Non-proliferation dominates as IAEA looks to the future

23 September 2008

Verification work in North Korea, Iran, Syria and Libya has dominated the board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, the board is also considering proposals on the future of the agency.


ElBaradei 220908 (IAEA) 
Mohamed ElBaradei makes his address
(Image: IAEA)
The current status of nuclear activities in North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria featured heavily in ElBaradei's introductory statement to the September meeting of the agency's 35-member board, overshadowing the agency's main roles in the peaceful uses of radiation and nuclear energy.


After explaining the situation in each country that is receiving intensified IAEA attention, ElBaradei welcomed discussion on proposals contained in The Report of the Commission of Eminent Persons on the Future of the Agency. He said member states' decisions in coming years would determine the agency is able to join "efforts of all of us to create a just, humane world at peace with itself."


North Korea agreed in February 2007 to close its nuclear weapons facilities and destroy its nuclear weapons. The closure of the plutonium-producing Yongbyon reactor, along with a used nuclear fuel reprocessing plant and a fuel fabrication plant at the same site, was verified that July.


The IAEA has continued to verify the shut-down status of the Yongbyon facilities and to carry out monitoring under an ad hoc agreement, and has been able to observe and document, but not participate in, disablement activities. However, according to ElBaradei, some equipment previously removed during the disablement process has now been brought back to the Yongbyon site. "This morning," he told the IAEA board on 22 September, "the DPRK authorities asked the Agency's inspectors to remove seals and surveillance equipment to enable them to carry out tests at the reprocessing plant, which they say will not involve nuclear material." Recent reports have suggested that the country is preparing to restore the shut-down reactor, although this would be impossible without the cooling tower that was demolished in June.


"Share", Iran and accusers told


Despite continuing to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, the IAEA's inability to make headway over allegations about possible military dimensions to that country's nuclear program remain of "serious concern", ElBaradei said. Documentation passed to the IAEA by member countries would appear to suggest that Iran is working towards nuclear weapons but Iran denies such activities and maintains that the accusing documents are fabricated or forged and has asked to be provided with the originals or copies of the documentation.


The director general is clearly not at ease with the situation. "I call upon member states which provided the agency with documentation related to the alleged studies to authorize the agency to share it with Iran", ElBaradei said. He also urged Iran to implement greater transparency, saying it must back up its claims with information to support its statements as well as provide access to relevant documentation and individuals.


Libya praised, Syria cooperating


The IAEA is now able to implement nuclear safeguards in Libya in a routine manner, following the conclusion of its investigations in the country, ElBaradei noted, remarking on the "unrestricted and prompt access" to locations, information and individuals that Libya had provided beyond that required under safeguards agreements. However, he reiterated the existence of sensitive information in electronic formats uncovered during the investigation as a matter of serious concern.


Regarding claims that an installation at Al Kibar in Syria, destroyed by Israel in September 2007, had been a nuclear reactor, ElBaradei confirmed that agency inspectors had visited the site, with Syria's cooperation, in June 2008. No indication of any nuclear material had yet been found, he noted, although samples from the site were still being analysed. Requests for access to additional information and locations had not yet been responded to, although Syria had indicated that further developments would be contingent on the results from the samples taken during the first visit. "I trust that Syria will show maximum cooperation and transparency and provide all the information needed by the agency to complete its assessment," ElBaradei noted.


The IAEA's board of governors, representing 35 of the Agency's member states, is meeting in advance of the 52nd IAEA General Conference, which takes place from 29 September to 4 October.