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 age 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 had already let it be known that he planned to resign next March, midway through his third term would have run through 2021. Amano, who was born in Yugawara, Japan in 1947, is survived by his wife, Yukika.
He graduated from the 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.
He rose to become chief of the ministry’s disarmament, nonproliferation and science arm from 2002 to 2005. Amano contributed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conferences in 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010. He served as Japan’s representative to the IAEA starting in 2005, until he won election to the helm of the agency 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.
It is with deep sorrow that I learned of the passing of @iaeaorg Head Yukiya Amano. A great loss for the international community. He was an effective advocate of the peaceful use of #nuclear technologies & non-proliferation. My condolences to his family. https://t.co/XW4jIv9fmb pic.twitter.com/9helKcpxcX
— Lassina Zerbo (@SinaZerbo) July 22, 2019
Iran and Fukushima
Amano brought to the job wide-ranging knowledge and experience in diplomacy, non-proliferation and nuclear energy. It was needed: the U.N. atomic watchdog agency’s dual roles as a global watchdog and promoter of nuclear technology 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 is uncertain, but it has relative advantages in fighting the climate crisis.
Amano said the declining trend in the use of nuclear power may set back the world’s efforts to mitigate climate change. But there remains significant debate over safety and environmental concerns with nuclear energy, and there also are risks involved in promoting even its peaceful uses since the spread of nuclear technology can lead to more nuclear weapons.
His death coincides with increasing tensions over Iran’s nuclear program brought on by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to renege on the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under the administration of his predecessor Barack Obama.
Earlier this month the IAEA confirmed that Tehran has breached a stockpile limit for low-level enriched uranium allowed under the deal between Iran and world powers. Amano told the agency’s board of governors that it verified the stockpile of enriched uranium permitted under the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, had exceeded the agreed upon limit.
Following up on a threat, Iran said it passed the limit of 300 kilograms because Europe had not applied enough pressure to undo crippling U.S. sanctions. 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 the lifting of U.N.-brokered international sanctions. Amano was deeply involved in the years of 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. It will take decades to clean up the Fukushima nuclear plant and the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, faces lawsuits.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi expressed his condolences and credited their close cooperation for ensuring Iran 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 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” as a diplomat for Japan and 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.”