50TH IAEA GENERAL CONFERENCE
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SPEECH OF FOREIGN MINISTER URSULA PLASSNIK
AT THE 50TH IAEA GENERAL CONFERENCE
18 SEPTEMBER 2006
The 50th anniversary of the IAEA takes place in a difficult political environment. The Agency continues to shoulder her responsibility to contribute to international stability and security in the most outstanding manner.
I would like to express Austria’s full commitment to the statement delivered by Finland on behalf of the European Union. Let me point out some of the issues to which Austria attaches particular importance.
This concerns first and foremost the current state of the multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation architecture and in particular of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT remains the cornerstone of the disarmament and non-proliferation system. However, its integrity is being increasingly undermined. Primarily, this is due to serious nuclear proliferation concerns, which have been highlighted in the statement of the EU. A strong commitment of the entire international community to enforce compliance with the Treaty’s non-proliferation obligations is urgently needed.
At the same time, I wish to stress the clear linkage between nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. The only sustainable long-term approach to address the dangers of nuclear proliferation is to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons. Consequently, states possessing nuclear weapons must honour their commitments and take serious steps towards nuclear disarmament. This is increasingly becoming a matter of credibility.
For Austria, the strength and foundation of the NPT is the carefully crafted balance of its 3 pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear energy. States renounce nuclear weapons and in return are guaranteed access to peaceful use of nuclear energy while the Nuclear Weapons States are committed to gradually take steps toward the elimination of these weapons. If this so-called "basic bargain" of the NPT is tilted, non-compliance tolerated or exceptions accepted, the system will be seriously undermined.
Today, we need a serious and credible attempt to overcome the differences that have characterised the disarmament and non-proliferation debate in the past few years. We need to try to find a new basic consensus as to how the international community should deal with the vital issues of nuclear proliferation and disarmament. We simply cannot afford to waste any more opportunities such as the 2005 UN-Summit or last year’s NPT Review Conference.
Given the experience of the Review Conference and the deep political divisions that became so apparent, Austria - with the support of the European Union - proposes that the First Preparatory Meeting for the next NPT Review Conference could be held in Vienna in spring 2007. This would underline the role of the IAEA in the NPT context, both in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. We hope that NPT States Parties will consider this proposal positively.
Recent advancements in nuclear technology have made it in practice ever more difficult - even for the Agency - to draw a precise line between civil and military capacity. We therefore welcome the discussion initiated by Director-General Dr. ElBaradei on the establishment of a multilateral system of guaranteed nuclear fuel supply. Given the increasing concern about nuclear proliferation, states wishing to exercise this energy option could thereby do so without the need to master the entire nuclear fuel cycle, in particular enrichment and reprocessing. Under the condition that the focus of all such proposals and possible future arrangements is clearly on the prevention of nuclear proliferation, we look forward to contributing actively to this important debate.
The IAEA safeguards system is a key element of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, providing assurance that states live up to their non-proliferation obligations and do not use their nuclear programmes for nuclear weapons purposes. However, the level of assurance we can expect depends on the legal authority we are willing to assign to the Agency.
Repeated cases of clandestine nuclear programmes that could not be detected by traditional safeguards measures have demonstrated the need for a strengthened safeguards system. It is therefore of utmost importance for the international community that the Agency is able to provide full assurance also on the absence of undeclared nuclear activities.
The Model Additional Protocol provides the Agency with a more comprehensive insight into States' nuclear programmes and makes detection of clandestine activities far more likely. We call on all states to negotiate and conclude additional protocols to their safeguards agreements without further delay. In this context, I wish to reiterate Austria’s view that the conclusion of an additional protocol is, for non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the NPT, a legal obligation.
Austria also attaches great importance to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The amended Convention will be an important asset in the fight against terrorism and nuclear proliferation. I am therefore very pleased to inform you that today - in fact half an hour ago - I deposited Austria's instrument of ratification with Director-General Dr. ElBaradei. I encourage all States Parties to ensure the earliest possible entry into force of the amendment to the Convention.
Nuclear security in the wider sense is a precondition for nuclear co-operation and trade. States that supply nuclear material and technology need to be confident that they are not misused for purposes of a nuclear weapons programme or for acts of nuclear terrorism. In addition to comprehensive safeguards, appropriate physical protection, adequate measures to combat illicit trafficking and effective export controls are equally important.
Let me express our thanks to the Director-General for the 2005 Nuclear Safety Review. The Agency’s findings clearly show, inter alia, that avoidable nuclear incidents continue to occur. This gives rise to concern. Austria therefore strongly encourages the Agency to strengthen its activities to ensure utmost transparency and information-exchange among all member states.
Austria applauds the Agency’s efforts on strengthening the global safety regime. We welcome that the Fundamental Safety Principles cover both the radiation exposure of people and the release of radioactive material to the environment. We also support the contents of the IAEA Safety Standards, which, in our opinion, should become legally binding. While cooperation with industry can provide remarkable input, the Safety Standards should not be guided by industry needs, but by the objective stated in their very title: "protecting people and the environment". Moreover, we are not in a position to accept activities of the Agency in support of the development of new and innovative nuclear reactors. The Agency should rather be a driving force to enhance the safety of any such nuclear installation.
Several experts in recent months indicated that a renaissance of nuclear energy is imminent. But "How can one be sure that a Nuclear Power Plant really respects the highest possible safety standards?" - this question is likely to be the one most often asked by average citizens in my country as well as in many other countries.
In our assessment, neither the current nor future generations of nuclear power plants can overcome the main shortcomings of nuclear energy. Austria therefore continues to advocate a controlled phasing out of nuclear energy and the focussing of our efforts on energy production based on the principle of sustainability.
The Austrian Government highly appreciates the work performed by the Director-General and his staff in the past year. Your excellent work has been rightfully recognised by the international community awarding you the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. Let me congratulate you once again and assure you that Austria will, as in the past, lend its full support to your organisation. We look forward to serving in the Board of Governors in the next 2 years and to being an active and reliable partner in your important task.