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UN nuclear watchdog says it needs greater resources to tackle new challenges, terrorism

UN nuclear watchdog says it needs greater resources to tackle new challenges, terrorism

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei
With a major increase in nuclear power generation around the world and a “temptation” for countries to develop nuclear weapons, the United Nations atomic watchdog has said it needs greater technological, regulatory and financial resources to tackle the new challenges, including preventing such weapons falling into terrorist hands.

“Our focus is on a moving target,” UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the IAEA’s Symposium on International Safeguards currently under way at its Vienna headquarters, outlining the multiple challenges it faces.

“We cannot just continue to do business as usual. We cannot continue with mechanical or mechanistic operations,” he added, stressing the importance of safeguards as a tool for peace and security.

On the agency’s finances, he noted that its budget is only $130 million dollars. “That’s the budget with which we’re supposed to verify the nuclear activities of the entire world,” he said, adding that $1 billion was reportedly spent just by the United States-led Iraq Survey Group checking on weapons of mass destruction there after the 2003 war.

“Our budget, as I have said before, is comparable with the budget of the police department in Vienna. So we don’t have the required resources in many ways to be independent, to buy our own satellite monitoring imagery, or crucial instrumentation for our inspections.”

While the expansion of nuclear power generation is good because of shortages of energy, concerns about climate change and the development prospects of 2.4 billion people who have no access to modern systems, it also means that nuclear technology will spread to more and more countries, applicable for both peaceful purposes “and unfortunately also non-peaceful purposes,” Mr. ElBaradei said.

Another challenge comes from the political environment. “There has been temptation for countries to develop nuclear weapons in the last decade or so. We started with Iraq, then there was Libya. We have seen the nuclear test in North Korea. So it’s becoming fashionable, if you like, for countries to look into the possibilities of protecting themselves through nuclear weapons,” he added.

Turning to the problem of undeclared activities in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Weapons (NPT), he cited the Iraqi programme discovered in 1991 and 20 years of Iranian activities that also went unreported, stressing the need for enforcement of an additional protocol providing for speedy, unannounced inspections.

Another challenge arises over verification of arms dismantling in a country that has already moved into the weaponization field. “We are going to face the question for sure in North Korea,” Mr. ElBaradei said of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) which said it carried out a nuclear test last week.

Because of its modest financial resource, the IAEA has to rely on Member States for support in using new tools such as environmental sampling and satellite monitoring, but would prefer to have its own programme in the field, he added.

But above all, “access is the key. You can use environmental sampling, you can use satellite monitoring, but there is no substitute for being on the ground. We have seen how important that is in many countries where we are on the ground and are doggedly asking questions until we understand what is really going on,” he declared.