Opening of the 55th IAEA General Conference

Sep 20 2011
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament

Sonia Drobysz and Kate Farrell, Vienna

This morning the 55th regular session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference opened in Vienna. After welcoming all the participants the elected president of the conference, Ambassador Cornel Feruta of Romania, highlighted nuclear safety as one of the main topics of this year’s session. He called on the plenary to endorse the action plan on nuclear safety and security adopted by the IAEA Board of Governors last week. The plan was presented as the first step of an ongoing effort to ensure all nuclear activities are conducted in a safe manner.

The Opening Statement
In his opening statement, IAEA Director General (DG) Yukiya Amano continued the discussion on safety. After reporting on the status of the Fukushima Daiichi plant and the work of the IAEA International Fact-Finding expert mission in Japan, he insisted on the need to rebuild confidence in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. He affirmed the Agency’s will to undertake concrete actions in the field of safety, in a transparent manner. Later on, the Japanese delegate reported more specifically on the follow-up actions taken since the accident.

Verification featured on the Director General’s agenda. In his speech, he reaffirmed the importance of the additional protocol, which is now in force in 110 states. Its universalization was strongly encouraged, as was the entry into force of comprehensive safeguards agreements in the remaining 15 non-nuclear-weapon states parties to the NPT without such safeguards. This sentiment, along with the importance of strengthened safeguards, was reiterated by several states.

Addressing verification implementation issues in Iran and Syria, the DG also emphasized that the Agency’s knowledge of the DPRK nuclear programme remained limited. However, he mentioned that he had been able to provide a historical review and update on recent developments of the programme in his last report. He expressed particular concern over information regarding the construction of a new enrichment facility and a light water reactor.

Making progress
On a more positive note, Amano announced that he will convene a forum to discuss a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East. The importance of this forum was stressed in country statements, and many welcomed the IAEA role in fostering dialogue in this area. The event will be held in Vienna on November 21st and 22nd this year and Jan Petersen, Norwegian ambassador to Austria, accepted the chairmanship.

The DG also underlined progress made on measures to ensure reliable and safeguarded supplies of nuclear fuel. He mentioned that the guaranteed Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) reserve in Angarsk, which now has 120 tons of LEU, has been available for IAEA Member States since February. Agreement on the site for an IAEA LEU bank is also being sought through discussions with Kazakhstan.

Turning to nuclear security, the DG welcomed that 113 States are now participating in the Illicit Trafficking Database. He noted however that despite such increased participation, security weaknesses continue and must be addressed. In this respect, entry-into-force of the amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials was strongly encouraged.

Parallel to the legal and political support required to strengthen the international framework for the safe usage of nuclear energy, the importance of financial support to the Agency’s activities was also raised. Reporting the official opening of the Clean Laboratory Extension that ‘greatly improves the Agency’s ability to independently analyse environmental samples for safeguards’, the DG reminded delegates that such improvements rely heavily on extra-budgetary contributions. Facing increasing demands in all domains of its mandate, the Agency will thus need its Member States to agree on a reasonable increase in resources to ensure the agency can continue to cope with its growing workload.

Other activities
Today, VERTIC Senior Researcher Dr David Keir also made a presentation to the IAEA General Conference. Dr Keir addressed the issue of multilateral disarmament verification - a subject area that the VERTIC Arms Control and Disarmament Programme is particularly active in. This presentation is available in full on the VERTIC website here.

Last changed: Sep 20 2011 at 8:39 PM

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