Friday, October 07, 2005

IAEA: the fox in the chicken co-op?

In the morning of 27 January 2003 at the UN in New York, by pure coincidence I was in the same elevator as Mohamed ElBaradei the DG of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as he was going down to deliver his famous speech to the Security Council, in which he said that there was no hard evidence that Iraq had resumed its nuclear weapons programme.

Although I was already on my way out, I was still nominally Political Director of Greenpeace International at the time. I had never met ElBaradei personally, unlike his predecessor Hans Blix. So I thought of introducing myself as we were both in the elevator, to say something like "Greenpeace and the IAEA have had a lot of differences over the years, but today I'd like to wish you good luck sincerely and say that we are with you!". But ElBaradei looked very absorbed and stressed as you can imagine, minutes before what he certainly thought was the most important speech of his entire life. So I decided not to disrupt him and stayed silent.

The previous time an IAEA Director General and Greenpeace coincided in an elevator, that was at IAEA Headquarters in Vienna in 1988 or 89: after the Chernobyl accident the IAEA Board of Governors had invited Greenpeace International to participate in its Standing Committee on Nuclear Liability to review and update the Vienna Convention on civil liability for nuclear damage which had proven totally inadecuate in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. I think we can say that Hans Blix (then Director General of the IAEA) had actively opposed the invitation made to Greenpeace by the Board of Governors (he tried to get it revoked, but failed). On the first morning of the Standing Committee meeting, the Greenpeace delegation coincided in the elevator with Blix who told Andy Stirling (who was running Greenpeace's nuclear campaign at the time) "So, you dared coming..." (sic).

It has just been announced that the IAEA will receive this year's Nobel Peace Prize, "for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way."

There will be a lot of comments on this in the coming days (there already are).

I am glad for Mr. ElBaradei who is certainly a honorable man. Everyone has also noted that this Nobel Prize reprimands indirectly the Bush administration which has tried to castigate Mr. ElBaradei and to actively sabotage his re-election at the IAEA. But the problem with the IAEA is its primary mandate as defined in Article II of its Statute: "The Agency shall seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world. It shall ensure, so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose". "Accelerate and enlarge" are key words, which the IAEA has often taken quite litteraly to the point that it has acted far too often as "the fox in the chicken co-op".

In 1991 and 1992, I helped Greenpeace pull out "The IAEA File" a briefing with case-studies which we put out two years in a row, to document the need to change the Statute of the IAEA, because "control" and "promotion" of nuclear power should not be mixed.

This was before the Internet era, of course. I did a Google search this morning, and although I found references to these documents, they are not online. But I have kept hard copies in my office.

The 1991 issue contained the following sections: IAEA Chernobyl project: Allegiance to the cover-up; Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes (documenting how the IAEA lobbied UNEP to prevent radioactive wastes from being covered by the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes); IAEA interferes with the Activities of UN Maritime Safety Organisation (they attempted to prevent the International Maritime Organisation from regulating nuclear transports at sea); and Gulf War illustrates Inadequacies of IAEA's Safeguard System (already). The 1992 edition contained the following other case-studies: Safety margins shrink under IAEA: the RMBK Debacle; IAEA misleads on renewables in run-up to Rio; IAEA fails to tackle plutonium crisis; Chernobyl Plus seven years: Liability for nuclear damage still not Adequate.

These case-studies were presented each year at the time at the General Conference of the IAEA, but the need to reform the organisation was never considered seriously. Neither was the proposal of many environmentalists for the UN to set up an Agency to promote clean and renewable energy instead of one that promotes nuclear power.

In 1993, I remember also that we caught the IAEA in the act covering up an illegal ocean dumping operation of liquid radioactive wastes in the Sea of Japan by the Russian Federation.

Even today the fox remains in the chicken co-op, as was shown last month when it deliberately downplayed the consequences of the Chernobyl accident.

Hopefully the Peace Nobel Prize it has just received can encourage a reform of the IAEA, to help it do a better job.

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