IAEA head to visit Nigeria


New UN nuclear watchdog chief Yukiya Amano will visit Nigeria next week for his first official trip, a choice aimed at wooing developing nations who see him as too close to industrialized nuclear powers.

Amano replaced Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Dec. 1, after scraping to a bare majority victory in an IAEA election in July largely without support of poorer member states.

Diplomats and analysts say the trip is the first stage of Amano’s efforts to heal differences at the IAEA between mainly Western industrialised nations and developing nations, a split which has hampered a united response to Iran’s nuclear programme.

The IAEA said Amano who is seen as likely to be tougher on Iran’s secretive nuclear programme than ElBaradei but has avoided comment on it so far would use his visit to Nigeria to highlight the use of nuclear medicine for cancer treatment.

That is part of the IAEA’s “technical cooperation” mandate, which fosters peaceful uses of the atom but which developing states say has been neglected at the expense of efforts pushed by world powers to stop the spread of nuclear weapons know-how.

Amano’s Dec. 13-15 trip to Nigeria was a bid to start making good on promises to show the developing nation bloc, which makes up nearly half the 35-nation IAEA governing body, that he also has their interests in mind.

Developing countries have felt Amano is too cosy with a US-led club of nuclear powers, including Japan, which they say hoard the technology for political and commercial reasons.
“My intention is to continue to focus on technical cooperation so that we can more effectively meet the needs of (developing) member states, as identified by them,” Amano told IAEA-accredited diplomats at a reception in Vienna last Wednesday.

He also said he would strive to ensure member states were heeding nuclear safeguards accords and persuade more of them to adopt a 1990s IAEA protocol permitting broader, unfettered inspections key to verifying the absence of atom bomb work.

Only 91 of some 145 IAEA member states have ratified the protocol. Iran is among those who have not done so and the IAEA says it has been losing track of its controversial nuclear fuel programme as a result.

Amano’s toughest challenge will be Iran, which has turned down an ElBaradei-brokered deal to ship its low-enriched uranium (LEU), a potential source of atom bomb fuel, in exchange for a nuclear medicine reactor in Tehran.

Iran has raised Western suspicions that it is developing enrichment for weapons rather than electricity as it says.

Two weeks ago, Iran announced plans to build 10 new enrichment plants, a gesture of defiance after a Nov. 27 IAEA governors’ resolution rebuking it for having hid a second enrichment site and demanding it stop construction immediately.