At a time of growing global energy demand, mounting concern over nuclear proliferation as evidenced in Iran and the danger of nuclear materials falling into terrorist hands, the head of the United Nations atomic watchdog today called for conversion of enrichment and reprocessing facilities from national to multilateral operations.
“Given the dual nature of nuclear science – its potential to bring great benefit or great destruction to humanity – it should not surprise us that, as times change, our frameworks for dealing with nuclear technology and nuclear material must adapt accordingly,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said on the second day of the body’s 50th general conference in Vienna.
“Five years ago, in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, we realized the vulnerability of nuclear and radiological materials as a tool for terrorists, and we re-engineered our nuclear security programme,” he told a Special Event on Assurances of Supply and Non-Proliferation to discuss a new framework.
“Today we are faced with two additional challenges. The increase in global energy demand is driving a potential expansion in the use of nuclear energy. And concern is mounting regarding the proliferation risks created by the ongoing spread of sensitive nuclear technology, such as that used in uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel reprocessing.”
Under the proposed multilateral framework, all countries that fulfil their non-proliferation obligations would get the fuel and technology they need without being subject to extraneous political considerations that have applied in the past.
The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a charitable organization dedicated to reducing the threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, said it would contribute $50 million to the IAEA to help create a low-enriched uranium stockpile for nations that choose not to build indigenous nuclear fuel cycle capabilities.
The grant, announced by NTI Co-Chairman former United States Senator Sam Nunn, is contingent on two conditions being met in the next two years: that the IAEA takes the necessary actions to approve establishment of this reserve and that one or more member states contribute $100 million or an equivalent value of low enriched uranium.
“This generous NTI pledge will jump start the nuclear fuel bank initiative,” Mr. ElBaradei said. “It will provide urgent impetus to our efforts to establish mechanisms for non-discriminatory, non-political assurances of supply of fuel for nuclear power plants.”
The question of the supply of enriched uranium has gained added significance in the light of Iran’s nuclear programme which it insists is for the peaceful purpose of providing energy but which but which the United States and others say is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
In his address to the General Conference yesterday, Mr. ElBaradei called on Iran to re-establish “full and sustained suspensions of all its enrichment related and reprocessing activities.”
He said he remained “hopeful that, through the ongoing dialogue between Iran and its European and other partners, the conditions will be created to engage in a long overdue negotiation that aims to achieve a comprehensive settlement that, on the one hand, would address the international community’s concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, while on the other hand addressing Iran’s economic, political and security concerns.”
Despite years of inspections after the discovery in 2003 that Iran had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he said the IAEA has been unable to make progress in resolving outstanding issues on the nature of the country’s centrifuge enrichment programme.
“The Agency cannot make any further progress in its efforts to provide assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran,” he added. “This continues to be a matter of serious concern.”