Austria cautions against nuclear power in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
The following is a statement delivered by George-Wilhelm Gallhofer, diplomat at the Austrian Mission to the United Nations, on behalf of the Government of Austria, on 8 August 2023, during the First Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2025 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in Vienna, Austria.
Austria fully respects the inalienable right of all Parties to the NPT to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. At the same time, Austria calls on all States to limit “the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes” to those applications not raising concerns for possible military applications. This is specifically laid out in Art. IV of the NPT, which simultaneously requires conformity with Article I and II.
In this regard, we see the use of nuclear power differing significantly from any other application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Any expansion of nuclear power necessarily increases the risk of proliferation while applications in health, agriculture, imaging and physical measurement do usually not raise this risk.
For this reason, full scope safeguards and ideally an Additional Protocol must accompany each nuclear program.
Let me also caution against advertising nuclear power as an appropriate source of electricity to combat negative climate effects and answer to the climate crises. The comparatively low CO2 emissions of nuclear power do not compensate for disadvantages inevitably connected to nuclear power. Let me give you three examples:
1) The safe and permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel is still unresolved. To date, not a single repository for such waste is in operation worldwide. Even if such repositories were to become operational in the foreseeable future, today’s knowledge cannot guarantee the safe enclosure required for hundred thousands of years.
2) We cannot completely exclude severe accidents from nuclear power plants involving large and early releases of radionuclides with significant adverse consequences, including contamination even on the territory of other countries.
3) There is only a limited supply of uranium and thorium available and a nuclear “fuel cycle” does not exist so far. If there would be such a cycle, it would trigger more challenges regarding safety, security and safeguards.
This list is by far not exhaustive but underlines my previous point: Austria does not consider nuclear power to be compatible with the concept of sustainable development. In our view, reliance on nuclear power is neither a viable nor a cost-efficient option to combat climate change. Both the polluter-pays principle and the precautionary principle are grossly violated in nuclear power use.
Let me reiterate that Austria regards technical cooperation as an integral part of its activities. While we retain reservations about nuclear energy generation, we fully support the activities in the wider area of non-power applications of peaceful nuclear science and technology.
In this regard, we would like to highlight our continued support for the ongoing modernization of the IAEA nuclear applications laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria, under ReNuAL2. We are glad to see the work on this program continuously progressing.
Austria further welcome approaches to establish comprehensive and ambitious international nuclear safety standards and guidance that prioritize nuclear safety. In addition, we urge States to maintain nuclear safety of existing nuclear power plants, for example by adequately addressing physical aging. When deciding to engage in nuclear power production, nuclear safety needs to be the one of the main concerns at all times and continuous investments in its improvement have to be guaranteed.
In this regard, we are particularly grateful for the IAEA’s tireless efforts which culminated in DG Grossi’s presentation to the UN Security Council on establishing five concrete principles on nuclear safety and security at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant based on the Seven Indispensable Pillars. In order to prevent a nuclear accident, Austria underlines the indispensable importance of due priority to nuclear safety and strongly supports these principles and their implementation.
Reports of military equipment and explosives being placed within the plant perimeter at ZNPP and direct shelling are extremely worrying. Nuclear power plants are not designed to withstand armed conflicts. Violating the “five principles” is inconsistent with the IAEA safety standards and nuclear security guidance and create additional psychological pressure on plant staff.
Let me be clear, the attack on nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities can have complex humanitarian consequences, rendering these acts illegitimate under international humanitarian law. We urge Russia to withdraw its military equipment and all personnel from the ZNPP, and return its full control to its rightful owner, Ukraine and to refrain from any further acts incompatible with international humanitarian law.
Therefore, Austria stands ready to continue its support for the Agency’s work in and on Ukraine. Nuclear safety and security issues are traditionally important to Austria and the extremely dangerous situation in Ukraine requires our particular attention.
To this end, Austria has contributed one million euros for the IAEA mission for safety and security in Ukraine in order to effectively implement their mandate and help to enhance the safety and security situation on site.
To conclude, let me re-emphasize that Austria respects the sovereign and free choice of all States regarding their energy production. However, whenever our Austrian environment and people are potentially affected in a harmful manner, we will continue to raise our concerns.