Short of funds and resources, UN nuclear agency at crossroads, warns chief

29 September 2008

The United Nations atomic watchdog agency urgently needs greater funds and resources to carry out its multifaceted tasks, from verifying that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons and preventing terrorists from acquiring radioactive materials to spurring advances in medicine and agriculture, its chief warned today.

“I must stand here today and let you know that all is not well with the IAEA,” Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the annual general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “There is a disconnect between what you, the member States, are asking us to do, and the legal authority and resources available to us. This will hamper our effectiveness, sooner rather than later, if it is not addressed.”

Declaring that “we really have reached a turning point,” he stressed that years of zero-growth budgets have left the IAEA with a failing infrastructure and a troubling dependence on voluntary support, which invariably has conditions attached.

“For example, no less than 90 per cent of our nuclear security programme, which is aimed in part at stopping terrorists from obtaining nuclear material, depends on voluntary funding,” he said.

“In nuclear safety, the figure is 30 per cent and in verification it is 15 per cent. Technical cooperation funds continue to lag well behind the pressing needs of developing countries.”

Turning to some of the pressing issues confronting his agency, Mr. ElBaradei reiterated that the IAEA was still not in a position to make progress regarding the lack of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran in the absence of full information of the country’s past and present nuclear programme.

Iran insists that its programme is solely for the peaceful purpose of energy production, but many countries accuse it of seeking nuclear weapons, and on Saturday the UN Security Council called on it to comply immediately with earlier resolutions ordering it to stop uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities and cooperate with IAEA inspectors.

“I urge Iran to implement all the transparency measures, including the additional protocol (on unannounced spot checks), required to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme at the earliest possible date,” Mr. ElBaradei said. “This will be good for Iran, good for the Middle East region and good for the whole world.”

He also voiced the hope that “conditions can be created” for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to resume its moratorium on nuclear weapons work following its announcement last week that it would restart nuclear activities within a week.

On nuclear verification, he said the IAEA still had shortcomings in all four required areas – adequate legal authority, state-of-the-art technology, timely access to all relevant information, and sufficient human and financial resources – again stressing the need for all countries to adopt additional protocols to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on spot checks and other matters.

“We know that the potential for a malicious act involving nuclear or other radioactive material remains real,” Mr. ElBaradei declared, turning to the issue of nuclear safety and security. “The number of incidents (illicit trafficking) reported to the agency indicates ongoing weaknesses and vulnerabilities.”

He also voiced concern over the agency’s ability to respond effectively to a major nuclear accident. “The Incident and Emergency Centre needs additional capacity to respond to a possible large-scale accident and to assist more member States to build their own emergency response capability,” he said. “Funding for this is urgently required.”

Broaching agriculture and medicine, he stressed that with the surge in global food prices pushing millions of people deeper into poverty and hunger, IAEA work in using nuclear techniques to make food crops more resistant to disease, boost crop yields and combat pests and animal diseases, was more important than ever. He urged the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to continue its cooperation in this with his agency, which it has moved to end.

With cancer claiming millions of lives every year, the IAEA Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) has helped to ensure that patients in developing countries have access to radiation treatment, he noted. The agency also assists countries in developing the capacity to produce their own radiopharmaceuticals, used in nuclear imaging procedures, which can significantly reduce costs.

“All of these are core agency activities and it is imperative that they should have adequate, stable and predictable resources,” Mr. ElBaradei declared. “Put that together with our insufficient legal authority in key areas such as verification, safety and security and it is clear that our ability to do our job properly is being seriously compromised.”

In a message delivered to the meeting by UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergio Duarte, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on States that have not yet done so to observe or abide by the agency’s 50-year-old nuclear safety standards as soon as possible.


♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Full transparency needed from Iran on nuclear activities, UN agency chief says

The head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today called on Iran to be fully transparent about its nuclear activities, six years after the agency began efforts to clarify those activities.