Paul C. Warnke Lecture on International Security With Rafael Mariano Grossi

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency


Director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, U.S. Department of Defense; Former Director, Project on Nuclear Issues and Senior Advisor, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies; CFR Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi discusses IAEA efforts to address the nuclear safety and security situation in Ukraine, and the main proliferation challenges worldwide, including concerns surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.

The Paul C. Warnke Lecture on International Security was established in 2002 and is endowed by a number of Council members and the family and friends of Paul C. Warnke. The lecture commemorates his legacy of courageous service to the nation and international peace.

HERSMAN: Well, hello, everyone. I know everyone’s getting settled. We have the pleasure of an in-person audience and a virtual one. It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to today’s Council on Foreign Relations Paul C. Warnke Lecture on International Security.

I’m Rebecca Hersman. I am the director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with the Council on Foreign Relations for many years; we’ll just leave it there.

And it’s a special treat to be with all of you today and have the opportunity to welcome you, sir—Rafael Grossi, who is the sixth director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He was appointed first in December of 2019, just in time to lead that agency through the COVID pandemic. He’s a long and seasoned diplomat, deeply experienced in the issues that he now leads, and was recently reappointed for a second four-year term. So congratulations—I think congratulations.

GROSSI: Thank you. (Laughs.)

HERSMAN: It certainly is at least a vote of confidence.

GROSSI: Thank you very much.

HERSMAN: So really a great opportunity to have you here today.

You know, I want to acknowledge that the Paul C. Warnke Lecture of International Security has—really is now enjoying its twentieth year. It was established in 2002 and is dedicated to the memory of Paul Warnke, a member and former director of the Council on Foreign Relations. This lecture commemorates his legacy of courageous service to the nation and to international peace.

I’d like to thank the members of the Warnke family, some of whom we just met a few minutes ago—many of you were here in the room—and joining us virtually as well. And I want to thank the donors who make this series possible. Those are much, much appreciated, and I’m really thrilled we have the opportunity to talk with you today.

Now I want to mention to the group we have a terrific audience here inside the room in person, but we’re also joined by members from across the nation who are joining us virtually. So when we get to questions and answers, we’ll have a chance to bring in questions from both. I would go ahead and mention, although it seems well posted at different places, that today’s meeting actually is on the record, so we’ll have a chance for that information to achieve a slightly wider audience. I will engage the director general in a bit of discussion to begin with, get to ask some of my favorite questions, but we will save time for all of you. And of course, we’ll follow the normal Council rules. At that time, we’ll ask you to stand if you’re here, say your name and affiliation, and pose a brief question to the director general. And we’ll have an opportunity for everyone joining us online to do so as well. So we’ll circle back to that in a few minutes.

But you know, sir, I wanted to just sort of ask you the big-picture question, you know, up front because it’s not just the one thing that you’ve had to lead your agency through over the last few years; it’s the combination of things.


HERSMAN: It’s the—you know, it is the challenges of dealing with Iran. It’s, you know, AUKUS. It’s North Korea. It is certainly Ukraine and Zaporizhia. It’s all of the other responsibilities you have, and all of that in the context of a global pandemic. And you know, that accumulated effect has a weight all its own. It’s not like you had the chance or the opportunity to do things one at a time. And I just wanted you to have a chance to opine on that a bit. Like, what was that first tenure like? They got you to come back for a second one. What was that like? And you know, what do you really want to get done in this next term?

GROSSI: Well, thank you. Thank you, Rebecca, for the question. And I should start by saying how delighted I am to be here, how honored I am. For anybody working in this field, like you’ve been, in—from the academic or the policymaking or international relations or diplomatic sides, of course, the Council on Foreign Relations, this series of conferences is like a pinnacle of thinking and sharing and discussing the issues of our times. So I don’t take this lightly and I wanted to say it, how grateful I am to be here.

Yes, well, you said it—2019, I come to office, you know, ready to go out in the world, only that the world was closing down, which is not a small thing for an organization that is everything about being in the field. We are not into policymaking. We are not a think tank. We are not setting rules and laws. We are about implementing things, doing things. From inspecting that nuclear material is not deviated or put to bad use; to giving technical assistance to countries; to checking on nuclear security, that material does not fall into the wrong hands—all of these things need us to be in the field. And of course, that was—that was an enormous question mark in front of us, the first of what would become a series. And I would say that came in, as we all remember, I’m sure, for family/personal reasons in February/March 2020, when we were looking at this issue and role, and become first a health emergency issue into an epidemic and then into a pandemic, and so on and so forth.

But that was not the only one. I’m sure that we will be discussing these, but just to give you an example of how reality can hit you straight on your face when you sat in a job like this. I was served with a—from Iran, basically, in January with notice of denial of access—denial of access for our inspectors for a very important thing that we needed to do. So that was a major thing coming our way: How do we react to this? Do we propel this into a crisis? How we do—so I think one thing I learned is that, of course, you need to be—you need to be sure of what you want to do, where you want to get, and the place that you can occupy at a certain moment—and of the mission that has been entrusted to you.

You’re not there to do whatever you want. You have a norm that you play the score the way you feel it, hmm? And being in Vienna, you know, a very musical place in the world, you can play your Mozart in different ways. So I have a statute. I have some norms. But that will allow for a relatively, perhaps, circumspect leadership or one that is more about trying to do things. So that was like a foretaste of what was—what was coming our way, which was—would become even worse, of course culminating very unfortunately for us in February of last year with open war in Europe with a dramatic nuclear chapter, which I’m—which I’m sure we are going to be discussing.

So it is—it is, of course, a very vivid example of how you have to be ready for things. And you know, the classics used to say there are no good winds for those who do not know where they want to go. So if you have an idea, then things become easier.

And the IAEA is an organization, for those who are not familiar with it, that is really world  class. I mean, it’s a group of experts, scientists, technologists. People like me are the minority in an organization which is dense in scientific knowledge. And so that gives you the ability of have a very, very—of having a very, very powerful tool, only you want to—want to use it.

HERSMAN: Yeah. Well, you know, so you’re spinning plates, I think, is what I imagine, you know, with trying to keep those all in the air. So let me ask you about that one especially spinning plate right now, which is the situation in Ukraine and in particular the situation surrounding the power plant at Zaporizhia. I mean, it’s an extraordinary thing. I guess I saw it’s the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Is that right?

GROSSI: It is.

HERSMAN: It’s huge. They are dependent on nuclear power. Of course, you know, an incredible history. And now look at this situation. You know, we were talking before coming in about you all had to not only get out of the pandemic, but become operational.

GROSSI: If this was a script, somebody would say, no, come on, this is too much.


GROSSI: Let’s think about a different scenario, a bit more realistic, because you have—you have the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe—six big reactors, ten megawatts—a thousand megawatts—each six—you have them in Ukraine, but in a part of the territory which is effectively occupied by Russia, and the plant is at the frontline. It’s not near or—I mean, anywhere in the country it could be it would be at risk, and by the way we are also looking after the other nuclear power plants in the country. But this particular one—I’ve been there and I will be there again soon—it’s on the Dnipro. And so it’s like the river and there you have the reds, and here you have the blues, all right? So it’s not something that—and then, to add to that, you have the—basically, the Ukrainian operators there, still there, but you have a superimposed Russian management, leading to potentially contradictions, situations. Imagine, you know, you have a—you know, an airplane and you have a discussion in the cockpit. This is not something you want to have, somebody saying you have to go north and the other we have to go south. Flaps? No. Yes/no. What is the situation?

And this is why I thought that it was imperative that we would try to be there physically and be present there and stay there, which was again, to go back to this initial question of yours, how do you go about your job. Had I—would you think, had I asked Kyiv and Moscow whether they would agree that I have a permanent presence at the plant, what would have been the answer? Do you think it would have been easy for them to agree that we do that? It would have been impossible. I would still be looking into that. So in a certain sense, we pushed. And of course, you cannot impose yourself, but we created a situation whereby I went, I visited, and, well, somehow I forgot a few people at the plant, and then we negotiated terms of reference, of course, with our Ukrainian counterparts, and then we were talking with the Russians. But the international mission was there. And this was very important because we have a group which has rotated. We have established a system whereby we have our experts coming out and new teams coming in.

So we have—first of all, we can tell it as it is. Somebody once said that in a war the first victim is the truth, and it’s true. Of course, they are—it’s a confrontation, so you tell the story you want to tell. And perhaps your enemy will tell another story. And we saw that happening already, and it was happening also in Chernobyl, which was another important issue because Chernobyl was also occupied, although the Russian forces withdrew after a month or so. So we had to do that for information’s stake, which is, of course, indispensable for people all of the world, in this country and in other countries, to know what is the situation—how difficult, how dangerous the situation is at the plant—and then start building on that and having a sort of—if not a mediation, like a technical presence there discussing with the—because these people are basically, of course, technical people, nuclear engineers there from one side and the other.

And this gives us an opportunity, at least, to mitigate situations, to try to help, while I am trying at the same time—and so far I haven’t been successful, but I am continuing my efforts. I’m trying to establish some sort of agreement of protecting the plant from attacks. The plant has been shelled. There has been bombing. Crazy as this may sound, there have been—there has been shelling of a nuclear power plant more than once. And not only that, there has been other forms of aggression in the way of interrupting or cutting off the outside power. You know that when you—when a nuclear power plant—you know it from your current responsibilities. Nuclear power plant loses cooling function, well, you can have a meltdown of the reactors, as simple as that.

So all of these things come together and the IAEA is there. The efforts continue. We have also deployed to all the others, to all the other nuclear facilities. You know, you were mentioning that as well in your introduction. Ukraine was—is a country heavily dependent on nuclear energy. Fifty percent of the power they enjoy comes from nuclear energy. And from that 50 percent, Zaporizhia used to be 20 percent of that 50 percent. There are three other nuclear sites at Rivne, Khmelnytskyi, and south Ukraine. I visited all of them, and we were there, and now we have technical people. And now the IAEA flag, which in this sense represents us all—represents the international community—is proudly flying atop all of these nuclear facilities at the request of President Zelenskyy. In a way, we are showing that we are there; we are looking at the security, the safety of these facilities.

So this is a work in progress. We have achieved certain things. We will not achieve anything until this war is over, of course. But in our particular case, until we can say, well, this incredible thing happened to all of us and we could navigate it without a major radiological emergency, a major nuclear accident, which this time—this time, and this is another big difference—this time would not be the result, like Chernobyl, of an opaque and aberrational system like the Soviet used to be, where the mistakes—I mean, I’m sure that many of you at least saw this series, so there was all these system that led to the accident—or mother nature in the case of Fukushima Daiichi, where you had the double whammy of a horrible nine-point-something earthquake, you know, breaking all the records, and the Japanese do have records going back to the eighth century—not the eighteenth, the eighth century. And in these records, you wouldn’t have such a big earthquake. Coupled, of course, thank you very much, with a tsunami. So in all of these cases, we had something objective, unexpected, perhaps even inevitable to blame for in the case of a nuclear accident. Now we don’t. Now we know that if something happens we will not have done what we knew we should be doing.

And this is part of my fight. This is fight of my—part of my struggle, to convince the powers that be that protecting this nuclear power plant is protecting us all, including the contenders in this tragic conflict.

HERSMAN: Yes, right. Well, it’s very dangerous, but it does seem that having a presence perhaps at least offers some opportunity to avert the more egregious cases.

You know, but that’s not the only place where you all are seized day in, day out with national security emergencies and other crises. If I could ask you about Iran and where that stands, and in particular, you know, I was interested in some of your recent updates in terms of, you know, finding trace uranium particles at three undeclared locations and highly enriched particles, particles enriched well beyond what is understood or declared at Fordow as well. I think you spoke to that, to the—your board recently. Can you update the group on that? And what is your—how do you—what do you think is possible?

GROSSI: Well, I think everything is possible if we find the will and the ways to do that. So there’s nothing predetermined that would prevent us from getting to a better place where we are. And I had the opportunity to say these things to the president of the Islamic Republic just a few days ago, Ebrahim Raisi, and his foreign minister, Mr. Amir-Abdollahian, and the rest of the nuclear community there.

So when it comes to the Iran situation, it’s something that we see as, like, a permanent feature in your international agenda catalog. If you have to look at one, anybody coming to power in Washington or whatever, whichever country, well, you have this in the—in the top list of to-dos or problems that need to be solved.

So that is—you were mentioning one part of that, which is important because it so happened—and this harks back to what I told you about my first days or weeks in office, when Iran was saying, no, you cannot come to this or that place. Well, this has to do with these findings. So even before the findings, we have to be able to go there. And that was in itself another process because we should never forget that here we are not in a postwar, postconflict situation like the one you can perhaps intuitively try to compare this with Iraq, for example. Here you are dealing with a sovereign nation in times of peace, and whatever you do there it has to be agreed with the government. It is—it is so.

So how do you push the boundaries? How do you get them to comply with the international agreements they have entered into? And in these cases, we had information that in some places there could have been some activities, and of course it proved to be the case. So we went there, we were able to sample, and we—surprise, surprise—then we saw that in a place that could today be a farm or a mall or whatever or just a parking lot, whatever, there are traces of past nuclear activity. And this is one of the important things. With today’s technology, it is almost impossible to hide these types of things. The fingerprints of anything—not only nuclear material—with the current verification capabilities are very, very difficult. You can paint things, you can paint things, but still you are going to be able to.

And this is—this was—this created a lot of anxiety in the international community because if—the question is, if there was material here, where is it now? If there was equipment here processing this material, where is it now? Because it was—these places were never considered in the, you know, list of places where the agency had to—had to inspect. So that is—that is one part.

And of course, another, which is still open and still very vivid and still very present in today’s agenda, is everything that is—goes around the 2015 agreement, the big agreement, the JCPOA—this Joint Comprehensive Program (sic; Plan) of Action—which was agreed whereby Iran would limit its nuclear activities in a quid pro quo that would suppose economic incentives, investments, and so on and so forth. This story, relatively positive chapter, lasted for four years, more or less, until there was a withdrawal. The United States decided to withdraw and Iran started to—in sort of a tit for tat, started to stop compliance. And today, this agreement is like an empty shell in reality. And this is another issue that is being—I’m not negotiating that; it’s the countries. But of course, we are like a permanent presence, you know, accompanying this and ascertaining that whatever is agreed is verifiable.

So I was in Iran, as I was saying, and I hope that I was understood. And there are some avenues that seem to be opening. We’ll see if this—if this is the case. So I am actively consulting, of course, with the JCPOA partners, which are as you know the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, under the coordination of the European Union. So we are consulting them and I’m talking to Iran as well, and finding this place where an international organization can play this role and can try to help those who are in the lead to go where they should be instead of war—another war in the Middle East.

HERSMAN: Well, I’m going to ask you one more question, but I want to alert the audience that I’ll be turning to you next, both in the room and online, so to try to get those—you know, prime your questions. Get ready.

But you know, for my last question for this section, I wanted to ask you what—something I know is kind of close to your heart, which is about some of these peaceful uses, the forgotten part of the agency, which I’m afraid would be forgotten because maybe people wouldn’t ask about it, so I will. And you know, I was reading up a little bit on IAEA’s work on Rays of Hope, and you know, I have to say as a cancer survivor myself it is hard to imagine going through that experience and thinking, oh, I’m not going to have the opportunity for radiation oncology or all of the diagnostics that go through. And you really emphasized that in several of your remarks.

GROSSI: Of course.

HERSMAN: And so I want to ask you about that role. But then I really want to ask you, because you’re talking to a U.S. audience principally here, how do you keep member states, especially the wealthy ones, focused on the peaceful uses agenda? How do you make it in our interest to do that?

GROSSI: Well, I thank—I thank you for bringing up the issue because normally when people talk to the IAEA director general they want to know about Iran, Ukraine, et cetera, sidelining this issue which is—which is so important. Actually, you know, I’m here in New York because there is something that is the UN Water Conference. It’s a very big event that is not going to be hitting the headlines, I’m sure, but we are having enormous problems all over the world in terms of droughts, in terms of not having access to water in many places in the world, and the IAEA helps a lot—again, an issue that people ignore—because we do have something which is called isotopic hydrology, so the ability to weed water through nuclear techniques. You can know whether water is usable or not, where is it coming from, what is the regime of the water. And so in vast parts of the world in Africa, in Southeast Asia, in Latin America where I come from, this thing is topical.

But you mentioned, too, something which is very important, and it has to do with oncology and nuclear medicine. And you survived and you’re here, but you know, I would say from ten of your African sisters seven would not. This is the proportion, seven to eight, because they do not have any access to radiotherapy. And a breast cancer, which, thank God, would not kill almost anybody in the United States or in Europe, where I live there is a death sentence, all right? So this is what we see. And when you see the level of resources that you would need to make these horrible stats go down, you feel ashamed because here we are talking about—we are not talking about the billions. We are talking about five million, four million. A group of friends in the United States could get together and build a radiotherapy center in the Central African Republic or in Burundi, you know, thereby saving thousands of lives.

So I said this is mind-boggling. This is obscene. And not that the agency was not doing work in that area, but it was doing it in a—I would say in a more routine way. So we launched this Rays of Hope program. Now we are starting this. The United States is helping. And it’s not only and it shouldn’t be only for philanthropic reasons. I think it also touches for those specialized in security agenda in the—in the heart agenda, that side of business, because when we see the distress, when we see the absence of hope, when we see the tremendous pressure in terms of migration, maybe less felt here—you feel it in a different way and from different countries, but less felt here than in Europe, where it is a security matter—of course, this has to do a lot with these kinds of situations where there is no hope, where there is no possibility for people to lead a decent life.

So my impression is that we should be having a more holistic approach to our security agendas. Of course it can be from the health agenda, and I talk to and I try to work with the World Health Organization, and we have excellent work with them.

A few weeks ago I think here in Washington President Biden had an African summit and there were billions, billions committed for—you know, for the continent. You know, with a 0.0001 fraction of what was discussed in that meeting, I would have cancer centers in ten countries. So I think there is something we’re not doing right and we should rethink a little bit.

And this also applies to other issues. On the pandemic, for example, when I saw the pandemic again, and it hit us so badly, we helped with RT-PCRs. RT-PCRs are nuclear device, so I had a mandate—I discovered that I had a mandate to do that, and the United States helped me a lot, and we sent—at the beginning of the problem, when we didn’t know what to do—no vaccines, OK? I’m talking about early 2020.

So we needed to know—countries needed to know they didn’t have the capacity to test people—the capacity to test people and to know the dimension of the problem. So we sent RT-PCRs to 130 countries. So 130, for all my calculations, you exceed what you would call developing countries, so lots of countries were turning to us for—and we said, well, what is the next step? How can nuclear help?

And then we launched another program, which is called ZODIAC, for Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action, so that we can apply nuclear techniques to the early identification of the next one because there is going—it’s going to come. It’s going to come. This is not rocket science. We had SARs, we had MERS, we had Zika, we had Chicungouna, then COVID-19 hit us. The only thing was that it was far more efficient than the previous one, but zoonoses are there because of the interaction of us with the animal realm and all of that.

So thank you for giving me the opportunity and for reminding that this instrument can be tremendously efficient in channeling this goodwill of countries in doing good things, and that this is not indifferent or not completely alien to other harder agendas like the security agenda.

HERSMAN: Thank you. All right, well, what I’d like to do is open the floor to questions. Just raise your hand, probably to call a microphone over if we have anyone in the room. I see one in the back here—start there.

Q: Hi, I’m Susan Sommer. I’m a member of Warnke nation. I’m a daughter-in-law of Paul Warnke. And thank you so much. This is great.

I’m wondering if you have a sense of whether Russia is poised—or should we fear would recklessly, maliciously actually trigger the kind of catastrophe that has so far been avoided at one of the nuclear power plants in Ukraine. Do you think this could be a real thing that could happen?

GROSSI: Should I answer this now or are you going to—

HERSMAN: Yes, go ahead.

GROSSI: Well, the first thing that we should remind ourselves of is there is a war. And of course, all the rational assumptions that could order your thinking in terms of getting to a conclusion could be altered at any point in time. We are assuming that actors act rationally, and for that we assume different scenarios.

So I don’t think there will be an irrational act. Of course, in my negotiations, I do have—and I must have direct and permanent contact with Russian Federation. I’ve been with President Putin just a few months ago. So I don’t believe irrational actions in this regard, but I do also believe, and I remind myself as well of the fact that this is a war, and would these escalate into things that we are not foreseeing right now, then perhaps things could happen—either side—and this I need to be—I must be—you know, I’m not an analyst, right? I’m the head of an international organization who is negotiating with Kyiv and with Moscow. And I’m saying this to—not to answer—I’m answering you. So what I’m saying is that acts have consequences, and we have to be aware of these.

As you know, the use of nuclear weapons follow normally a doctrine which exists for all nuclear weapon states where certain prerequisites, or conditions, or situations should occur for those countries, including the United States, to have recourse to nuclear weapons. Of course I am one of those who believe that nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought. This is clear. A nuclear war can never be won; it is by definition the case.

But I would say we should extreme all our diplomatic reflexes to never get to that point—to never get to that point. So when there is something that could be in the chain of events leading to that, we should think long and hard what could be the consequences of that.

HERSMAN: Thank you.

I’ll come to this side of the room, then I’ll go there. Thank you.

Q: Thank you very much.

HERSMAN: I think there is a microphone coming your way.

Q: Robert Kiernan. Thank you very much for coming to speak to us today.

You made a statement earlier this month—which I found salutary, arresting, and perhaps inspirational—in, I believe, testimony where you said, what are we doing? How can we let this happen? I think if the “what are we doing” part was made in a more—or a less formal setting, you might have inserted the fornicating adverb in that sentence somewhere.


Q: You are a scholar of international history, of international relations. It is perhaps unfair to ask you this question—the meeting is on the record—but if you could stand back and have a wider remit than your current job, what would you recommend the West do in its engagement on behalf of Ukraine?

GROSSI: Well, thank you for the question. I said that to an audience of diplomats. I didn’t say that in a context like this. It was a meeting of the board of governors of the IAEA, and I felt I had to say it. That was a morning after we were in one of our regular sessions, so I had the ambassadors and the governors of the board in front of me, and the previous night we had had the sixth blackout at Zaporizhia, and this biggest nuclear power plant in the whole European continent was operating with emergency diesel generators, which is completely crazy. Of course these generators are there for that, but this is the last line of defense that you can have.

And I felt—and as part of the agenda—you know, you have an agenda in the board of governors with lots of things. Of course you have the hot topics, and you have Ukraine, you have Iran, but then you have other bureaucratic things—I mean, bureaucratic I would say with all due respect—where we analyze, and at that time we were analyzing the safety program of the IAEA, what we were doing in different countries, what were the activities in some of the reports, and I said to myself, I mean, come on, how is it possible, how can we say that we are discussing here some report of sorts about the application of safety standards in whatever country it is where we have a huge, humongous elephant over the planet which is risking nuclear safety in the world, and we are not doing anything about it. I refuse to continue pretending that I care about nuclear safety when I’m not doing anything about the biggest, gravest, most urgent problem on earth in terms of nuclear safety and security. And if I don’t say it, who else?

So these are these moments where, without being arrogant, maybe in the metabolism of things, we created international organizations to do these kind of things because, of course, if it was Washington, then it could be, you know, construed as an attack on Russia, or an accusation on Russia. And if it was—I don’t know—in Beijing or in a country which is more sympathetic to Russia, as an attack on Ukraine or the West.

So this is where the IAEA must play its role. And my silence would have been unforgivable. So this is why I said, listen, guys—and I didn’t use any word like that, but it was in me. You know, I’m from Argentina and Italian descent, so I’m quite eloquent. And I was expressing this thing not out of desperation, but simply to say, we are doing something about this, and there is something more we can achieve if you just help me. And because—and what I said to the governors at the end was help me, support me, because what I’m doing is not taking sides militarily; it’s taking sides for humanity because if there is a nuclear accident this will affect equally both sides, so there won’t be one that will be benefitting. One could Machiavellian-ly believe, OK, a nuclear accident in this country, how about that; so now they are going to suffer. No. It’s in the middle of everything. It’s in Russian-controlled territory, in Ukraine, with other countries surrounding there, and with the possibility of—depending on the dimension of the emergency, of the consequences, be projected far over the continent.

So this is why this came in this way. So it is not a Cri de Coeur—it is a Cri de Coeur, but it is a Cri de Coeur which is inspired by a necessity to achieve what we need to achieve, which is to protect this power plant.

I always say to my Ukrainian friends, you want to—starting with all due respect with the president, you want the plant back. To go back to the plant, you need a plant to go back to, and this is the first step. And then, of course, there will be negotiation, there will be a solution for this, and it’s not my remit. If it was, I would have ideas, but it not my remit, and I should limit myself to that, is to prevent a nuclear accident from happening, and I think we still—we still can.

HERSMAN: Thank you. I want to turn over to—oh, it sounds like we have a question from the online audience.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from DJ Nordquist.

Q: Hi. DJ Nordquist at the Center for Strategic International Studies. Among other things, I was the former U.S. executive director at the World Bank. And thank you for doing this event.

I wanted to follow up on what Rebecca was talking about in terms of peaceful uses—not all the Russia-Ukraine stuff that has been rightly the focus, but obviously there are some good, peaceful uses of nuclear power—


Q: —particularly in terms of its role in mitigating climate change. It’s obviously the lowest greenhouse gas emitter of all energy sources. Even the EU has reclassified nuclear as green, yet it’s off limits to so much of the developing world due to financing issues.

I know you met with World Bank President Malpass—I guess it’s been a little over a year—to discuss the issue.


Q: The Bank has a policy against financing any nuclear—oddly—given its climate change agenda. I just don’t know how we can ever get to net zero without nuclear, and so I’m just sort of wondering your thoughts about how to get the World Bank to change its policy. It keeps saying that it doesn’t have the expertise to do nuclear projects except, obviously, IAEA is a sister agency; you guys have tons of expertise to do that.

GROSSI: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: Anyway, just sort of curious on your thoughts on how to help the developing world access, you know, clean, green, you know, good base-load power.

GROSSI: Well, thank you very much. Listening to you I wish you were still there at the Bank because I think we need these kind of voices.

Of course there is this long-standing, I would say, caution when it comes to nuclear, which is changing—which is changing. We can see it even in Europe where there has been, you know, in the last few decades, a strong pushback when it comes to nuclear—even in Germany, which will still phase out because they are too far along that path to go back, but if you ask people, according to the polls, we read most of them do not understand why nuclear—having the fabulous fleet they used to have—is no longer part of that, and they are using coal again—quite ironic.

But anyway, it’s not about criticizing that. We respect democratically taken decisions like those.

I would say I think things are changing. We have an evolution in terms of not only big nuclear; we are on the verge of opening a new chapter with small modular reactors, which have been part of the landscape for a long time, as possibilities. Now we see contracts being signed. We see many countries approaching the idea of modularity with smaller reactors that are affordable because, of course, we have to think that in terms of credit and financing, many countries in Africa or in Latin America, and in some other parts, would be inclined and interested. And they come to see us, they come to see me in the office, and they ask, you know. what about these possibilities. One thing is to have a nuclear reactor a billion—one billion U.S. dollars than to have it for nine, or ten, or eleven, which is almost unachievable. And in some cases, with a small modular reactor, you can power half a country—a middle-sized or a small-sized country.

So I believe there are possibilities being open. We see some international financing corporations being more open, for example, to something which is very interesting, which is the long-term operation. I mean, the cheapest way to have clean energy is to extend the life of your existing nuclear reactors, which is very important, between there, here in the United States, and in many other places in Europe. And we see some evolution. But of course we are still a far cry from where we could be, but I fully agree with the assumptions in your questions. Thank you very much for that.

HERSMAN: Thank you. I know I had one question here that’s been—and another over there, but do we have more online also? Let’s take this one in the room, and then we’ll bounce back to online.

Q: Thank you. Larry Johnson, formerly legal advisor of the agency way back when—before you were born. (Laughter.)

My question comes back to the Ukraine and your efforts to make sure there is no disaster in Zaporizhia, so congratulations on your access victory. But on your idea of a demilitarized or protected zone, has there been enough international support for that? Has your board of governors endorsed that idea? Why hasn’t it appeared in any of the General Assembly resolutions thus far? Or do you think the Russians would consider that to be a provocation, and you prefer to deal with it bilaterally, one on one?

GROSSI: Yeah. No wonder you were the legal advisor—excellent question.

First of all, let me introduce precision here. We are not talking about a demilitarized zone. We are very aware of the added complications that that would bring, especially in an area of active combat. This would be extremely difficult to do, to verify, to implement. And you have the mile-plus-one out of the demilitarized zone, which would be extremely militarized. So we are not looking into that.

We are looking into something which is more behavioral—although verifiable—than territorial, if you know what I mean. What we mean is to go for a concept of having a commitment—verifiable commitment because we have our people there to monitor that that’s happened—not to attack the plant, or not to use the plant to project attacks, which is something the Ukrainians are, of course—and logically—aware, and of course concerned about.

So this is a much more viable concept than establishing a big demilitarized zone, which of course one or the other could be objecting depending on the size. Let me tell you, without getting into the intricacies of the negotiation because, you know, you never do that. You talk about your success and what it is instead of, you know, talking about the different—but let me tell you that there were different blueprints, and in different blueprints we’ve been negotiating for seven months or eight months. We have been discussing with both sides about these different sizes, and shapes, and distances, and I came to the conclusion that the territoriality would be something that, for different reasons, for the Ukrainians could also be seen as a legitimization of the Russian presence, and so on and so forth.

So what we are looking at, and it’s to this. The reason we haven’t been promoting this through these kinds of instruments is precisely because I want to protect the protection. We don’t want this to be a political football, and for this to work, everybody has to be on board, and everybody means everybody.

So I’ve chosen not to seek this. I’ve chosen to work with all countries, to work very closely with Washington, with London, with Paris, with Beijing, and with Moscow obviously. We keep—number one—to study ideas, to test ideas, and once we have it, to try to bring it to the table. Otherwise it will become an argument, and it would be cancelled out immediately. If it goes into a resolution or a political manifestation, that of course is the expression of the political thinking of a certain group. If you have a resolution condemning country B, and you put this there, of course country B will say, no, forget it; this is part of the catalog of laws against me. And it applies the other way around, so this is the reason.

I must say the last session of the board of governors, we were—I think the expressions of support for the protection of the plant were almost unanimous. I cannot say I will get it or if I will get it because it depends on many things, and since this is a war, any day something can happen that may alter the balance of things in the Middle East. You know how many plans for Israeli-Palestinian peace were, you know, botched or failed because of something that happened, or an attack, or a bombing, or this, or that. So you are always prey to these sort of externalities that can come. So it’s like a very, very fragile thing that we are pushing.

At the same time, we cannot do this forever, as I was saying when I had this Cri de Coeur to the board. We cannot, you know, prolong this thing as if it was a—if it’s an emergency, it’s an emergency. If it’s no longer an emergency, then it’s a chronic thing, and we hope it’s not going to become a chronic thing.

HERSMAN: One from the online group? I will say to the audience we’re getting close on time, so we’ll try to fit a couple of things in quickly here before we wrap up.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Jane Harman.

Q: Good afternoon. Former member of Congress, chair of the Wilson Center.

You have talked movingly of the threats to humanity from some of this going wrong, and you said that Zaporizhia was both shelled and now operating on an emergency generator.

My question is if by accident or intention the core melts in Zaporizhia, and the water table is polluted, and there is radiation that seeps not only over Ukraine but into Russia and west into NATO countries, do you think that could or should trigger an Article 5 reaction on the part of those countries where the radiation is present?

GROSSI: Thank you. Thank you for the question.

I don’t think so. I think that the legal path from what you described, which would be extremely serious—don’t misunderstand me. What you are describing is a very terrible scenario of big radiological contamination. But for an Article 5—first of all, I don’t see any NATO ally being victim to this, which would not—at the same time would not be a military attack, so I don’t think that path is a path that would take you there. So that is my opinion.

At the same time, the issue is as grave as you described it. If we were to have this kind of situation hence, the necessity to look for mitigation, a solution for this as soon as we can. Thank you very much for the question.

HERSMAN: Let’s see. I know we have one in the back, right behind you. See with the—see the young lady in the back. Thank you.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much. I am Maryum Saifee. I’m a CFR life member, and a State Department Foreign Service officer.

You’ve been a huge gender champion, and this is Women’s History Month. I was coming across a statistic that, of the 193 U.N. member states, only 20 percent of ambassadorial appointments are women and permanent reps. So what have you done—

GROSSI: Twenty percent are—

Q: Twenty percent are women of ambassadorial appointments.

GROSSI: Of ambassadors, yes.

Q: Yes, and perm reps. So what are you doing concretely in the IAEA to sort of increase or bridge the gender gap?

GROSSI: Yeah, well, it’s a great question. There are two sides to it. The easy one—although it’s not easy, I can tell you, for anybody that has been—you are in a leadership position in an important agency—but I would say it’s relatively easier—is to redress the gender balance within the organization, and we all know it’s very difficult because in terms of recruitments, we do follow certain procedures, and we have to stick to those.

This being said, I took over an agency with 28 percent of women in professional or higher positions—28 percent. I said by 2025 I will be on par. I’m at 42 percent and counting. So you can do it, which doesn’t mean that for every recruitment, if you are a woman, you are recruited. Their recruitment procedures are very stringent and very serious, and audited, and so the thing is to open up the field, to work with—for example, I work a lot with women in nuclear, with organizations that exist, that try to open up an opportunity.

The other thing I have been doing is to try to influence the workforce in a way that provides for more opportunities outside the bureaucracy, so this is why I said I characterize the first as the relatively easier one, although it’s not easy at all. I have pushback. I have been sued by men, so that you know, because they believe that they are being discriminated because they are men. But that is one thing.

The other thing is to really open up and offer opportunities. I created something which is called the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme, which is a fellowship for women in STEM and, in particular, in nuclear. And the United States is helping me with that, so we are sponsoring fifty-plus women per year in order to give opportunities for them.

Now I announced in Washington last year another program to provide for opportunities for women in the professional area, not in—to complete their status, but to work. This is in honor of another forgotten heroine of nuclear science, Lise Meitner, an Austrian scientist who had to flee her country because she was a woman and because she was Jewish, and she ended up in Sweden. She was actually the mastermind of the discovery of nuclear fission with a man taking the credit and the honor for her, as one could imagine.

So we are doing things to try to, as a bureaucracy, be better, be more reflective, and these are the figures so that you know it’s not just a promise. We are showing by figures that we are redressing things, and we are having—we will end up having—in a couple of years, if not before—an IAEA which is more reflective of the society in which we live than the one I took over.

And the other thing is to try to—and this is of course an inspiration for countries to do more. From the IAEA it is very limited, but by creating these fellowships, these opportunities, we are showing to girls—one very nice thing is starting to happen to me. The other day I was in Pakistan, and then three, four girls came to me and said, thank you very much; I’m a former fellow. I had a chance. I had an opportunity which would not have been available to me if it wasn’t for this fellowship. And it happens to me in South America. So I hope that within, you know, a few years we’ll have thousands of girls that will see a future in nuclear.

And now if you combine this with all these possibilities that we have been discussing—because nuclear, if you like it, can be a nuclear engineer, but nuclear can also be a radiotherapist. Nuclear can also be somebody who is working on water management in Africa. So all of these things are opportunities.

When it comes to ambassadors, now I can say it’s member states, guys. It’s you who have to promote and have women ambassadors in positions. The United States has one.

HERSMAN: We do have—

GROSSI: And Vienna has many more, but the one I have in Vienna is a woman, and a very knowledgeable one.

HERSMAN: Yes. We do have Ambassador Laura Holgate in Vienna.

GROSSI: Laura Holgate, yes.

HERSMAN: And, you know, I have to say, in light of your comments, you know, it’s always just another step. I mean, the twenty-five-year history of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, I’m the permanent lead.

GROSSI: You are the first.

HERSMAN: I am the first woman.

GROSSI: You are the first.

HERSMAN: I am the first woman, yeah. So you’ve got to start somewhere, so there you go.

You know, there were so many more questions online, more people in the room. I’m sorry that we weren’t able to bring all of you into the conversation, but there were just so many interesting points that you raised. But it is—we are at the end of the hour, so we’re going to have to stop.

But in closing, I just want to say I think that last point was such a great one as you look for ways to bring all kinds of people—


HERSMAN: —into this business, bring women and girls to realize they can do this, but also across the developing world in general.

You know, you said something in another meeting that I made a note of I hope to steal and use, but “the noble idea of international civil service”—I think you’ve definitely embodied it here tonight, and where—those moments when you have to kind of bring courage to a situation. So thanks for doing that, and thanks for—

GROSSI: Thank you very much.

HERSMAN: —what you are doing at the IAEA now.

I’m quite sure the audience would like to join me in showing our appreciation.

GROSSI: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)


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