Germany is demonstrating continued strong support for the IAEA’s mission to foster global peace and development even as the country is shutting down its nuclear power plants, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said after meeting Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and other senior German officials in Berlin today.
“Germany is – and will remain also in the future – a very important and highly valued IAEA Member State. My first visit to Berlin since I took office last December aims to further expand and deepen our already close cooperation,” Mr Grossi said as he began a two-day official visit. While in the German capital, he is also taking part in the World Health Summit – this year held virtually – to discuss the IAEA’s role in the fight against cancer and diseases that spread from animals to humans, like COVID-19.
At a press conference after their meeting, Foreign Minister Maas praised the IAEA’s work, thanking Director General Grossi for maintaining the Agency’s non-proliferation inspection activities during the pandemic, which caused major travel disruptions in the world. He said this strengthened trust in the IAEA and gave hope for multilateralism in other fields. “We highly appreciate the work done by the IAEA. We see that we need your work so much these days,” he said.
Germany was among a group of countries that quickly stepped in with new financial commitments to ensure that the IAEA’s safeguards work was not interrupted during the COVID-19 outbreak. With this funding, the IAEA could charter its own plane for the first time to get its safeguards inspectors into the field, including to Iran.
The European Union country also joined other IAEA Member States in backing an Agency project to provide nuclear-derived testing equipment as well as training and expertise to some 125 countries in order to help them quickly detect the coronavirus among their people. As the largest-ever operation in the Agency’s history, it was only made possible thanks to generous support from countries like Germany.
“Foreign Minister Maas and other high-ranking German officials made clear their strong appreciation of our safeguards work as well as our efforts to help countries around the world address some of the most urgent challenges of today,” Mr Grossi said. He added that the Foreign Minister had expressed interest in ZODIAC (Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action), a new IAEA initiative to use nuclear techniques and an international network of laboratories to help prevent future pandemics. “It is my impression that Germany is as committed as ever to supporting the Agency, even though the country has decided to opt out of nuclear power as a source of energy.”
Germany has also been taking a leading role – diplomatically and financially – in the extensive and much needed modernisation in recent years 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 much else.
“Largely thanks to these state-of-the-art laboratories, the IAEA is making an increasingly important contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Their upgrade is a major undertaking that is continuing to require significant extrabudgetary funding from Member States, for which we are very grateful,” Mr Grossi said.
Discussions on non-proliferation, decommissioning and gender equality
With Foreign Minister Maas, the Director General also discussed the Agency’s verification and monitoring in Iran, the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), from which the Agency’s inspectors were expelled more than a decade ago, as well as other safeguards and non-proliferation issues. Germany was among the six powers that negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran in 2015. Upon the request of the United Nations Security Council, the IAEA has since then verified and monitored Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. Germany is contributing with extra-budgetary funding for these additional verification activities. “Despite the pandemic the IAEA has been able to maintain the world’s most robust transparency and control regime applicable to Iran,” Mr Maas said.
On Monday, Mr Grossi also met with Parliamentary State Secretary Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Among other issues, they discussed Agency plans to use nuclear techniques to step up action against the worldwide problem of plastic waste pollution. “With its impressive track record on environmental protection, I’m looking forward to working closely with Germany also in this area,” he said.
They also stressed the importance of maintaining high standards of nuclear safety and agreed to work together and share experience on nuclear power plant decommissioning and waste management, areas where Germany is acquiring major expertise that other countries can benefit from. In the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power accident in Japan, Germany decided to end its nuclear power production, with the last reactors to close in 2022. Currently, six nuclear power plants remain operational, generating 11.7 per cent of the country’s electricity in 2018.
Director General Grossi stressed that it was for countries to decide how to meet their energy needs. He praised Germany’s efforts and progress in decommissioning its nuclear power plants and managing the waste, adding that the IAEA was ready to provide its assistance in this regard, also in helping to disseminate internationally the knowledge gained by Germany as it winds down its nuclear power programme. The country is already participating in IAEA programmes on decommissioning, spent fuel and radioactive waste management and environmental remediation.
Last year, an IAEA team of experts carried out an Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) in Germany. They said Germany was continuing to manage its radioactive waste and spent fuel in a safe and responsible manner, while also noting opportunities for improving the monitoring of the implementation of the national programme for radioactive waste and spent fuel management.
The Director General also discussed efforts to improve the gender balance among the Agency’s 2,500 staff as well as within the nuclear field in general. Mr Grossi earlier this year launched the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme (MSCFP) to provide scholarships for women in nuclear related subjects. Named after the pioneer physicist and Nobel Prize laureate, the programme has drawn interest from several governments, with donor pledges so far totalling some €2 million.
“As for many other countries, gender equality is of paramount importance for Germany. I informed my hosts about our plans to achieve this crucial objective in the nuclear world,” Mr Grossi said.
On Tuesday, he will meet 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.