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UN atomic agency hears wide-ranging review of nuclear dangers and benefits

UN atomic agency hears wide-ranging review of nuclear dangers and benefits

ElBaradei at the IAEA Conference in Vienna
From the dangers of terrorism and proliferation to the benefits of enhanced energy, health care and food production, the United Nations atomic watchdog agency today opened its annual General Conference with a wide-ranging review of the full spectrum of the nuclear field.

“As we look to the future, it is important that our vision be clear and ambitious – for much remains to be done,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the opening session of the week-long meeting in Vienna.

Appointed to a third consecutive four-year term, Mr. ElBaradei outlined visions for the fields of nuclear power, nuclear safety, nuclear security, nuclear safeguards, and applications of nuclear science and technology.

He cited priorities for universalizing additional protocols to strengthen safeguards for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and investigating the nature and extent of the illicit procurement network.

“The current challenges to international peace and security, including those related to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear arms control, cannot be wished away, and will continue to stare us in the face,” he said citing challenges such as those presented by the nuclear programmes of Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

“All States must step up and pursue, at the highest policy levels, the urgently needed reforms to our global security system,” he added, stressing the need to “secure radioactive sources, assess the vulnerabilities of nuclear facilities, bolster physical protection, and improve capabilities for detecting illicit activity involving nuclear and radioactive material” in the fight against terrorism.

On nuclear power, he urged greater focus on “energy for development,” calling energy shortages in developing countries a “major impediment” to efforts to end poverty.

“Fast-growing global energy demands, an increased emphasis on the security of energy supply, and the risk of climate change are driving a reconsideration, in many quarters, of the advisability of investment in nuclear power,” he said. “It is clear that nuclear energy is regaining stature as a serious option.”

On health care, Mr. ElBaradei cited the limited or non-existent access in many areas to life-saving radiotherapy in fighting cancer, noting that while Austria has one radiotherapy machine for every 270,000 people, in most African countries, the ratio is about 1 machine for every 10 million people, and some countries have no such facilities.

“The Agency´s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) is designed to increase our capacity to assist developing Member States, by mobilizing more resources to address personnel, infrastructure, technology and training needs,” he declared.

Research is progressing on using the sterile insect technique (SIT) against malaria-bearing mosquitoes, with a feasibility study under way in the Nile region of northern Sudan, he added.

On food and agriculture he pointed to continued rich results from research and development in the use of isotopes and radiation in creating new crops as well as applying SIT to create zones free of the tsetse fly.

“We should continue to seek out new applications in which nuclear technology can offer tangible benefits to society,” he said.