In The Field

IAEA: More than non-proliferation at the old VIC

el Baradei.jpgGreetings from the Vienna International Centre (VIC), the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as the location of this year’s general conference AND scientific forum.

Most of you might be surprised to hear that there is such a thing as a scientific forum at the agency responsible for policing the world’s nuclear power facilities. But the agency does more than just act as a nuclear watchdog. In fact, a big part of the IAEA’s job is to actually spread nuclear power technology to the countries who need it most.

And thus we come to the theme of the scientific forum, which this year is all about the energy needs of developing nations. This morning we heard from outgoing IAEA chief Mohammed El Baradei who called for the creation of a whole new kind of energy agency, one that would facility technology transfer of all energy technologies to the neediest nations, provide resource assessments, and perform a certain amount of R&D. Such an agency was briefly considered during the energy crisis of the 1970s, he said, “It’s time we revisit the idea.”

Subsequent speakers provided a lot of evidence for the need for more energy aid. Ashok Khosla, president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature delivered an eloquent speech about the need for action. At present billions of people lack access to the energy they need. In one part of India, the millions without power have resorted to cutting down forests, creating massive desertification. “Three million people without energy is not a moral outrage,”he told the crowd, “it’s an ecological disaster.”

Thomas Schelling, Nobel Prize winning economist at the University of Maryland said that the mechanisms for delivering aid simply weren’t there. What is needed was a Marshall-plan scaled effort in energy aid for the developing world. That in turn would require dedicated bureaucracies and new financing instruments, none of which presently exist.

It was a worthy cause, but unfortunately few at the IAEA general convention were paying much attention. During these troubled times, Iran’s nuclear programme and the ensuing diplomatic hooha has stirred up a lot more interest than the needs of the developing world. I have to confess that I myself was lured away from the scientific forum to learn more about how the IAEA analyzes satellite imagery from the sites it monitors.

I do plan to get back tomorrow to learn more about the energy shortages facing billions of people. Iran may be grabbing headlines today, but the forum is obviously grappling with a far greater crisis, which may come to pass in the not too distant future.



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