It seems time for some more good news. In opening up the homepage from the International Atomic Energy Agency website, the lead article read: “EU and IAEA Review Progress and Agree on Priorities in Nuclear Cooperation at Annual Meeting.” There it was: an actual story of agreement and cooperation! The article went on to discuss what happened at their seventh annual Senior Officials Meeting in Luxembourg on Feb 12th, 2019, where members of both the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency gathered to evaluate their work together.
The delegates recognized the progress they’d made and agreed to further enhance cooperation. How grand! “The talks provided a forum for exchanging views on strengthening collaboration on nuclear safety, security, safeguards and nuclear research, innovation and training,” especially commending the progress of those first three. “Nuclear safety and security remain a major priority in the EU” and last year was the first ever “topical peer review on ageing management of nuclear power plants and research reactors.” These services were being widely used by EU members to fulfil their legal obligations on nuclear safety and waste management, supporting continuous safety improvements.
“The EU reiterated its support for the IAEA’s role in verifying and monitoring the implementation of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).” It is helpful to note that the effectiveness of the inspectors depends upon the extent to which a government provides information and access to its nuclear sites. For example the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) joined the IAEA in 1974, but withdrew in 1994. In 2018 IAEA efforts to monitor their nuclear activity was limited. They were allowed to observe activities but were not allowed access to verify their purpose. By contrast Iran became a member in 1958 and has allowed monitoring including their compliance with the JCPOA on an ongoing basis. The IAEA Director General reported on the agency's most recent activity to the IAEA Board of Governors in March 2019.
However, the only news we usually hear about is casual reference to the work of the IAEA in Iran or North Korea. It’s time to consider what other work is going on in this important agency.
Let’s start with a bit of history. The year was 1953 and President Dwight Eisenhower was addressing the UN General Assembly at the opening of their 8th session. The Cold War was just beginning with testing of nuclear weapons by Russia, Great Britain, and the United States, growing discussion, research, and fear of the use of nuclear energy. The President announced a plan of “Atoms for Peace”, recognizing the need for the peaceful uses of the atom. By 1957 his words came to life with the creation of a new agency called the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), born on July 27th with the US ratification of the senate based on his 1953 speech.
From its beginning, the agency’s mandate was to “work with Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear technology”. However, the mandate was dual in nature: to promote and to control the atom. “It shall ensure, so far as it is able that assistance provided by it or its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose.” Hence inspections to control/monitor military installations, in compliance with government accountability to treaty provisions, Security Council resolutions, or disarmament undertakings.
So as of today, the International Atomic Energy Agency is the “world's central intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the nuclear field. It works for the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology, contributing to international peace and security and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.”
As of Feb 2, 2019, total state membership in the IAEA is 171. The main headquarters (decided at the first meeting of the membership in 1957) is in Vienna, Austria. Regional offices were set up in Toronto, Tokyo, New York City, and Geneva, with laboratories specializing in peaceful nuclear technology established in Austria and Monaco.
The IAEA has a wide range of topics it works on: energy, health, and environmental issues as well as the areas of water, food, and agriculture. Under the area of nuclear safety and security, the agency works on nuclear installation safety, radiation protection, security of nuclear and other radioactive material, transport, and emergency awareness and response. Safeguards and verification work includes defining of basic safeguards, implementing them, developing legal frameworks, and offering assistance to member states.
The IAEA helps the advancement of this broad field by calling conferences for sectors of professionals to encourage sharing of experiences and research. For an example of how this process – one very familiar in the United Nations system – works for the IAEA, consider the planning that is going into a conference in Vienna in June 2019: the International Conference on the Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors 2019. Main topics to be covered so far are identified along with scope and objectives, key deadlines, greening: how the conference is being organized according to the guidelines of the Austrian Ecolable (areas of paper smart documentation, waste reduction and recycling, and environmentally friendly catering) audience, and the conference app. Once proposals are accepted, the program will be organized and posted.
A glance at the titles of their weekly newsletter gives you a further idea of the nature of their work. Recent articles include:
- Nuclear Technology Helps Develop New Barley Variety in Kuwait
- IAEA Radiation Monitoring Laboratory
- IAEA Holds First School on Drafting Nuclear Security Regulations for African Countries
- Nuclear Science: A Vital Weapon Against Infection
- International Experts Review Mauritius’ Cancer Control Services
While efforts are underway to ban the use of nuclear weapons, the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes continues thanks to the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency.