Steeply rising global energy demand – with more countries turning to nuclear power for supply – has heightened proliferation concerns which can only be satisfied by new multilateral controls on the nuclear fuel cycle, the head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said today.
Speaking before the UN’s General Assembly, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei also said the nuclear activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) underscored the urgent need to establish a legally binding universal ban on nuclear testing through the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
The situation also called for a negotiated solution through the resumption of dialogue between all parties so as to ensure that all of the DPRK’s nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes while addressing the country’s security concerns, he said.
Mr. ElBaradei also voiced “serious concern” about the Agency’s current inability to confirm the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.
The IAEA is commemorating its fiftieth anniversary this year, a time, he noted, of renewed interest in nuclear power because of growing energy needs, availability and the cost of other energy sources, as well the quest for energy independence, rising environmental and proliferation concerns and technological advances.
There were now 442 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries – most in North America and Western Europe – supplying about 16 per cent of the world’s electricity.
But Mr. ElBaradei said that the recent expansions have been primarily in Asia and Eastern Europe; of 28 reactors now under construction, 16 are in developing countries.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries consume electricity at a rate roughly 100 times that of the world’s least developed countries, but this gap will close as developing countries grow.
To assert international control of the nuclear fuel cycle the IAEA will first have to establish mechanisms to oversee the acquisition of all nuclear reactors and their fuel supply, Mr ElBaradei said. The second step would require limiting future enrichment and reprocessing to multilateral operations, he added.
While noting the Agency’s critical role in verifying the peaceful use of nuclear power, he said the IAEA was also wanted to play a significant role in sharing the benefits of nuclear energy for development.
Because the sophisticated technology of nuclear power required a correspondingly sophisticated infrastructure, it may not be the choice for all countries, he noted. But for those who chose to make it part of their energy mix, the Agency could do much to make the option accessible, affordable, safe and secure, he said.
Much of the Agency’s scientific work is now focused on the transfer of peaceful nuclear technology in the fields of health, agriculture, industry, water management and preservation of the environment, working to build up technical capacities in ways that support national and regional development priorities, he told the General Assembly.
The Agency also works to help States to implement strengthened regimes of nuclear security through training programmes, supply of equipment and assistance in protecting nuclear locations. An illicit trafficking database now had 93 participating Member States, he said.