By Ranjit Fernando
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) - The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is mandated to promote the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear technologies, says the global nuclear landscape continues to change – amidst a rise in power plants worldwide.
“More countries were considering or already preparing to build new nuclear power plants,” Tracy Brown, the acting representative of the IAEA Director-General, told delegates on October 19.
The power plants, largely for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, are operational in over 25 countries, both nuclear and non-nuclear states, including the U.S., France, China, Britain, Russia, Argentina, South Korea, Belgium, Iran, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Finland, Spain and Sweden.
The safeguards, since their inception, had continually evolved, taking into account changes in technology, she said.
The IAEA has engaged extensively with member States on the conceptualization and development of safeguard implementation at the national level.
Brown said the Agency also stood ready to contribute to the certification of the dismantlement of nuclear weapons programmes and, upon request, to international verification of arms control and disarmament agreements.
Since 1995, the IAEA’s member States had reported nearly 2,800 incidents involving radioactive material escaping regulatory control.
“A relatively small amount of radioactive material could be combined with conventional explosives to produce a dirty bomb,” Brown told the UN Committee on Disarmament and International Security.
Such a weapon, she pointed out, could be capable of killing many people, contaminating large urban areas and sparking mass panic.
“Responsibility for ensuring nuclear security lay with national Governments, but there was wide recognition of the Agency’s central role to help strengthen the global nuclear security framework.”
The most important area of unfinished business in nuclear security was the need to bring into force the amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, which had been adopted 10 years ago.
Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), told delegates that nuclear weapons and nuclear testing had a dangerous and destabilizing impact on global security, as well as a negative impact on the environment.
A staggering one billion dollars have so far been invested in the most sophisticated and far-reaching verification regime ever conceived.
He said significant national security decisions were made in good faith, with the expectation that the Treaty would become legally binding, in line with international law. Countries should finish the job done by experts.
The challenges of disarmament and non-proliferation required bold ideas and global solutions, as well as the active engagement of stakeholders from all corners of the world.
Equally important was building capacity among the next generation of experts, who would carry the endeavours forward
In the current millennium, there had only been one county that had violated the moratorium on nuclear testing, namely North Korea (which conducted three nuclear tests between 2006 and 2013 triggering sanctions by the UN Security Council).
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) reported on October 20 “it believed that North Korea was preparing for another nuclear test, but not in the near future.”
The NIS briefed South Korean legislators at a closed door parliamentary session.
Zerbo said action was still needed to secure the future of the Treaty as a firm legal barrier against nuclear testing and the nuclear arms race.
Michael MØLLER, Secretary General of the Conference on Disarmament, complained about the “limited progress” of the Geneva-based body. The ongoing stalemate was damaging for its image and an “affront” to the millions of people around the world who were looking to the United Nations for action on that “primordial issue”.
“There was little reason for optimism on multilateral disarmament, with the inability of the recent Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) to reach an outcome, and the non-entry into force of the CTBT after 20 years,” he noted.
The Conference on Disarmament, he said, could play a pivotal role in disarmament as it was the only standing multilateral forum on that topic, and if it was abolished, it would be difficult to reinvent it in the current climate.
He also expressed concerns about the future of the Geneva-based UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).
The “Institute punches far above its weight”, and he was concerned at its financial difficulties. The Institute’s funding could no longer be postponed. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 October 2015]
Photo credit: IAEA