VATICAN CITY –– As nations are called to create a world free of atomic weapons, the international community must promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy, especially for development and cancer treatment in developing countries, a top Vatican official said.

The Vatican has long supported the nuclear nonproliferation treaty “as the basis to pursue nuclear disarmament and as an important element for further development of nuclear energy applications for peaceful purposes,” said Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states.

Encouraging all nations, especially states with nuclear weapons, to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty is a major priority, as well as creating areas free from nuclear arms, especially in the Middle East, he said Sept. 21.

“Nuclear-weapon-free zones are the best example of trust, confidence and affirmation that peace and security are possible without possessing nuclear weapons,” he said.

The Vatican diplomat was speaking during the 54th general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna Sept. 20-24. The Vatican released a copy of his speech Sept. 22.

The Vatican continues to support the atomic agency’s work in letting all countries have fair access to the safe and secure use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and human development, Msgr. Balestrero said.

Nuclear energy, when tailored to the needs of individual countries, helps fight poverty and disease, and therefore contributes “to a more peaceful solution of the serious problems facing humanity,” he said.

A scientific forum discussing the challenge of cancer in developing countries was held in conjunction with the general conference.

Msgr. Balestrero highlighted the importance of bringing essential equipment and suitable technical and medical training for radiation diagnosis and therapy to developing countries. More than 50 percent of people diagnosed with cancer would benefit from radiation therapy either alone or together with surgery and chemotherapy, he said.

However, in the developing world “more than half of the number of patients suffering from cancer will not have access to radiotherapy due to the lack of appropriate equipment and sufficiently trained staff,” he said.

The atomic agency’s Program of Action for Cancer Therapy deserves special attention for trying to help member states in fighting cancer and “creating regional centers of excellence for radiotherapy,” he said.