The IAEA is stepping up its efforts to help combat pressing global problems, such as pandemics, climate change and plastic pollution, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi today told senior German officials, who expressed keen interest in new Agency initiatives in the areas of human health and environmental protection.
The second and last day of Mr Grossi’s official visit to Berlin was dominated by discussions on how innovative nuclear science and technology can make important contributions toward meeting many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by world leaders five years ago with the aim of building a better future for humankind.
“It has been a very productive and positive visit. Despite Germany’s decision to phase out its nuclear power programme, it is clear to me that the country will continue to be a very important ally and supporter in our work, for example in meeting the SDGs,” Mr Grossi said. “With Germany’s impressive scientific track record and expertise and its firm commitment to sustainable development, I believe my talks here will lead to a further strengthening of our cooperation in this and other areas.”
He spoke after meetings with State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Energy Andreas Feicht and Parliamentary State Secretary Norbert Barthle of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. On Monday, he discussed non-proliferation and other issues with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and nuclear power plant decommissioning and waste management with Parliamentary State Secretary Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
The important role of nuclear techniques in addressing global challenges has been highlighted during the current COVID-19 outbreak, when the IAEA rushed to provide nuclear-derived testing equipment, as well as training and expertise, to some 125 countries to help them quickly detect the coronavirus among their populations. It was the largest operation in the Agency’s history, made possible thanks to extrabudgetary support from many countries, including Germany.
Building on this experience, Mr Grossi earlier this year launched ZODIAC (Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action), a new IAEA initiative aimed at preventing future outbreaks of diseases that spread from animals to humans. Such zoonotic diseases kill around 2.7 million people every year.
The ZODIAC project will establish a global network to help national laboratories in monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of animal and zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19, Ebola, avian influenza and Zika. ZODIAC is based on the technical, scientific and laboratory capacity of the IAEA and its partners, as well as the Agency’s mechanisms to quickly deliver equipment and know-how to countries.
“Even as the world is struggling to contain COVID-19, we must build stronger defences against the next disease outbreak as this will certainly not be the last pandemic in the world. It is of crucial importance to prepare better for the future. ZODIAC will help us achieve that objective,” Mr Grossi said. “My German hosts showed great interest in this initiative. It is my firm hope that Germany will support ZODIAC.”
In Tuesday’s meetings, he also discussed the Agency’s plans for more effective and concerted action against plastic pollution, both on land and in the oceans, where as many as 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 250,000 tons are floating, presenting a serious environmental challenge. Nuclear techniques can be used for scientific studies to gain a better understanding of the scale of the problem and to break down the waste itself for recycling.
“As many other countries, Germany is taking the issue of plastic pollution extremely seriously, and this is an area where we can also exchange expertise and experience,” Mr Grossi said. “Working together with Member States, other international organizations and partners, I will endeavour to maximize the considerable potential of nuclear science in addressing such serious global issues.”
Underlining Germany’s commitment to help the IAEA in its global development work, it has played a prominent part in the extensive and still ongoing modernisation of the IAEA’s eight nuclear application laboratories in Seibersdorf outside Vienna, enabling the Agency to step up its technical and scientific assistance to countries in improving human health, bolstering food security, mitigating climate change, suppressing insect pests and more. In Tuesday’s meeting, Mr Feicht said he reconfirmed Germany’s support for the Seibersdorf laboratories.
Mr Grossi said Germany’s generous support to this and other IAEA projects clearly showed that the European Union country will remain a firm backer, even though it has decided to phase out its nuclear power programme with the last German reactors in operation due to close in 2022.
While in the German capital, the Director General has also been participating in the World Health Summit – this year held virtually – to discuss the IAEA’s role in the fight against cancer and other issues.