The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on 15 March that senior officials of the IAEA and the European Union (EU) had held discussed a number of strategic issues during the eighth EU-IAEA Senior Officials Meeting in Vienna.

EU Special Envoy for Non-proliferation and Disarmament, Marjolijn van Deelen, conveyed the EU’s “grave concern over the growing nuclear safety and security risks in Ukraine, as a result of Russia’s military aggression and indiscriminate attacks on several nuclear sites,” and reaffirmed the EU’s full support for the initiative of IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi to ensure the safety and security of all nuclear facilities in Ukraine. “The EU remains categorically committed to defending multilateralism, especially at this time when its foundations are being questioned,” she said. “The EU’s support for the implementation of the IAEA’s mandate remains strong.”

With respect to nuclear power, Massimo Garribba, Deputy Director General of the European Commission’s Energy Directorate-General who co-chaired the meeting said nuclear power has a role to play in mitigation and energy security in the fight against climate change. “Climate change involves a complete shift of mindset, a complete change in our economy, and it involves a completely different way of producing energy. We need to accelerate our transition, and we need to decrease our global dependency from hydrocarbons,” he noted.

The IAEA and EU officials discussed the opportunities for collaboration in support of the development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs). The IAEA Platform on SMRs, launched last year, is a one-stop-shop for all aspects of SMR development, deployment and oversight, and the European SMR Partnership aims to support the deployment of SMRs in the EU at the beginning of the next decade.

The IAEA expressed its appreciation for the long-term financial and political support that the EU has been providing for the implementation of its nuclear security mandate. Van Deelen expressed interest in exploring ways to deepen the existing cooperation. During the General Conference in September 2021, the IAEA and the EU extended the 2013 Nuclear Safety Cooperation agreement that has supported the IAEA in delivering projects that have contributed to improving global nuclear safety. 

The EU continues to support the IAEA's peer review services, particularly the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) and Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS). The recent IRRS mission in Portugal was a milestone, EU officials noted: all EU members have now received an initial IRRS peer review mission. EU representatives also noted and welcomed the IAEA’s initiative to develop an annual Nuclear Security Review to provide an overview of global trends and related priorities for the Agency.

Participants also discussed the IAEA’s recent initiatives in nuclear applications. “We are reminding the world that nuclear is more than nuclear power, for example, nuclear medicine,” Bylica said. Director General Grossi launched the Rays of Hope initiative in February 2021, in coordination with the World Health Organization, to support countries in improving access to diagnosis and treatment of cancer using radiation medicine. This also opens opportunities for collaboration with Euratom in the context of its SAMIRA initiative looking at reinforcing Europe’s security of supply in medical radioisotopes and improved safety and quality of medical applications using ionising radiation.

The IAEA highlighted the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative, in which EU countries have designated ZODIAC National Coordinators and ZODIAC National Laboratories. ZODIAC provides a systematic and integrated approach to strengthen the preparedness and capabilities of countries to respond to the threats of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19. NUclear TEChnology for Controlling Plastic Pollution (NUTEC Plastics) is another IAEA initiative that builds on the Agency’s efforts to address plastic pollution through recycling using radiation technology and marine monitoring using isotopic tracing techniques. In October 2021, the Agency hosted a regional NUTEC roundtable for Europe and Central Asia.

The next Senior Officials Meeting will be hosted by the EU in 2023.