More than 100 nations now allow the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater access to information regarding their nuclear programmes, the head of the body announced today, urging countries still outside the process to join.

Rwanda and Swaziland were the 101st and 102nd nations in which additional protocols to existing nuclear safeguards agreements have gone into force, and IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano called reaching this milestone an “encouraging development.”

The protocol, he said, is an “essential tool for the Agency to be able to provide credible assurance, not only that declared nuclear material is not being diverted from peaceful uses, but also that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities in States with comprehensive safeguards agreements.”

More than four decades ago, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) tasked the IAEA with verifying that nuclear material and activities in non-nuclear-weapons States are not used for military purposes.

In 1997, the agency's Board of Governors adopted extra measures in the form of the additional protocol to boost the effectiveness and efficiency of the safeguards system.

Addressing the IAEA's annual General Conference, which kicked off today in Vienna, Mr. Amano also urged the 18 countries not party to the NPT to join without delay.

The nuclear programme in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) – which ordered IAEA inspectors to leave last year – “remains a matter of serious concern,” he said.

The country has not allowed the agency to implement safeguards since late 2002, Mr. Amano pointed out, calling for the resumption of the Six-Party talks bringing together the DPRK, the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States.

In his address, the Director General also spotlighted his desire to change the widespread perception of the IAEA as the world's 'nuclear watchdog' because “it does not do justice to our extensive activities in other areas, especially in nuclear energy, nuclear applications and technical cooperation.”

This year, he pointed out, the body is focusing on cancer, which claims 665 lives in developing countries every hour, nearly three times as many as in richer countries.

The IAEA is strengthening its partnerships with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and others to enhance its cancer control efforts, Mr. Amano noted.

Senior officials and representatives from more than 150 IAEA Member States will take part in this week's gathering of the General Conference, the agency's highest policy-making body.

Participants are set to take up issues ranging from the IAEA's budget and plan of work for the coming year to resolutions on development and security issues.