The IAEA at work. As an independent international agency affiliated to the United Nations, the IAEA is the world’s centre for nuclear co-operation and works to ensure the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies. Atoms for Peace is our motto. But where did it all start?
This is where the nuclear age begun. The absolute nightmare we all want to stop happening again. Two nuclear devices were used toward the end of World War II. &quot;Little Boy&quot; was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed on August 9, 1945 by the detonation of &quot;Fat Man&quot; over Nagasaki. The first bomb was made with enriched uranium, the second one with plutonium. By the end of 1945, the two devices killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki. In both cities, the overwhelming majority of the dead were civilians. These horrible events were followed by 50 years of Cold War. 50 years spent in fear of annihilation of human life on earth.
Yet, since its beginning the nuclear age has not only been ‘fear of the bomb’. The development of nuclear technologies also generated hugely positive, if naïve, expectations amongst the public. A high-tech future made up of cheap energy and boundless opportunities for mankind.
In a way, this duality expresses the essence of nuclear technology. A technology that presents a wealth of wonderful opportunities for mankind and, at the same time, same of serious risks.
At the heart of this technology is the nuclear fuel cycle - which is today based on uranium. From the mining of ore to the reprocessing or disposal of spent fuel, the uranium fuel cycle is the backbone of the nuclear industry. The risk, of course, is that at some crucial stages, nuclear material can be diverted to produce nuclear weapons or so-called dirty bombs. And that is our job: to control that this does not happen.
The history of the IAEA, our history, begins here. On 8 December 1953, the then US President Dwight Eisenhower delivered a speech at the United Nations in New York, which would become famous. In his ‘Atoms For Peace’ speech, President Eisenhower called for the institution of a UN agency that would maximise the contribution of nuclear technology to the world while verifying its peaceful use. The IAEA was eventually founded in 1957, and ‘Atoms for Peace’ has become its motto.
During the Cold War, world nations negotiated for years to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons - the so-called Nuclear Grand Bargain. Eventually, a Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, known as NPT, was signed in 1968 and came into force in 1970. We are not a party to the Treaty but are entrusted with key roles and responsibilities under it. We are acknowledged as the international safeguards inspectorate as well as a multilateral channel for transferring peaceful applications of nuclear technology to developing countries.
Our work is keyed around three areas: Safeguards and Verification: We work to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons. Safety and Security: We work to protect people and the environment from exposure to harmful radiation. Science and Technology: We work to mobilize peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology to developing countries.
Safeguards and verification is what we are mostly famous for – though it is not the only thing we do. But what is safeguards?
Essentially, it is accounting of nuclear material and technology possessed by a country. This is done through a combination of state-of-the-art technology, such as the analysis of environmental samples, and simple processes like weighing containers or count and measure nuclear material.
Samples taken from locations worldwide that are under IAEA Safeguards are analysed in our labs in Seibersdorf near Vienna, as well as in a network of independent labs around the world. In the event that inconsistencies are found, our inspectors would then start a dialogue with the country until all questions have been answered and all doubts dispelled.
Safety and security is another one of the three areas of our work.
Safety has to do with the safe use of peaceful nuclear technology. The main aim is to protect people and the environment from exposure to harmful radiation. We help countries to upgrade nuclear safety as well as prepare for and respond to possible emergencies. Our work is keyed to international conventions, standards and guidance.
Security, on the other hand, deals with the malicious use of nuclear technologies. The focus of our efforts in nuclear security is on helping States prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism or other malicious acts, and to protect nuclear installations against sabotage. Amongst other things, we help states and other actors e nhance the physical protection of facilities, improve the security of radioactive sources and strengthen management systems of nuclear materials.
The transfer of peaceful applications of nuclear technology is the third area of our work.
We work to fight scourges like poverty, sickness and pollution of the earth's environment. Our aim is to contribute to a safer and better future for mankind. Many people might not be aware of it, but nuclear technologies reaches into almost every aspect of our daily lives. A few facts worth considering: n uclear power generates about 14 per cent of the world’s electricity; every third second, someone receives radioisotope treatment for medical diagnosis, that is 35,000 people every day; 3 million people are treated with radiotherapy each year against cancer; around 40 countries now use irradiation to improve the hygiene, safety and quality of food; radiation is used in scores of industrial applications: sterilizing syringes and other hospital supplies testing the quality of steel for cars and trucks; and checking eventual production flaws in airplane engines.
We deliver peaceful applications of nuclear energy to member states through our technical cooperation programme, addressing critical problems in developing nations around the world.
We are about 2,300 staff. Our headquarters are in Vienna and we also have offices in New York, Geneva, Toronto, and Tokyo, and scientific laboratories in Monaco and Austria. We have 151 member states; 35 of which make up our governing body.
The IAEA At Work Atoms for Peace
The Manhattan Project As the bomb fell over Hiroshima and exploded, we saw an entire city disappear. I wrote in my log the words: “My God, what have we done?” Capt Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay