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IAEA chief Yukiya Amano dies in office

Yukiya Amano, a veteran diplomat who led the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency and worked to prevent more atomic bombings, has died, his agency said.

VIENNA (AN) — Yukiya Amano, a veteran diplomat who led the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency and worked to prevent more atomic bombings like those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has died, his agency announced on Monday.

Amano, who died at the age of 72 after an undisclosed illness, had led the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna since December 2009, and was deeply involved in negotiations and monitoring over Iran’s nuclear program and the environmental cleanup of Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

He had been in poor health since 2018, however, and already let it be known that he planned to resign next March, midway through his third term, which would have run through 2021. Amano, who was born in Yugawara, Japan in 1947, is survived by his wife, Yukika.

He graduated from Tokyo University Faculty of Law before joining Japan's foreign ministry in 1972. He specialized in disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation, and also spent several years studying in France in the early 1970s. His foreign postings took him to Belgium, France, Laos, Switzerland and the United States. He spoke English, French and Japanese, the agency said.

Amano rose to become chief of the ministry's disarmament, nonproliferation and science arm from 2002 to 2005. He contributed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conferences in 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010, and served as Japan’s representative to IAEA starting in 2005, until he was elected to run it in 2009.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement that he was deeply saddened by the death of Amano, who worked tirelessly to ensure that nuclear energy is used only for peaceful purposes.

"In leading IAEA in such an exemplary fashion, he advanced human well-being through efforts spanning medicine, agriculture and other vital areas," said Guterres, adding that Amano had "confronted serious global challenges, including those related to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, with equanimity and determination.  Our world is so much better for it."

The agency did not provide a cause of death or say where Amano died. Mary Alice Hayward, IAEA’s deputy director general and head of the management department, was appointed interim chief, and the IAEA flag was lowered to half-mast in tribute.

Iran and Fukushima

Amano displayed wide-ranging knowledge and experience in diplomacy, non-proliferation and nuclear energy that was needed to run the agency.

The U.N. atomic watchdog agency's dual roles as a global watchdog and promoter of nuclear technology has made it a complicated organization to oversee. Last September, for example, IAEA released two reports that together captured nuclear power’s incongruity. Its economic appeal remains uncertain, and it comes with serious environmental considerations, but it has much-touted advantages in fighting the climate crisis.

Amano had maintained that the declining trend in the use of nuclear power around the world may set back the world’s efforts to mitigate climate change. But there has been significant debate over safety and environmental concerns with nuclear energy, and there also have been major risks involved in promoting it for peaceful uses, since the spread of nuclear technology can lead to more nuclear weapons.

His death coincided with the increasing tensions over Iran's nuclear program that have been brought on by U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to renege on the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under by the previous administration of Barack Obama.Earlier this month, Amano told the IAEA's board of governors that Tehran had breached a stockpile limit for low-level enriched uranium under the deal between Iran and world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The JCPOA was struck between Iran and the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany and the European Union.

In May, Tehran announced plans to resume enriching uranium at higher levels if world powers would not accept new terms under the JCPOA, which required Iran to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for lifting U.N.-brokered sanctions. Amano was deeply involved in the years-long, complex negotiations that led to the deal.

He also dealt with the Fukushima accident. His agency works to promote nuclear safety and security, but its codes of practice for nuclear plants are strictly voluntary and it cannot impose mandatory safety standards on nations.The Fukushima meltdown in Japan occurred after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused a total power failure and the nuclear plant’s cooling systems shut down, leaking radioactive material.

An estimated 18,500 were killed or went missing after the earthquake and tsunami. Another 160,000 were displaced along the northeast coast of Japan, and it will continue to take decades to clean up the Fukushima nuclear plant. The operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, also faces lawsuits.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi expressed his condolences over the loss of Amano and credited their close cooperation for ensuring that Iran had, at least until recently, complied with the JCPOA. "We worked very closely. I commend his skillful and professional performance," Araghchi said.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said she, too, was saddened by the loss of "a man of extraordinary dedication and professionalism, always at the service of the global community in the most impartial way," while serving as a diplomat for Japan and with international organizations.

"I’ll never forget the work done together," she said. "It has been for me a great pleasure and privilege working with him."