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Nuclear watchdog to help fight coronavirus

As COVID-19 spread, IAEA offered to use its nuclear science knowhow to tackle disease transmission by providing diagnostic kits, equipment and training.

WASHINGTON (AN) — As the COVID-19 epidemic continues to spread, the International Atomic Energy Agency offered on Monday to use its science knowhow to tackle disease transmission by providing diagnostic kits, equipment and training.

Speaking in Vienna, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that scientists from countries requiring assistance would be given training in a technique using nuclear-derived machines which can identify the virus accurately “within hours," the agency said in a statement.

While IAEA isn't involved in controlling the disease in the same way as the World Health Organization, “we do have expertise and experience that help in detecting outbreaks of certain viral diseases and in diagnosing them," Grossi said.

The first training course will take place at IAEA's nuclear applications laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria within a few weeks.

To date, the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency has received official requests for support from 14 nations: six in Africa, five in the Asia and Pacific region and three in Latin America.

“If you know what is out there ahead of time, you have time to proactively prepare, either by developing vaccines or increasing your capacity for diagnosis and detection,” said Gerrit Viljoen,  head of animal production and health for a joint IAEA and Food and Agriculture program.

In the past, IAEA has helped to respond to highly contagious and deadly viral diseases including Ebola, Zika and African swine fever.

Iran's nuclear tensions

Grossi also discussed Iran’s declaration that its nuclear program would no longer be subject to restrictions, in response to the United States' decision in 2018 to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and to reimpose sanctions.

In an appeal to Iran to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Grossi said that Iran had failed to provide access to the sites or clarify inspectors’ questions.

“This is adversely affecting the agency’s ability to clarify and resolve these questions and to provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," Grossi said. “I call on Iran to cooperate immediately and fully with the agency, including by providing prompt access to the locations specified by the agency.”

The rules governing how Iran’s nuclear program is monitored are set out in the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. It was negotiated and signed by 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.

The deal guarantees IAEA access to Iran’s nuclear program in line with a 2015 Security Council resolution to ensure the enforcement of the JCPOA. After U.S. President Donald Trump's administration’s announced it was pulling out of the deal, Iran incrementally backed away from the treaty and breached its uranium stockpile limit, announcing it would continue enriching uranium.