July 29, 1957: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is established. In 1953 US President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed an international body to regulate and promote peaceful use of atomic power during his Atoms for Peace address to the UN General Assembly. In September 1954 the US again submitted a proposition to the UN General Assembly, this time for an agency to control fissile material which could be used both for nuclear power and for nuclear missiles. Also called for was an international conference to study all peaceful aspects of nuclear power. By November 1954, it was obvious the USSR was not amenable to international custody of fissile material, but they might acquiesce to a clearing house for nuclear transactions.
In August 1955, the UN held an International Conference in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss peaceful uses for nuclear power and to discuss the founding of the IAEA. A group of twelve countries negotiated on the prospect and the IAEA was approved on October 23, 1956 and came into being on this day. The first Director General of the group was former US Congressman W. Sterling Cole. He served for one term, from 1957 to 1961, after which the agency was headed by two Swedes for nearly forty years. First, scientist Sigvard Eklund held the job from 1961 to 1981 and then Swedish Foreign Minister Hans Blix held the job from 1981 to 1997. Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt headed the agency until 2009 and the job then went to Yukiya Amano of Japan who remains Director today.
The three main goals of IAEA are safety and security, science and technology, and safeguards and verification. It is an autonomous group but does report to both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. The IAEA has three main bodies – the Board of Governors, the General Conference, and the Secretariat. They are responsible for inspecting existing nuclear facilities for safety and to ensure they are functioning for peaceful purposes. They also provide information and develop standards for nuclear facilities, and they serve as a hub for scientific endeavors to expand peaceful uses for nuclear power.
The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 should have helped the IAEA better prepare the world for safety considerations. However, their response to the Fukushima disaster proved to not be up to standards held by Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev. He accused the agency of not using information gained from the 25 years prior to Japan’s crisis and that their response was sluggish and confusing. It helped to detract from the possibilities of expanding nuclear energy progress. This is in part due to the 164 member states each having a private agenda and making consensus and implementation difficult. The IAEA is headquartered in Vienna, Austria and has two regional safeguards offices. One is located in Toronto, Canada and the other is in Tokyo, Japan. There are two liaison offices with one in New York City and the other in Geneva.
Peaceful uses: Promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy by its member states. – IAEA main mission
Safeguards: Implementing safeguards to verify that nuclear energy is not used for military purposes – IAEA main mission
Nuclear safety: Promoting high standards for nuclear safety. – IAEA main mission
It recommends safety standards, but member states are not required to comply; it promotes nuclear energy, but it also monitors nuclear use; it is the sole global organization overseeing the nuclear energy industry, yet it is also weighed down by checking compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. – criticism from Najmedin Meshkati
Also on this day: Arc de Triomphe – In 1836, the Arc de Triomphe was inaugurated.
Irish Unrest – In 1848, the English put down a revolt by the Irish at Tipperary.
I Spy – In 1864, Isabella Boyd was captured.
USS Forrestal – In 1967, a fire broke out on the aircraft carrier.
First Hague Convention – In 1899, the first convention was signed.