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First of all let me first express my deep and sincere condolences for the victims of the shocking events last week in Libya.
Having the privilege of being the representative of the host country, let me continue my tradition of starting with a hearty welcome to all delegates to Austria. We are proud of hosting such an important organisation, and I congratulate you, Mr. President, on your election to preside over the 56th General Conference. In addition, let me also very cordially welcome the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago that has recently decided to join the Agency.
At this General Conference, I would like to highlight Austrian positions on three thematic areas:
1. First: Austria stands for responsible uses of nuclear science and technology.
2. Second: Austria supports all efforts to prevent the proliferation of military uses.
3. Third: Austria calls on all States to join in creating a nuclear weapon free world quickly
Let me expand on these three points:
(1) On the peaceful uses of nuclear power, I would like to stress that, also in times of increasing demand for energy and while respecting international law and national sovereignty, Austria feels obliged and entitled to voice its concerns regarding the safety and security of nuclear installations. The protection of the Austrian population and the environment is of paramount importance for the Austrian government. In all cases of nuclear installations that might have a negative impact on Austria, we will use all legal means available to protect our safety interests. This also means supporting all measures to ensure maximum transparency and participation. I reiterate that a key objective of Austrian nuclear safety policy remains the creation of high and binding safety standards for nuclear power plants and other fuel cycle facilities. We take note that - even after and despite the "Fukushima nuclear catastrophe" - there is still interest in nuclear power in a number of countries. We follow the discourse and the pertinent developments with great attention. However, if a country decides to use nuclear power, we are of the firm conviction that it has to do this under the highest safety, security and non-proliferation standards.
On the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology, I would like to add that Austria has - for a very long time - been home to nuclear scientists, physicists and researchers, including Nobel prize winning ones like Erwin Schrödinger. Another scientist, Lise Meitner, refused to bow to political pressure to work on the atomic bomb. Nowadays, it is clear that Austrian nuclear scientists work “to harness the atom for peace”, to use a phrase we are all familiar with.
This year’s scientific forum on “Food for the Future”, which high-lights joint activities of the Agency with the FAO in Rome, gives another good example of the many peaceful applications of nuclear energy. Other applications in climate science, health and related to water management also show the valuable contribution nuclear science can make in addressing the world’s pressing social, environmental and development needs.
Over the years that I have been in office, I have come to highly appreciate the central role this organisation plays in global nuclear developments. I am very conscious of the central role which the host country of an organisation can play in assuring the smooth functioning of its work. Therefore, Austria has continuously been providing in-kind contributions for the Agency’s facilities in Vienna and at the laboratories at Seibersdorf. Today, Austria also pledges to continue to support the Technical Cooperation Fund in full and on time with its assessed contribution in 2013.
(2) “Harnessing the atom for peace” also means preventing its use for military purposes. We cannot afford to add to the existing risks of civil nuclear energy those related to growing global nuclear weapons arsenals and a rising number of nuclear armed states. Alongside the continuous efforts to remove the root causes of nuclear proliferation, we must extend the existing non-proliferation tools, in particular also the additional protocol to comprehensive safeguards agreements, to all countries around the globe. We must ensure their implementation without any loop-holes and thus eliminate any possibilities to break away from civilian uses and turn to a military night-mare. On this way, we will need to take several hurdles, find creative solutions for the interim in specific situations and contexts; but the final commitment must be equally strong for each and every country.
Austria fully endorses the positions of the European Union also in this context. One area of particular concern that I would like to mention is the situation regarding the nuclear programme in the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is frustrating and disappointing that uncertainties about the peaceful nature of this programme still remain after so many years of negotiations and attention. The tools necessary to be able to assure the world of Iran’s peaceful intentions exist. I appeal to Iran to allow the Agency to make substantive progress in its verification work to be able to close this deeply worrying file soon.
(3) Let me now turn to my last point. The arguments I used for non-proliferation hold also true for nuclear disarmament. The only guarantee against the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons is their complete elimination. Moreover, the arguments in favour of non-proliferation, and the support by the international community for such measures, depend on credible steps towards nuclear disarmament. Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation must go hand in hand.
The catastrophic accidents at the power plants at Chernobyl and recently at Fukushima have demonstrated clearly that Murphy’s law is applicable also in the nuclear field: “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” However, we cannot afford to wait until something goes wrong with nuclear weapons. The humanitarian costs would be overwhelming. There is no justifiable reason why the whole world should continue to be exposed to such a risk.
The path to a world without nuclear weapons may be complex and difficult but reason demands that we take this path. We already have legal instruments like the NPT and strong institutions like this Agency and the CTBTO that help us in this endeavour. We also have growing global support for nuclear disarmament and the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Furthermore, there is hope that the countries of the Middle East will follow the examples of nuclear weapons free zones and be able to start a process towards the creation of a zone free from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Austria strongly supports this process. There is no reason why such a project should not be extended to the whole world.
The General Conference of the Agency, and in fact the Agency itself, represent unique opportunities, unique global forums for all of us Member States to discuss and negotiate important nuclear issues in a constructive manner. We cherish such a unique forum. We have seen on numerous occasions, how constructively we can work together and achieve results. I am fully aware that delegates will have a week full of hard work ahead of them. Therefore, let me conclude by expressing my best wishes to all delegates for a successful General Conference.