Remarks as Prepared by Ambassador Laura S.H. Holgate
IAEA Safeguards Symposium – Millennial Nuclear Caucus
Vienna, Austria, November 2, 2022
IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards, Max Aparo, and members of his team; Our panelists and distinguished guests.
Thank you for joining us this evening for the Millennial Nuclear Caucus. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here with all of you, the next generation of leaders in nuclear safeguards innovation.
It is truly encouraging to see so many young professionals from around the world gathered here to discuss the challenges and opportunities in nuclear safeguards. And to explore ways to further the IAEA’s mission of global peace and security. I look forward to hearing from our panelists and several of you later this evening regarding your journeys in the nuclear field.
This year marks several important anniversaries for the global safeguards community – including 60 years of IAEA inspections. The theme of this year’s symposium is “Reflecting on the Past and Anticipating the Future,” so I would like to share with you my own journey – what inspired me to take the path I took and what I see for the future of nuclear safeguards.
Reflecting on my past, the issue that galvanized me as a young woman was the risk of nuclear war. What really motivated me to work in this particular nuclear corner of global issues was interestingly the movie “The Day After,” which came out in 1983. Some of you may be unfamiliar with the movie; many of you were probably not born yet. The movie dramatized the aftermath of a nuclear attack, and it was especially dramatic to me because it picked my hometown to blow up! Yes, it was Lawrence, Kansas, just 20 miles down the road from where I grew up. It was certainly, by today’s standards, not great on special effects and all that… and I knew it was a movie, but all the same I had to call home. It left a deep impression.
I knew I had to work to prevent that terrible fiction from ever becoming reality. And that is why the work that the IAEA does – and to which we all contribute – is so vitally important.
The United States is committed to supporting the IAEA in engaging the next generation of leaders in nuclear science and technology. The U.S. government has several programs specifically aimed at developing future leaders.
- The U.S. Department of Energy’s International Nuclear Safeguards Engagement Program provides training to over 40 countries worldwide to strengthen and develop their domestic safeguards capacity.
- We work directly with the IAEA through our Member State Support Program to help the Agency develop the tools, programs, and resources it needs for the future.
- Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of SMR Technology, NEXUS, Advanced Reactor International Safeguards Engagement, and Advanced Reactor Security Project are all geared towards helping countries deploy advanced and small modular reactors.
- The International Visitor Leadership Program is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. Through short-term visits to the United States, current and emerging young foreign leaders in a variety of fields experience the United States firsthand and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts. More than 200,000 International Visitors have engaged with Americans through this program, including more than 500 current or former Chiefs of State or Heads of Government.
As many of you may know, in addition to my interest in mentoring young professionals in the nuclear field, I am an avowed advocate for women’s empowerment, gender equality, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility principles more broadly. I take seriously my commitments as an International Gender Champion, a network I helped establish, which brings together Vienna-based leaders to break down gender barriers and make gender equality a working reality in our spheres of influence. The inclusion of diverse voices, skills, and experiences makes our work more effective, our outcomes more durable, and our world more just.
I was in Washington all last week for the Nuclear Power Ministerial and there are two takeaways I would like to share with all of you here.
First, DG Grossi and U.S. Energy Secretary Granholm discussed efforts to increase the number of women in the nuclear field through initiatives, such as the IAEA’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Program. Mr. Grossi announced a wonderful new IAEA initiative, the Lise Meitner Program, named after the Austrian-born physicist who was instrumental in the discovery of nuclear fission. This new program will be aimed at retaining female talent in the nuclear field by providing tailored visits to centers of nuclear excellence around the world, with the United States as the inaugural partner.
Second, at a youth panel, “Reimagining Nuclear, Inspiring Youth,” young nuclear engineers, advocates, and influencers presented their efforts and strategies to create a new image of nuclear. The event explored new and exciting ways to portray nuclear as a modern, societally beneficial source of clean energy that can contribute to climate change mitigation and socioeconomic development… as well as provide numerous opportunities for future generations.
Panelists discussed steps that can be taken at the individual level to make a global impact. They talked about the power of humor, unexpected connections, art, and thinking creatively to reach a broader audience.
DDG Aparo mentioned the deployment of advanced reactors, including small modular reactors. Many of those new reactor designs involve new fuel-cycle concepts, new materials, and new processes, all of which will present challenges to the safeguards system of the future. We are also seeing rapid developments in other areas of technology, including in areas that promise to strengthen nuclear verification techniques.
Look at how IAEA safeguards have evolved in the last few years… we used to rely largely on passive seals, but today we also have electronic seals that are remotely monitored and can report openings and closings in real time. We have unattended sensors that track movements of nuclear material and these too report in real time.
The IAEA safeguards analytical laboratories at Seibersdorf and the network of worldwide labs are able to detect incredibly small particles of nuclear material – smaller than a grain of dust – and can characterize that material with incredible precision. All of this is essential to the IAEA’s ability to verify States’ compliance with their safeguards obligations.
In addition, the IAEA has some amazing new tools becoming available now. The Agency reported last year on the first in-field verification using the Next Generation Cherenkov Viewing Device. To be able to look at a spent fuel assembly and quickly verify the individual elements is game changing!
And I’m even more excited for what’s to come. We are thinking about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – and how those techniques will eventually enable new areas of IAEA’s safeguards data analysis. How blockchain technologies might enable more robust nuclear material accountancy and reporting.
There will be new verification technologies, new analysis techniques, and new ideas that we can’t yet imagine.
These emerging technologies present enormous opportunities for the future of international safeguards, and I trust that all of you – who represent the future of safeguards – will take these opportunities to strengthen the IAEA and its safeguards mandate for the next generation of nuclear facilities.
YOU are our catalysts for change – who will harness innovative nuclear technology and make the world safer and more prosperous.