Nuclear energy must be used not only peacefully but safely

Author: State


Mons. Diarmuid Martin


On Thursday, 24 September, during the 42nd General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, Mons. Mario Zenari, the Holy See's representative to the Agency, signed the Additional Safeguards Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1 August 1972. The new protocol is meant to strengthen the Agency's verification system in order to prevent the illegal military use of peaceful nuclear developments.

Before the document was signed, Mons. Diarmuid Martin, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Head of the Holy See's Delegation to the General Conference, explained the Holy See's motives in the following address, which he gave in English on Tuesday, 22 September.

Madam President,

On behalf of the Delegation of the Holy See, I should like to join previous speakers in congratulating you on your election as President of the 42nd General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency. I am confident that your wealth of experience and outstanding leadership will guide this conference to a successful conclusion and I assure you of the fullest cooperation of my Delegation in your very delicate task.


The realization of the biblical vision of "turning swords into ploughshares" is one of the principal reasons why the Holy See became a member of the IAEA, encouraging the various initiatives aiming at this goal.

The Holy See, sharing the feelings of most men and women of goodwill who aspire after a total elimination of nuclear weapons, intends also as a member of the Agency to call upon the leaders of nations to put an end to nuclear tests and arms production, to reduce stocks, to transfer nuclear material from military use to peaceful activities, and ultimately to eliminate definitely every possibility of a nuclear arms race.

While some positive steps have been taken in this direction, such as by the indefinite extension of the NPT and the signing of the vast majority of States of the CTBT, there is an urgent need for a universal, immediate and unconditional adherence to these treaties and for a greater commitment by nuclear-weapon States to reduce and finally eliminate their nuclear weapons in accordance with Article VI of the NPT.

"In this regard, the Holy See is of the opinion that, in the sphere of nuclear weapons, the banning of tests and of the further development of these weapons, disarmament and non-proliferation are closely linked and must be achieved as quickly as possible under effective international controls. These are steps towards a general and total disarmament which the international community as a whole should accomplish without delay" (Pope John Paul II, Speech to the Diplomatic Corps, 13 January 1996; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 17 January 1996, p. 2).

Moreover, since experience makes us aware that there is also a recurrent temptation to transform "ploughshares into swords", it is necessary to support a renewed political will by effective means of verification, and to "reject firmly and universally everything that might make the danger of a nuclear war return" (cf. Address of Pope John Paul II to the 50th General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, New York, 5 October 1995, n. 16).

In this context, by signing the new Additional Safeguards Protocol in a few days, the Holy See intends to support this political commitment which aims at guaranteeing greater international nuclear transparency.

With a more efficient verification system, States can in fact better show the peaceful nature of their nuclear activities and can have a greater certitude about the loyalty of all others.

Furthermore, greater confidence in the efficiency of the verification systems will certainly facilitate also the political initiatives aimed at reducing or eliminating nuclear arms.

Safety Culture

One of the main tasks entrusted to the IAEA is to ensure that nuclear energy is used not only peacefully but also safely. No doubt safety remains one of the greatest challenges in the use of nuclear power. Given the importance of arriving at harmonized minimum safety standards in every country, the Holy See appreciates and follows with special interest the efforts and initiatives of the IAEA to promote a global nuclear safety culture by means of assistance in establishing legally binding international agreements, non-binding safety standards and the provision of safety services.

Significant achievements in this regard have been reached in recent years with the adoption of conventions regarding the early notification of a nuclear accident; mutual assistance in case of a nuclear emergency; the nuclear safety of land-based power plants; the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management; the revision of the regime of international liability.

Naturally there remain other sectors which should be regulated by norms, e.g., those concerning transport of nuclear material, radiation protection and illicit trafficking in nuclear material.

But it is equally necessary to ensure that these norms and standards are implemented. Hence the importance of keeping the safety strategy always alert, with the assistance of the IAEA Annual Nuclear Safety Review and safety services.

Very useful is the exchange of experience on a vast range of activities, from nuclear plant design and operation to decommissioning of nuclear power plants and the management of radioactive waste.

The study of techniques and methods of disposing nuclear waste in ways that can protect both present and future generations should continue with particular and urgent attention.

Nuclear power being a common patrimony of mankind, the risks connected with its peaceful use should lead the international community to take into account the necessity of an appropriate control and management of these matters and to foster co-operation in order to reach the highest internationally recognized nuclear safety standards.

These legal instruments, as well as the whole body of norms and recommendations and technical assistance contribute to promoting a "safety culture", which is absolutely necessary if the world wants to continue to use this source of energy.

No doubt the pursuit and development of this "safety culture" could serve as an example and stimulus to do the same in other fields of human activity.

Sustainable Development

Both specific international organization meetings (such as the June 1997 Special Session of the UN General Assembly on the implementation of Agenda 21), and political meetings of Presidents and Heads of States (such as the Birmingham G-8, the Second Summit of the Americas, etc.) have expressed their concerns about environment degradation and the need for development in ways which are truly sustainable.

No doubt many applications of nuclear techniques for peaceful purposes can help, especially in developing countries, to facilitate or promote sustainable development: research programmes, nutritional projects, soil fertility preservation, pest control, safe water access, etc.

In the case of commercial energy services, an impartial and objective judgement is still needed in order to achieve a fair balance between the long-term risks and the potential contribution of nuclear energy to a rapid and consistent diminution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Mr. President, the Holy See does not feel competent to propose or to judge particular technical solutions but would like to support the aim that scientific and technological progress should be at the service of all people and of each country, especially the less privileged. "If the world's regions are moving closer together economically, this must not involve a globalization of poverty and misery, priority must be given to a globalization in solidarity" (Pope John Paul II, Address to the Austrian Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps, Vienna, 20 June 1998, n. 8)

Finally, Mr. President, my delegation intends to express its particular appreciation and gratitude to all officers of the IAEA, to Director-General and to the staff members of the various departments, who by their competent and assiduous work render an indispensable service to the cause of the safety and progress of mankind.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7 October 1998, page 6

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