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I feel impelled to speak today in a language that in a sense is new--one which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use. That new language is the language of atomic warfare.

That was Dwight D Eisenhower just delivering his 'Atoms for Peace' speech to the UN General Assembly in New York City on December 8, 1953. Ike was one of the first statesmen in the world to add words to the ningling feeling many people were beginning to share that humanity now had a technology that could wipe life off the face of the earth. He and others knew that the secrets of nuclear power needed to be safeguarded, yet the knowledge should be shared with responsible countries.

History

In 1956 81 UN countries convened to found the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Its Statute defined the three pillars of the Agency's work - nuclear verification and security, nuclear safety and technology transfer. Notwithstanding the fears of the military use of nuclear technology (or the first Godzilla films), nuclear power was popular in the 1950s. Nuclear reactors were opened in the Soviet Union (1954), Britain (1956) and the United States (1957), and the IAEA served as a trusted and reliable intermediary of nuclear technology, through its 'Atoms for Peace' programme.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis the nuclear-armed superpowers began to consider ways to reduce the risk of coming close again to a nuclear war. The other worry was that other countries who had mastered nuclear power were now seeking to join the nuclear club (France denotated its first nuclear weapon in 1960; China followed four years later). Consequently the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was drafted and came into force in 1970, which restricted the possession of nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union, Britain, France, United States and China. Signatories to the NPT would be granted access to nuclear technology on the proviso of promising never to develop nuclear weapons. The Treaty established a safeguards system which the IAEA was responsible for implementing, and it is to the credit of the IAEA's competent and impartial work that the spread of nuclear weapons has largely been curtailed.

Nuclear power became increasingly popular after the oil shocks of the 1970s, but as oil prices receeded in the 1980s (to say nothing of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl) there was a reversal of energy policies in many Western countries. The IAEA still remained important nevertheless: it advised countries on nuclear safety issues and help decommission ageing nuclear reactors.

Since the end of the Cold War the work of the IAEA has been increasingly concerned with limiting nuclear proliferation. In the early 1990s the agency helped the superpowers dispose of parts of their nuclear arsenels and fissile material. It was actively involved in identifying Iraq's clandestine weapons programme in 1991 and establishing surveillance mechanisms through UNIMOVIC. Currently the IAEA's counter-proliferation programme is directed towards Iran and North Korea.

The Agency and its Director-General were the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize laurates. 'Atoms for Peace' has had both a peace prize and a Radiohead song named after it.

Role

The IAEA is a specialised agency within the United Nations, reporting directly to the Secretary-General and the Security Council, and its relationship is regulated by a special agreement. The agency is dedicated to assisting countries in the peaceful application of nuclear technology, to guard against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their components through safeguards, to promote nuclear safety and to act as a general international forum on all matters related to atomic energy. It also carries out specialised atomic research under its own auspicies for peaceful purposes; with the FAO it used nuclear medicine to eradicate the livestock parasite New World Screwworm.

Organisation

The (IAEA) is headquartered in Vienna, with Regional Safeguards offices in Toronto and Tokyo, liaison offices in New York and Geneva and laboratories in Vienna, Monaco, Trieste and Seibersdorf (Austria). The Monaco laboratory was involved in oceanographic studies, and was first headed by Jacques Cousteau.

In 2006 the IAEA had a budget of 273 million Euros. It also had received US$77.5 million in voluntary contributions that went to the Technical Co-operation Fund.

There are 2,200 professional and support staff who work for the agency. The agency is led by a Director-General, with programmes and budgets set by a general conference of all member states, and the 35-member board of Governors. Directors-General of the IAEA seem to enjoy long tenures at their job, and include:

Dr Mohamed ElBaradei (Egypt)..... 1997-present
Dr Hans Blix (Sweden).................... 1981-1997
Dr Sigvard Eklund (Sweden).......... 1961-1981
Mr Stirling Cole (United States)...... 1957-1961

Flag

The flag of the IAEA comprises of the 1911 Rutherford model of a four-ion atom (white) between two olive leaves (white), on a blue background.

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