The creation of the Atomic International Agency (IAEA) in 1957 was a reaction to the discovery and frequent use of nuclear energy. IAEA is an agency that focuses on nuclear energy and its uses.

The idea of creating the IAEA was first coined by the 34th United States president, Dwight Eisenhower, in 1953. Eisenhower gave his “Atoms for Peace” speech while addressing the United Nations General Assembly on 5 December 1953.  In his speech, he expressed his concern about the rapid use of nuclear energy and technology.

Dwight Eisenhower
Dwight Eisenhower was the man behind the establishment of the IAEA

President Eisenhower also sought to find ways for nuclear energy to be of use good to mankind. He advocated for a peaceful nuclear initiative, which led to the creation of many atomic programs.

The rise of the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union brought great concern to Eisenhower. The horrific incidents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed about 106,000 people leaving 110,000 injured.

The Nagasaki bomb emitted the explosive, equating to 23,000 tons of Trinitrotoluene/2,4,6-trinitrotoluene. Following this, the U.S. also tested larger bombs in the Pacific Ocean.

The Soviet Union also established its nuclear capability using a nuclear device.  These and many more nuclear energy activities alarmed Eisenhower.

Therefore, the U.S. ratified the statute by Eisenhower, which officially marked the establishment of the IAEA in the United Nations system.  The agency later established its headquarters in October 1957 in Vienna, Austria.

Structure of IAEA

IAEA has three main organs. These include The General Conference, the Board of Governors, and the Secretariat. The General Conference includes all IAEA members, each having one vote. They also meet once every year at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna.

The Conference

The Conference assesses and approves reports. It also chooses 22 of 35 Board of Governors elected on a two-year term. The Conference approves the budget on recommendation from the Board of Governors. The Conference meets to discuss matters concerning the agency.

Board of Governors

The Board of Governors executes the functions of the agency. The Board of Governors consists of 35 members who meet five times a year. It consists of members from different locations; Latin America, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, and the far East.

Director-General and Secretariat

The third and last organ of the IAEA is the Director-General and Secretariat. The Director-General is the head of the IAEA. He/She is appointed on a 4-year term by the Board of Governors after recommendations from the Conference. According to the IAEA statute, the Director-General is the “chief administrative officer of the Agency.” He/She is in charge of appointing, organizing, and managing the staff.

Rafael Grossi is the current Director-General of the IAEA
Rafael Marino Grossi is the current Director-General of the IAEA
Role of IAEA

IAEA was initially set up as the “Atoms for Peace” organization with a mandate to promote safe, secure, and peaceful nuclear technologies. It aims to “promote and control the Atom” as stated in Article II of the IAEA statute.

The agency is also in charge of scientific laboratories in Vienna, Sibersdarf, and Monaco. It also offers support to research centers.

IAEA uses its Technical Cooperation (TC) program to enhance tangible socio-economic development by promoting using nuclear and scientific technologies correctly. This can be in human health, agricultural productivity and food security, and water resources management.

The agency also verifies the peaceful use of all nuclear material in any country. It also facilitates the transfer of peaceful applications of nuclear technology.

IAEA also conducts initiatives to enhance the contribution of nuclear technology to society while ensuring its peaceful usage.

The agency also sets the framework for cooperative efforts to develop and strengthen a global nuclear safety and security regime.

The IAEA has a verification responsibility by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapon (NPT).

Under NPT, non-nuclear countries are obligated not to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Nuclear –weapon countries are also obligated not to instigate non-nuclear countries to acquire or manufacture nuclear devices.

IAEA and UN Agencies

The IAEA is an independent organization in the UN system. Both organizations share strong relations. Within its relationship with the UN, the agency is responsible for all international activities regarding the proper and peaceful use of atomic/nuclear energy.

IAEA also works with other UN agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), especially when using nuclear energy to cure certain diseases and deadly cancers. It also works with the Food Agricultural Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and many other UN agencies.

The cooperation between FAO and IAEA has benefited many people worldwide. For example, in 2020, a joint program of the IAEA and FAO helped farmers secure food.

The IAEA/FAO program of Nuclear Techniques in food and agriculture enhances global food security and sustainable agriculture. It does this through technical research projects designed to address food security.

The IAEA/FAO joint initiative helped farmers address food security issues
The IAEA/FAO joint initiative helped farmers address food security issues in 2020

IAEA/FAO also helps countries in the Middle East that face salinization. Salinization is a situation where there is a high amount of salt in the soil, making it unfit for agricultural purposes. IAEA/FAO helps countries improve their soil by introducing good practices using nuclear and isotopic methods.

The joint initiative helped Bosnia and Herzegovina veterinary authorities. The initiative also ensured that Bosnia and Herzegovina had enough machinery and devices to protect animals from diseases. Therefore, this also stopped the spread of many animal diseases in South-East Europe.

The joint initiative also supported Bosnia and Serbia during the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020. It helped by training scientists in two laboratories to learn how to utilize genome sequencing in characterizing the COVID-19 virus.

The agency also works hand in hand with other multilateral development banks, bilateral donors, and non-governmental organizations, including the Inter-American Nuclear Energy Commission.

During the Russia-Ukraine war, IAEA offered assistance to Ukraine to preserve its power plants.


IAEA also faces many challenges when executing its functions due to limited resources. In addition, IAEA can only be effective if countries agree to meet their commitments.

The agency also faces many verification issues. Due to technological advancement, the agency must stay updated and have the latest knowledge and detection skills.