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More action needed to curb threat of nuclear terrorism, UN watchdog warns

More action needed to curb threat of nuclear terrorism, UN watchdog warns

Stepping up his fight to reinforce nuclear security and prevent nuclear terrorism, the head of the United Nations atomic watchdog agency today called on all countries to ratify an international agreement strengthening the protection of nuclear materials.

“Out of 128 States Parties, only 11 so far have accepted the amendment,” UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the Agency’s annual General Conference in Vienna.

“I would urge all States Parties to do so,” he said referring to an amendment to the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, aimed at preventing nuclear and radioactive materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. The Amendment on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material seeks to strenghtent hese safeguards.

“With the renewed interest in nuclear power generation, comparable attention and commitment must be given to ensuring the nuclear safety and security infrastructure that must go with it,” Mr. ElBaradei added, noting that three strong factors are driving a renewed global interest in nuclear power – steady growth in energy demand, increasing concerns about energy security, and the challenge of climate change.

“In my view, the role of the Agency is not so much to predict the future as to do its utmost to plan and prepare for it,” he stressed in a wide-ranging review of the Agency’s work.

Although the IAEA’s nuclear security work has clearly improved overall nuclear security, “much remains to be done in shaping the nuclear security framework, in building up-to-date security systems and in dealing with the legacy of past lax security,” he said. “This is not a problem that can be solved overnight; it takes time and resources to achieve a sustainable, internationally acceptable level of nuclear security.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for new levels of international cooperation in addressing security and environmental challenges. “The activities of the IAEA are more important than ever to advance safe and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, promote non-proliferation and disarmament, and reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism,” he said in a message delivered by UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergio Duarte.

Mr. ElBaradei reiterated many of the points he made to the Agency’s Board of Governors last week on Iran’s nuclear programmes, noting that the IAEA has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear materials and has been given additional information and access needed to resolve a number of long outstanding issues, such as the scope and nature of past plutonium experiments. Many countries see the programme as a means to obtain nuclear weapons but Iran’s says it is solely for nuclear power generation.

But Iran has not suspended enrichment related activities as called for by the Security Council, although it has agreed on a work plan with the Agency for resolving all outstanding verification issues. “Naturally, Iran’s active cooperation and transparency is the key to full and timely implementation of the work plan,” he stressed.

“If the Agency were able to provide credible assurance about the peaceful nature of Iran’s past and current nuclear programme, this would go a long way towards building confidence about Iran’s nuclear programme, and could create the conditions for a comprehensive and durable solution.”

Laying out a seven-point framework for the use of nuclear energy based on lessons learned and current reality, he called for:

  • robust technological development and innovation in nuclear power and nuclear applications;
  • a new multinational framework for the fuel cycle to assure supply and curb proliferation risk;
  • universal application of comprehensive safeguards allowing for unannounced on site inspections;
  • recognition of the linkage between non-proliferation and disarmament with deep cuts in existing arsenals;
  • a robust international security regime;
  • an effective and universal nuclear safety regime, a cornerstone for any expansion in the use of nuclear power;
  • and sufficient funding for the Agency to meet its increasing responsibilities.

Mr. ElBaradei also dwelt on the Agency’s other multi-faceted tasks, from helping to eradicate the disease-bearing tsetse fly in Zanzibar by using the sterile insect techniques and helping countries improve radiotherapy and nuclear medicine programmes to aiding Bangladesh in dealing with arsenic poisoned groundwater and enhancing various types of grain from North Africa to the Andes mountains of Peru.