran and North Korea: The IAEA continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its safeguard agreement, according to Grossi. “Last month, I went to Tehran for discussions with President Rouhani and other senior officials,” he said. “We reached agreement on the resolution of some safeguards-implementation issues raised by the agency. The agency subsequently conducted a complementary access, under the Additional Protocol, at one of two locations specified by us. Our inspectors took environmental samples, which will be analyzed. A complementary access at the second specified location will take place later this month.”

The IAEA is also monitoring the nuclear program of North Korea, Grossi said, using open-source information, including satellite imagery. He described the country’s nuclear program as a clear violation of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. “I call upon [North Korea] to comply fully with its obligations under Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the agency in the full and effective implementation of its NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Safeguards Agreement, and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of agency inspectors from the country,” he said.

The ReNuAL project: Grossi lauded the modernization of the IAEA’s nuclear applications laboratories at Seibersdorf, Austria (under the Renovation of the Nuclear Applications Laboratories [ReNuAL] initiative), calling it “one of the most exciting and ambitious projects” the agency has ever undertaken.

In addition, he said, in June the IAEA achieved another milestone with the opening of the new Yukiya Amano Laboratories building at Seibersdorf, named after the IAEA’s previous director general, who died last year.)

Grossi continued that thanks to support of member states, four of eight laboratories now occupy brand new facilities. The need to modernize the remaining four laboratories was not addressed under ReNuAL, Grossi said, but he has proposed a final phase comprising the construction of a new building to house three labs and refurbish the Dosimetry Lab wing of the existing lab building. The project also would replace aging greenhouses. "These are essential for our work on climate-smart agriculture, resource management, and food security,” he said.

Climate change: The 442 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries today provide approximately 390 gigawatts of installed capacity, Grossi said, supplying more than 10 percent of the world’s electricity and about a third of all low-carbon electricity. There are also 53 reactors under construction in 19 countries, he noted, which are expected to provide 56 gigawatts of additional capacity.

With special precautions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Atomic Energy Agency commenced its week-long 64th General Conference yesterday with a plenary session that included remarks from Rafael Mariano Grossi, the agency’s director general. Grossi touched briefly on a range of topics in his comments.

“The latest IAEA annual projections show that nuclear power will continue to play a key role in the world’s low-carbon energy mix, with global nuclear electrical capacity seen nearly doubling by 2050 in our high-case scenario,” Grossi said, referring to a recently released agency report. “Climate change mitigation remains a key potential driver for maintaining and expanding the use of nuclear power.”

The IAEA conference runs through September 25.


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