Ms. Tracy C. Brown briefed us about nuclear disarmament and the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). She works as a spokeswoman for the IAEA’s Public Information Office.
As the IAEA’s work has often been criticized by the international community during the last months, particularly when dealing with countries like Iran or North Korea, Ms. Brown pointed out that the IAEA was a multinational institution which had been set up by sovereign member states and still was governed by them. As decisions within the IAEA are usually made by consensus, the power of the IAEA depends on the political will of these individual members.
She shortly explained the work of the IAEA New York office which cooperates closely with the Headquarter in Vienna, and told us that the IAEA had been founded in 1957. It has a regular budget of 322 million US-$ (as of 2005). The three main parts of the IAEA’s activities are nuclear technology, nuclear safety, and nuclear verification.
Every state has the right to peacefully use nuclear energy. So in the field of nuclear technology, the agency provides technical assistance and information exchange on the application of nuclear technology to over 80 states, most of them developing states. This cooperation is meant to support the countries and to contribute to improved food productivity, health care and electricity situation. Concerning electricity generation, the IAEA collects related data and provides assistance to improve the performance of nuclear power plants.
The second main activity takes place in the field of nuclear safety and security which in the public awareness is the main task of the IAEA. Although nuclear safety is a national responsibility, the agency tries to promote a universal safety culture among all organizations and individuals. In the security area, it focuses on states in order to help them preventing, detecting, and responding to terrorist acts such as the illegal possession, transfer, and use of nuclear material or sabotage of nuclear power plants.
Although most countries around the globe use nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes, the international community together with the IAEA has set up a safeguards inspection and verification system, which is the third main pillar of the agency. Consisting of internationally approved legal and technical measures, its goal is to convince member states to stay in compliance with their non-proliferation commitments. Ms. Brown stressed the fact that the acceptance of IAEA safeguards was a voluntary act. The IAEA has no power to impose inspections on any state. This was often forgotten by the media and the public, she underlined.
The main treaty in this context is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which entered into force in 1970. Under the NPT, the five Nuclear-Weapon States China, France, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the Russian Federation are obliged to undertake negotiations towards complete nuclear disarmament. All other states have the right to acquire peaceful nuclear technology but are obliged to declare all nuclear material to the IAEA and to establish a system to control nuclear facilities. To verify the data provided by states, the IAEA conducts inspections. In the cases of Iran, where a clandestine nuclear weapons program had been discovered, and North Korea, which had even withdrawn from the NPT in 2003, the IAEA can only try to influence the governments by speeches and statements, due to its clear mandates. Ms. Brown stressed that the IAEA’s role was very limited and that the agency just provided expertise and training. This led to a lively discussion about the role the IAEA could play in future in order to convince those countries to return to the safeguards obligations they once had felt committed to.
According to Ms. Brown, the IAEA continued to be very relevant in ensuring the benefits of nuclear technology, which should be shared globally and conducted safely. One should keep in mind that the agency’s ability to carry out all its functions relied on the political commitment and the financial support of its member states.