ENS at the 67th IAEA General Conference

ENS seat at the IAEA GC Plenary Session

From 25th to 29th September, Vienna hosts the 67th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). More than 2,800 participants from Member State delegations, international organisations, and NGOs registered to attend the 4-days event at the IAEA headquarter. As a Learned society, and the largest one for nuclear science, research and industry in Europe, also the European Nuclear Society is present in Vienna with our President Leon Cizelj, Vice-President Christian Legrain, Science and Outreach Manager Jadwiga Najder and other engaged members.

The statement of IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi during the Opening Ceremony has been the occasion to recall the numerous programmes that the Agency leads in every continent, in every field of nuclear technology applications. ENS in their own mandate supports IAEA efforts and contributes to educating nuclear professionals and the general public about these fields.

Among the activities of the IAEA, a special mention was given to Rays of Hope, a programme which aims at helping countries fight cancer in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO). Data are merciless: every year, 10 million people die of cancer, while 19 million of new cases are reported, an amount that is expected to jump to 30 million by 2040. IAEA is then firmly supporting several low-middle income countries in Africa, and soon also in Latin America and the Caribbean, where more than 20 countries have no access to radiotherapy.

Nuclear medicine and medical isotopes benefit thousands of patients every day in current clinical practice and have great potential for future clinical challenges but must be adequately supported. ENS is actively dedicating several events and activities to these key topics, to raise the awareness of the importance of a robust supply chain, necessary to ensure that all patients receive the care they need when they need it.

As presented by DG Grossi in his speech, the IAEA has been on the front line also during the recent COVID-19 crisis, supporting nuclear techniques applied to fight pandemics with its Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative.

Focusing on environmental protection, IAEA mentioned some core projects like NUTEC Plastics, to fight plastic pollution, and GloWAL, addressing water scarcity, quality and influence of Climate Change on water resources.

IAEA Director General highlighted in his welcome address also the growing role that the Agency is having at UN Climate Change Conferences (COP), where, at COP27 in 2022, the IAEA set up #Atoms4Climate pavilion and is working with participants and Member States to underscore the role of nuclear energy.

The focus on climate objectives is shared by ENS in its activity. Since 2015, the global Nuclear for Climate initiative (N4C, co-founded by ENS)  has been playing an active role in advocating the inclusion of nuclear among the low-carbon solutions to mitigate climate change. Every year, more and more volunteers join the N4C delegation at COP, where they organise side events, and activities and participate in panel discussions with representatives from environmental NGOs, national delegates and the IAEA itself.

Nuclear for Climate delegates at the "Atoms4Climate IAEA pavilion at COP27.
IAEA DG Rafael Grossi visiting the Nuclear for Climate booth at COP27

Until recent years we have not been vocal enough about the benefits of nuclear power, but that page has been turned […] Climate change requires us to take long-term responsibility for the well-being of our planet and its people

said DG Grossi mentioning public opinion polls rising in favour of nuclear energy, and that “countries still need to engage stakeholders openly and proactively in their nuclear power programmes”.

Two recent, important events led DG Grossi to talk about nuclear safety: war actions continuing around the Zaporizhzhia NPP in Ukraine – where more than 100 of IAEA staff is deployed in all the nuclear stations of the country – and the planned release of water at Fukushima. “Nuclear energy is safer than it’s ever been and safer than almost any other source of energy“, he said.  Further explanations of the release procedures in Fukushima and the situation in Zaporizhzhia are available on the ENS Blog.

Finally, DG Grossi ended with an important remark on gender balance in the nuclear sector. “Invisible barriers to women’s participation in the sector are real and are hurting us all – especially that the sector faces a shortage of skilled professionals” he declared, mentioning two key initiatives that the IAEA is actively promoting, the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme (MSCFP, the deadline of which is on 30th September) and the Lise Meitner Programme, targeting female students and young professionals in all the nuclear fields. Furthermore, female participation at the IAEA jumped from below 30% to 43% during Grossi’s term.

The dream of atoms of peace, now – atoms for peace and development, lives on. Making it a reality is up to all of us

concluded DG Grossi in his Welcome Address.

European Nuclear Society congratulates the Director General on the appointment for the next term and wishes him the next four years of successful realisation of IAEA programmes. We are looking forward to the continuation of fruitful cooperation between ENS and the Agency.