Grossi highlights IAEA's activities for UN General Assembly

12 November 2020

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly for the first time since his appointment as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi spoke of the global impact of COVID-19 and climate change, as well as of the role of nuclear technologies in tackling these and other development challenges.

Grossi addressing the UN General Assembly (Image: IAEA)

Grossi said: "My first trip outside of Austria as director general was to the COP 25 climate change conference in Madrid last December. I wanted to send a very clear message - that nuclear power is part of the solution to the climate crisis. I am keen to ensure that the agency's voice is heard on the great benefits of nuclear power."

He noted 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 its high case scenario. "Climate change mitigation remains a key potential driver for the use of nuclear power," Grossi said. "The great benefits of nuclear technologies are sustainable only if they are used safely and securely."

The IAEA assisted 147 countries and territories last year through its technical cooperation programme, 35 of which were for the least developed countries, he said. The main focus of its work was on health and nutrition, nuclear safety and security, and food and agriculture.

COVID-19 pandemic

Grossi spoke about how the IAEA adapted its operations during the lockdown earlier this year, moving many of its activities online and organising meetings, training courses and webinars including sessions supporting radiologists, nuclear power plant operators and nuclear safety specialists in carrying out their work in the face of the pandemic. He recalled the IAEA's emergency COVID-19 support to its Member States in the use of RT-PCR, a nuclear derived technique used for the detection of the virus that causes the disease.

"We launched the largest operation in the Agency's history to help countries confront the coronavirus," he said. "Nearly 1500 consignments of equipment for virus detection and diagnosis, and other supplies, have been delivered to some 125 countries."

Grossi spoke of the new IAEA Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative to help the world be better prepared for future pandemics. ZODIAC will include a global network of diagnostic laboratories working towards the monitoring, detection and control of zoonotic diseases - diseases transmitted from animals to humans.

"Member States will have access to nuclear or nuclear-derived equipment, technology packages, expertise, guidance and training. Decision-makers will receive up-to-date, user-friendly information that will enable them to act quickly."

Safeguard activities

"As far as safeguards implementation is concerned, we continued to carry out all of our most time-critical in-field verification work, while rescheduling some less urgent activities, such as equipment installation and maintenance," Grossi said.

The IAEA 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 for Iran continue. In August, Grossi visited Tehran and met with President Rouhani and other senior officials. During the visit, an agreement was reached on the resolution of some safeguards implementation issues, including access by IAEA inspectors to two locations in Iran. Inspections have since taken place at both locations and environmental samples taken by inspectors are being analysed.

"I welcome the agreement between the agency and Iran, which I hope will reinforce cooperation and enhance mutual trust."

North Korea's nuclear activities "remain a cause for serious concern," Grossi said. "The continuation of the country's nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable." He called on North Korea to comply fully with its obligations under Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the IAEA in the full and effective implementation of its NPT Safeguards Agreement, and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of inspectors from the country.

"The agency is intensifying its readiness to play its essential role in verifying the North Korea's nuclear programme," he said.

In a resolution adopted following Grossi's address, the General Assembly reaffirmed "its strong support for the indispensable role of the agency in encouraging and assisting the development and practical application of atomic energy for peaceful uses, in technology transfer to developing countries and in nuclear safety, verification and security." It appealed to Member States "to continue to support the activities of the agency".

It further expressed its appreciation "for the leadership of the director general and for the professionalism of the staff of the agency during the COVID-19 pandemic".

Researched and written by World Nuclear News