Tribute in Memory of H.E Mr Yukiya Amano - The Late Director General of the IAEA

By Sheriffah Noor Khamseah Al-Idid bt Dato Syed Ahmad Idid
Innovation & Nuclear Advocate
Member, Women in Nuclear Global (WIN Global )
Alumna, Imperial College, University of London, United Kingdom

The Nuclear Community specifically and the public in general were deeply saddened by the news of the passing of H.E Mr Yukiya Amano,  the late Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  announced by the IAEA on 22nd July 2019  as a result of a long illness. 

Atoms for Peace and the role of the  IAEA,

The  International Atomic  Energy Agency  (IAEA) was set up as the world’s “Atoms for Peace” organization within the United Nations family  on 29 July 1957 with the dual mission – to promote and control the Atom and a  mandate to work with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies, and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by implementing safeguards to verify that all nuclear material and activities in a country are in peaceful purposes,  to harness the power of the atom for the benefit of humankind. To date the Agency  has 168 members.

World War Two  heralded the emergence of atomic warfare introducing atomic bombs as weapons of great destruction. As many advanced nations race to build more atomic bombs and set offing more  atomic explosions, the fears of the global communities  had escalated further

Gravely reflecting and  taking cognizance of these worrying trends , U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his Speech “Atoms for Peace”  to the UN General Assembly in New York City on December 8, 1953  offering  and sharing  the United States vision  and aspiration to shift atomic energy from the being a destructive source to a safe peaceful source for the benefit of mankind.

 Eisenhower credited as Chief Architect of the Atoms for Peace Initiative had  argued for a nonproliferation agreement throughout the world and argued for a stop of the spread of military use of nuclear weapons. 

 The "Atoms for Peace" program had laid the foundation to the  opening  up nuclear research to civilians and countries that had not previously possessed nuclear technology  and  also created regulations for the use of nuclear power aimed at stopping  other countries from developing weapons while allowing the technology to be used for positive means. This resulted in the design and development of  commercial nuclear power reactors  to generate electricity  and nuclear research reactors to produce isotopes for medical, agriculture , industry sectors and training.

When the IAEA was established in 1957, nuclear science and technology were in their infancy. Many Member States had no nuclear capacity at all. The IAEA’s ‘technical assistance’ programme focused mainly on helping developing Member States to establish basic capacity and to create national institutions and facilities that would enable them to introduce and enlarge the role of nuclear technology, or apply nuclear techniques in a safe and effective manner. 

UN Dispatch reported that  the Agency’s most high profile work includes deploying teams of highly skilled scientists who monitor country’s compliance with international nuclear treaties and agreements like the Iran nuclear deal.

The IAEA, serving as the Nuclear Watchdog Group , was steered for nearly a decade by the late Mr Amano from 2009 till July 2019.

A  distinguished  Diplomat

Mr Amano,  who graduated from the Tokyo University Faculty of Law , rose to become a distinguished diplomat who held a number of key  posts in Japan’s  foreign ministry . He was appointed in 2005 as  Japan’s Ambassador and Representative   to the IAEA. From September 2005 to September 2006, Amano had served as the Chairman of the IAEA Board of Governors.

The first Asian to lead the Agency  guided  by  A Strong Commitment to opposing the spread of nuclear arms

On 2 July 2009, Mr Amano  was elected by the Board of Governors as Director General and  he began his first term as Director General of  IAEA on  1 December 2009,  achieving the distinction as the first Asian diplomat to lead the Agency

In an interview mid-2009 with the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, Yukiya Amano said he was "resolute in opposing the spread of nuclear arms because I am from a country that experienced Hiroshima and Nagasaki".

Accolades and Tribute from World Leaders to an Exemplary, Professional and Compassionate Visionary

BBC News had spotlighted that regarded as a reserved technocrat, Mr Amano has underlined the importance of working within the agency's mandate and avoiding straying into the political sphere. Mr Amano had strongly advocated that "The IAEA's basic function is not political negotiation but implementing already agreed safeguards," and carefuly highlighted that "Remarks by the director have political implications which, if made without properly assessing these implications, can be very dangerous."

A testimony to Mr Amano’s principle for the Agency to avoiding straying into the political sphere , is the report by The New York Times of the Passing of Mr Amano , that even some of the I.A.E.A.’s critics inside the Trump administration praised Mr. Amano’s efforts to navigate some of the world’s most perilous nuclear politics. John Bolton, for one, President Trump’s national security adviser, said in a statement that Mr. Amano’s death was a “great loss for Japan, the United States, and to many, many people from around the world.”

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he "always admired (Mr Amano's) wisdom and foresight - his ability to make informed decisions in the most difficult circumstances". Two key  events which  is testimony to this include  Mr Amano’s significant role in the negotiation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement signed in 2015 between world powers and Iran and his leadership in leading international response in the aftermath of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

In relation to the former, Aljazeera reported on 22 July 2019 that during his tenure, Amano oversaw the signing of a landmark deal in 2015 between Iran  and six major powers; the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United  States- under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

The IAEA assumes  a central role in inspecting Iran’s compliance with the landmark 2015 nuclear deal  and is in charge of monitoring and verifying the implementation by Iran of its nuclear commitments within the Iran nuclear deal agreed in Vienna.

UN Dispatch articulated that assessments about a country’s nuclear programs that come from the IAEA are regarded as being less influenced by politics or the parochial interests of any single country. If the director general is viewed as a stooge of a single country his or her effectiveness will be undermined. Having a sober international diplomat, lead the IAEA offers a degree of credibility to the work of the agency. Yukia Amano, who was from Japan, brought just that to international affairs and the world was a safer place for it.

Mitsuru Kitano, Permanent Representative of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna, addressed Mr Amano in his statement. “You were truly a visionary leader; you provided a vision and put it into practice,” he said. “You have worked to make nuclear technology accessible to people around the world. This has changed the life of many.”

He praised Mr Amano’s skills as a diplomat and consensus builder. “During your tenure, cooperation replaced confrontation and governments with different views worked together.”

Al Jazeera reported that Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi paid tribute to Amano in a Twitter post offering his deep condolences  and shared at HE and Amano had worked closely  to achieve the complete closure of the nuclear accord. As for the latter, after the Fukushima Daiichi accident, Mr Amano , led the international effort to provide assistance to Japan and had actively encouraged Member States to learn the essential lessons from the accident.

Women in Nuclear (WIN)

During H.E Mr Amano’s leadership at the IAEA, he greatly supported diversity and had offered opportunities for successful and capable women to be appointed at Senior Management level at the IAEA with a women heading the IAEA’s Division of  Management. 

Additionally the IAEA  actively supports the participation of women at the annual Women in Nuclear Global (WIN Global)  Conferences aimed at enhancing women’s knowledge and exposure of progress and development in the nuclear industry.  The author, Ms Sheriffah Noor Khamseah Al-Idid, Member of WIN Global had the honour and priviledge to meet His Excellency during her participation and presentation at the WIN Global 2015 Conference held in the IAEA, Vienna, Austria. ( please see photos Fig 1 and Fig 2).

Mr Amano had set aside time from his busy schedule to deliver his Address to ladies attending the WIN Global 2015 held in the IAEA,  Vienna, Austria

Mr Amano’s Visit to Malaysia

Mr Amano had visited Malaysia and delivered a Keynote Address at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre (PICC)

Although H. E was invited to present for 1 hour, Mr Amano agreed to speak for several minutes but had conveyed his wish to open the floor for Q&A plus comments and recommendations for the IAEA.
In his Speech Mr Amano highlighted the various benefits of nuclear technology that the IAEA has assisted with Member States in the medical, agricultural and industrial sector. Mr Amano advised countries with interest in or planning to invest in a nuclear power programme to not begin talking about nuclear power but instead share with the various stakeholders including politicians, media and public the genuine benefits the nuclear technology has provided to nations in these different sectors of the economy. After these stakeholders are aware of the safety and these benefits, only do countries begin to speak on the power sector.

Ms Sheriffah’s response and actions on HE’s Address and Advise

Ms Sheriffah had thanked Mr Amano for his Kind advice and referred  to the need to increase awareness of stakeholders and had spotlighted  that on many occasions investments in Nuclear did not come to fruition is not primarily due to the fear or lack of awareness of just the public but importantly the other Ps namely Politicians, policy & Decision Makers , press and public. Thus it is critical too for Politicians to be engaged.

 A case in point, Ms Sheriffah had referred to the IAEA’s 3 years once International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Energy and highlighted that mostly it was Ministers of Energy who attended these Conferences and that many are already advocates of nuclear due to their knowledge and awareness of energy supply and demand issues however  Ms Sheriffah had recommended for other politicians including Ministers of Science, Ministers of Education, Ministers of Economics , Minister of Human Resource as well as Ministers of International Trade also to be invited to attend but with a different focus which is directly related to these Ministers portfolio related to nuclear. She  was pleasantly pleased when Mr Amano nodded his head IN AGREEMENT  and responded Yes thank you very much, I will bring this to the attention of the IAEA. Then recently the IAEA started a Meeting of Ministers of Science and thus she is humbled and  pleased for Malaysia to have contributed a part in this new development.

A memorial ceremony paying tribute to late Director General Yukiya Amano was held in IAEA  Vienna on 21 August 2019.

At the start of the Memorial, Ms Mary Alice Hayward , Deputy Director- General, IAEA, welcomed Ms Yukiya Amano and distinguished guests to the memorial ceremony in honour of Mr Amano and had underscored Mr Amano’s foresight in expanding the original motto of the Agency from “ Atoms for Peace” to  “ Atoms for Peace and Development”

Acting Director General of the IAEA, Mr Cornel  Feruta had the singled out three of his achievements: his leadership in leading international response in the aftermath of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the modernization of the IAEA’s nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna and the increased international confidence in the credibility and impartiality of IAEA nuclear safeguards achieved during his tenure.

Leena Al-Hadid, Chair of the IAEA’s Board of Governors and Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Vienna recounted that Mr Amano firmly believed that the benefits of nuclear power should not be limited to developed countries. She spoke of Mr. Amano’s major achievements in nuclear safeguards, safety and nuclear security, underlining the role of the late Director General in raising awareness about the importance of nuclear security and facilitating the development of legal instruments to strengthen nuclear security around the globe.

At the end of the ceremony, in recognition of the late Mr Amano’s public service, Mr Feruta presented Mrs Amano with a replica of the emblem of the IAEA – the original of which decorates the office of the Director General.( see Fig 3)

Chief Architect of  Atoms for Peace and Development

The BBC News, on 1, December 2009  reported that as he formally took office, Mr Amano said he would address global issues such as non-proliferation, enhancing nuclear security and addressing energy needs but would also focus on the agency's role in fostering the use of nuclear energy for economic development and medicine.

Nuclear technologies which have a wide and diverse applications in medicines, agriculture and industry amongst others has and continues to contribute  significantly to the socio-development of nations.

As the Chief Architect of the expanded motto “ Atoms for Peace and Development” to better reflect the contribution of the IAEA in assisting countries in the peaceful use of nuclear technology for their development, Mr Amano had offered a broader role for nuclear technology in global development–particularly in global health and cancer treatment in the developing world

Heartfelt Thanks & Appreciation

Your Excellency Mr Amano, through your vision, professionalism , diplomacy and moderate approach you have steered the IAEA  towards accomplishing many great strides ,in such that  whilst being confronted by many challenges including nuclear politics and  nuclear incidences which has far reaching effect and impact to  the world and its global citizens, your  leadership  and compassion has ensured  the safe application of nuclear technology and nuclear energy  for global  peace and development.

 Mr Amano you have left  a very significant legacy , Atoms for Peace and Development ,  which has set the direction and guided the Agency and Member States  in applying nuclear technology for peace and development and your vision, leadership and compassion  will continue  to inspire the global nuclear stakeholders.

The global community looks forward to your successor continuing this important legacy furthering development whilst ensuring global peace and security.

Last but not least, I would like to convey my deepest condolences to Mrs Amano and family and the staff of the IAEA and may the Almighty  give strength to you  in this moment of grief. 

  • Women in Nuclear Global Conference 2015

  • Participants at Women in Nuclear Global Conference

  • IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano Memorial Ceremony