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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

Annual Report 2000-2001

Current Topics

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material

The physical protectionof nuclear material from theft or unauthorised diversion and nuclear facilities from sabotage is part of the bulwark against nuclear proliferation. Physical protection also serves to protect people and property from the effects of nuclear sabotage. The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) opened for signature in 1980, and has been ratified by 64 states. The Convention recognises that physical protection is the responsibility of sovereign states, and that each state will implement a selection of measures according to its national requirements and the perceived threat.

A limitation in the Convention is that the standards it sets out are obligatory only for nuclear material used for peaceful use while in international nuclear transport, a limitation seen by many as a very significant shortcoming. States have discretion whether to apply the CPPNM standards domesticallyAustralia does so, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987, but many other Parties do not.

A further issue is that the Convention, while setting broad parameters for protecting international shipments of nuclear material, does not offer detailed guidance on how to effect physical protection. This need has been met by the IAEA in its guidance document INFCIRC/225, now in Revision 4 (1999). While not bindingindeed given the very nature of physical protection and the fact that this is a national responsibility, some would see this as one of its strengthsINFCIRC225/Rev.4 details specific measures which should be considered for physical protection and, in contrast to the CPPNM, covers domestic as well as international use, storage and transport.

In 1999, the Director General of the IAEA convened an Informal Open-Ended Expert Meeting to discuss whether there is a need to revise the CPPNM, to extend its scope to expressly include domestic use, storage and transport. After 18 months work, the Expert Group (of which ASNO was a permanent member) was unable to reach consensus that the CPPNM should be revised, but all agreed on the clear need to strengthen physical protection worldwide. While some members of the Expert Group are still to be convinced of the need to revise the CPPNM, none was willing to let the matter rest and thus, in May 2001, the Expert Group recommended to the DG IAEA that he take the next step towards revision and convene a group of technical and legal experts to draft a well-defined amendment to strengthen the CPPNM. Further, drawing on work done for the Nuclear Safety Convention in 1994, the Expert Group developed a set of physical protection Objectives and Fundamental Principles (see Annex L)which it hopes will be endorsed by the IAEA Board of Governors.

It is understood that the DG IAEA intends to act on the recommendations of the Expert Group. ASNO anticipates that a technical and legal experts group will be convened in 2001-02, and Australia will be active in promoting a revision aimed at strengthening the Convention.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade