While the current outlook for nuclear power remains mixed, rising expectations with regard to the contribution of nuclear technology to human welfare suggest the possible advent of what many have called a nuclear renaissance. These expectations are driven by nuclear power's good performance record, by growing energy needs around the world coupled with rising oil and natural gas prices, by environmental constraints, by concerns about energy supply security in a number of countries, and by ambitious expansion plans in several countries.
At the same time as this expansion of nuclear power and technologies is contemplated, a number of recent and ongoing verification challenges have again highlighted the potential proliferation risks associated with the most sensitive nuclear technologies – and thus the IAEA's central role in verifying that nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes. Moreover, recent developments have shed light on a series of other threats, such as the emergence of what the IAEA Director General has called the nuclear supermarket – an illicit network of trade in sensitive nuclear equipment and designs –, and the increased prospect of nuclear or radiological terrorism.
The next fifty years will be about addressing such challenges and ensuring that the Agency has the necessary tools – both legal and technical, as well as the requisite financial resources – to discharge its mission. An evaluation of current trends and priorities in light of the Agency's recent evolution may give us some indication of what the IAEA's role could look like in the future, in the context of safeguards implementation and other activities relevant to nuclear non-proliferation.