IAEA: Facilitating Multilateral Cooperation on Nuclear Fuel Services

By Yi-chong, Xu | Social Alternatives, Second Quarter 2009 | Go to article overview
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IAEA: Facilitating Multilateral Cooperation on Nuclear Fuel Services

Yi-chong, Xu, Social Alternatives

Increasing demand for electricity, uncertainty of supply and the pressure of climate change have led to increased interest in nuclear power. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organisation with a mandate to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technology. It is responsible for overseeing the supply of nuclear fuel while preventing nuclear proliferation. This article examines the role of the IAEA and considers some proposals for multilateral cooperation in the provision of reliable and safeguarded sources of nuclear fuel. Most of these allocate a central role to the IAEA because it is an institution they are prepared to trust.

Nuclear energy may have fallen on hard times in many developed countries, but it has been gaining favour in developing countries. Rapidly growing demand for electricity, uncertainty of supplies and prices of fossil fuels, and rising pressures of climate change have brought new interest in nuclear power as a real alternative clean energy source. These are the main driving forces behind the recent nuclear energy development in some Asian countries. One main challenge facing the countries that are starting or expanding their nuclear energy programs is how to ensure nuclear fuel supplies and services without undermining the non-proliferation regime. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is at the frontline of this challenge. An independent Commission of Eminent Persons has recently concluded that the Agency 'will have the responsibility to help newcomer states put in place the necessary infrastructure needed to develop nuclear energy safely, securely and peacefully' (Commission 2008). Initially created more like a trading company, buying and selling nuclear plants and materials, the IAEA has developed into a full-fledged international organisation, with 146 member states and over 2300 staff. It has taken the leadership on issues that states are unwilling or unable to deal with on their own and pushed for multilateral cooperation in the nuclear fuel cycle specifically to facilitate nuclear energy expansion.

What does IAEA do?

The IAEA came into being in 1957 as an affiliated special agency of the United Nations. Its roots go back to the address by President Eisenhower at the UN General Assembly on 8 December 1953. He declared that, since the dread secret of making the atomic bomb 'is not ours alone,' promoting peaceful use of atomic energy might help turn its infinite capacity to inflict harm to its infinite potential for energy. 'Atoms for Peace' was initially questioned by the Soviet Union, but after two years of pains-taking negotiations, 81 states agreed on the charter of this new organisation in October 1956

The IAEA is empowered to:

* Take any action needed to promote research on, and development and practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful purposes (Article III.A.l);

* Provide materials, services, equipment and facilities for such research and development, and for practical applications of atomic energy 'with due consideration for the needs of the underdeveloped areas of the world' (Article III.A.2);

* Foster the exchange of scientific and technical information (Article III.A.3);

* Establish and apply safeguards to ensure that any nuclear assistance or suppliers with which the IAEA was associated should not be used to further military purposes - and apply such safeguards, if so requested, to any bilateral or multilateral arrangement (Article III.A.5);

* Establish or adopt nuclear safety standards (Article III.A.6).

The two sides of the atomic coin, its potential for construction and destruction, guaranteed the dual objectives of the IAEA: to advance the use of nuclear science and technology and promote their peaceful uses and to seek to ensure that it was not used 'to further any military purpose' (Article II). The dual nature of its objectives is fundamental to the very existence of the IAEA.

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