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IAEA Needs More Funds to Function Effectively

press_01310174-400-introInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General  Mohamed ElBaradei has called for funds for strengthening the global nuclear watchdog to enable it function more effectively.

Delivering his last address to the UN General Assembly on 2 November 2009, before bowing out of office at the end of 12 years as head IAEA, he said, the organization is now a “major player at the centre of issues critical to international peace and security.”

Alongside an IAEA beefed-up with funding and authority, reform is required across the UN and in particular at the Security Council. This should lead to a “new global system of collective security” not based on the “insurance policy” of nuclear weapons and driven by mistrust.

ElBaradei called on all states to make a success of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty review conference next year in the light of moves by presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev and the Security Council resolution in September to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.

The IAEA’s mandate to spread the benefits of nuclear energy, while strictly limiting it to peaceful uses, results in technical cooperation to develop new strains of crops and study fresh water sources, he said.  This portion of its role exists on only $96 million per year. A program for cancer therapy is working to expand facilities in places such as some in Africa where entire countries have no radiotherapy services at all, ElBaradei added.

Another role to prevent illicit trafficking of nuclear materials is also under-funded, he said. “it is disconcerting that nuclear security continues to be funded almost entirely from voluntary contributions, which come with many conditions attached and are both insufficient and unreliable.”

These issues were discussed in August, when the IAEA’s budget for the next two years was set. But instead of a dramatic increase – as advocated by Obama – a meagre 2.7 percent increase was agreed. Countries were split on whether the IAEA should be boosted immediately, or whether it should refocus and streamline its work first. The agency will have €318 million ($471 million) for 2010 with €354.3 million ($525 million) pencilled in for 2011 while a special committee is set up to determine a final 2011 figure and also consider the period 2012-2013.

Its “dual mandate of security and development is unique,” ElBaradei  said, expressing disappointment that “we are still fighting the same battles to secure funding as we were back in the 1990s; that the development side of our mandate remains chronically under-funded; and that we still lack adequate legal authority to do our job effectively in verification, safety and security.

In terms of non-proliferation, the IAEA’s role has switched from straightforward checking of material inventories at declared sites to verifying the total absence of any undeclared activities. This is impossible, ElBaradei said, without the proper legal status – which it lacks in over 90 states – and independent access to top-quality satellite imagery.

“Our credibility depends on our independence,” he said, noting later that the IAEA “must draw conclusions justified by the facts only.” This comes in the context of a world where “nuclear power seems set for a significant expansion… with scores of countries expressing interest.”

ElBaradei concluded with thanks for the General Assembly and congratulations for his successor Yukiya Amano.

It is clear that ElBaradei hopes Amano will be able to effect funding changes after he takes over at the end of this month. The General Assembly passed a resolution thanking ElBaradei for his “distinguished service” as IAEA Director General and the “indispensable role of the agency.”

Think Big, Think Long-Term

Earlier, addressing the agency’s general conference, ElBaradei said that, “Without further legal, political and financial resources the IAEA would no longer be fit for purpose.

In his opening speech at the conference, ElBaradei said that the IAEA had “reached a turning point.” He said that years of zero growth in funding has meant that that the IAEA is currently dependent on voluntary support for “90 percent of our nuclear security program”, 30 percent in the field of nuclear safety and 15 percent for verification.

ElBaradei voiced his concern that it “is nearly four years since the UN Secretary General … described the IAEA as an ‘extraordinary bargain’,” and since then “almost nothing has changed as far as our resources and authority are concerned.”

This “troubling dependence” has been assessed by the independent Commission of Eminent Persons, which has recommended that the Technical Cooperation Fund be increased substantially.

ElBaradei stated that the commission’s report, published in May, “did not disappoint”: the report assessed the role of the IAEA to 2020 and beyond, and gave a series of recommendations designed to facilitate the Agency’s success in the future. “Better equipment, more staff and funding” will be essential to the efficacy of the IAEA.

The report said the financial dependence which burdens the agency is not the only obstacle to be overcome: “more legal authority”, the power to negotiate “binding agreements” to counter the threat of nuclear terrorism, and greater “political commitment” will all be necessary to prevent the ‘erosion of the effectiveness’ of the Agency. ElBaradei also wants to put nuclear disarmament back on the agenda, warning that it had been on the back-burner for far too long.

ElBaradei said that making the IAEA more effective would be crucial to international security. One requirement is a one-off €80 million ($114 million) investment in updating the IAEA laboratories, which are used in safeguards tests of the highest international importance.

Besides powering-up the IAEA in terms of staff, equipment and budget, the commission also recommended a focus on internationalising the fuel cycle for the benefit of ‘newcomer’ countries entering into nuclear power generation for the first time. These international arrangements should cover both the front- and back-ends of the fuel cycle: producing reactor fuel as well as managing that fuel in the long term once it has been used and is highly radioactive.

“It is time to think big and to think long term,” ElBaradei concluded.