Verification Issue Keeps Atomic Energy Agency Busy

VIENNA, Austria, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - U.S. President Bill Clinton says its contribution to world peace and security is incalculable, and 130 countries look to it for scientific and technical guidance on all matters nuclear. It is the International Atomic Energy Agency and this week, the Vienna based inter-governmental forum, holds its 44th general conference.

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The official IAEA flag was approved in 1999 and officially unfurled during the 43rd IAEA General Conference. (Photo by B.Blann, courtesy IAEA)
The annual conference brings together the world's foremost scientific experts and policymakers, from the tiny west African nation of Burkina Faso to the mighty United States.

This year's agenda is dominated by the issue of verification and the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) role following the historic 2000 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons conference in May.

The topic of radioactive waste and its safe disposal is expected to take up most of Wednesday's session.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also referred to as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), obligates the five acknowledged nuclear weapon states - the U.S., Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, and China - not to transfer nuclear weapons, other nuclear explosive devices, or their technology to any non-nuclear weapon state.

May's conference furthered the treaty by not only committing nuclear weapon states to unconditionally and irreversibly eliminating their arsenals, but by identifying practical steps towards this goal.

Several countries that addressed Monday's opening sessions saw a greater role for the IAEA, a strong proponent of nuclear non-proliferation, in helping to verify that the disarmament process is transparent and accountable.

Sweden summed up the mood of many countries' delegates by calling the 2000 NPT Review Conference "a vote of confidence" in the IAEA's role in promoting nuclear non-proliferation.

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Fuel measurement by IAEA staff at the Soviet built IRT-5000 reactor during the 7th UN nuclear inspection in Iraq. (Photo by Mouchkin, courtesy IAEA)
"Sweden sees a growing role for the agency as nuclear arsenals continue to diminish and further states join in a moratorium and - soon, we hope - in a ban of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other explosive purposes."

The U.S. reaffirmed its support for an end to new production of fissile material and improved controls on existing nuclear materials. It expects to submit a verification agreement for the Trilateral Initiative with Russia and the IAEA to the agency's board in December.

Minister of the Russian Federation on Atomic Energy, Evgueny Adamov, administrator of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, General John Gordon, and IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei, met Monday to review progress on the Trilateral Initiative.

The initiative was launched in 1996 to further accomplishment of the U.S. and Russia's obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to develop a new IAEA verification system for weapons grade material released from defense programs.

Mindful of defense secrets, Russia and the U.S. believe the success of the verification agreement hinges on the IAEA being able to identify weapons material without gaining access to information relating to the design or manufacture of such weapons.

The U.S. said it expects the IAEA to monitor its bilateral agreement with Russia, which will result in destruction of 64 metric tons of U.S. and Russian weapons grade plutonium.

El Baradei told delegates in Vienna today that the IAEA's work directly supports the best efforts of governments to solve the greatest challenges before the world.

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IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei. (Photo courtesy IAEA)
"Earlier this month, the Millennium Summit of the United Nations identified a number of major challenges humanity faces," he said. "High among them are the efforts of the international community to achieve freedom from fear and freedom from want."

El Baradei said the agency's mandate is "inextricably intertwined with these efforts."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent call for an international project to generate nuclear power without requiring or producing weapons grade material, will be supported by the IAEA, said El Baradei.

The IAEA will also support a plan to develop technology to burn long lived radioactive wastes from spent nuclear fuel and weapons stockpiles.

The director general pledged help in arranging a Middle East forum to establish verification arrangements and contribute to the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone.

The agency will organize a radioactive waste management forum next year, bringing together scientists, policy makers and the media in an effort to build consensus on the issue.

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Vienna International Centre along the Danube River, home of the IAEA. (Photo by Pavlicek, courtesy IAEA)
All this will take money, which is why El Baradei concluded his address by reminding delegates that all 130 member states must live up to their budget funding requirements.

"The regular budget of the agency is underfunded. It is imperative therefore that corrective action be initiated before long ... to ensure that our programs can continue to be implemented with the expected effectiveness and efficiency."

IAEA member states approved the memberships of Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and the Central African Republic.

The Conference elected as president Ibrahim Othman, director general of Syria's Atomic Energy Commission.