Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia


  Annual Report 1998-99



Nuclear safeguards are a key element in international action against the spread of nuclear weapons. Safeguards are directed at the verification of peaceful use commitments, given by States through international agreements to use nuclear materials and facilities for exclusively peaceful purposes. Broadly, safeguards may be described as a complex system of declarations by States, verified by inspections and evaluations, undertaken principally by the IAEA.

It should be emphasised that the task of safeguards is not prevention, except in so far as risk of discovery may act as a deterrent to a would-be proliferator. The IAEA is not an international policeman. Rather, the political objective of safeguards is to exercise a positive influence on the behaviour of States:

  • by providing assurance to reinforce non-proliferation commitments; and
  • by deterring non-compliance through the risk of timely detection.

Importantly, safeguards serve to assist States who recognise it is in their own interest to demonstrate their compliance to others. Thus safeguards are an important confidence-building measure in their own right, as well as being a major complement to the broader range of international confidence-building measures.

Safeguards are complemented by other important measures such as: export controls on nuclear items; national intelligence activities; and political incentives and sanctions.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

The NPT is the centrepiece of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. The Treaty was concluded in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. It is now almost universal, with only four States remaining outside the NPT or equivalent non-proliferation commitments. Of these, three (Israel, India and Pakistan) have unsafeguarded nuclear facilities (the fourth, Cuba, has safeguards on all its nuclear activities).

The overwhelming majority of States have renounced nuclear weapons, recognising that the possession of these weapons would threaten, rather than enhance, their national security.

The NPT has been essential to establishing the conditions under which this renunciation of nuclear weapons has been possible. It has done this by providing:

  • a legal framework within which States can express their commitment to use nuclear energy for exclusively peaceful purposes; and
  • a credible verification mechanism, IAEA safeguards, to assist States demonstrate that they are honouring their Treaty commitments and to give them confidence that others are doing the same.

The key provisions of the NPT can be outlined as follows:

· Nuclear-weapon States (NWS) agree not to assist any non-nuclear-weapon State (NNWS) to acquire nuclear weapons.

· NNWS agree not to acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and to accept IAEA safeguards on all their current and future holdings of nuclear material (‘full scope’ safeguards).

· All Parties agree to cooperate in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy—but not to supply nuclear items to a NNWS unless under safeguards.

· All Parties agree to pursue nuclear disarmament, and complete and general disarmament.

IAEA safeguards

The ‘classical’ safeguards system takes as its basis the relative ease by which nuclear material can be measured and material balances calculated and verified. Classical safeguards are thus based on the verification of nuclear materials accountancy. It is a basic requirement of IAEA safeguards that the operators of safeguarded nuclear facilities maintain, under the supervision of each country’s national safeguards authority, detailed accounting records of all movements and other physical transactions involving nuclear material. IAEA inspectors regularly visit nuclear facilities to verify the completeness and accuracy of this documentation through activities such as checking inventories, sampling and other analytical procedures.

Nuclear material accountancy is complemented by other techniques such as containment (e.g. the placement of special seals on nuclear items), and surveillance (e.g. the operation of automatic cameras), to maintain continuity of knowledge between inspections. With the increasing complexity of modern nuclear facilities, especially large-scale bulk-handling facilities such as reprocessing plants, use of containment and surveillance is assuming greater importance. Containment and surveillance, in the form of remote monitoring systems, are also becoming increasingly important as a way of improving both the cost-efficiency and the effectiveness of safeguards.

As described elsewhere in this Report, IAEA safeguards are now undergoing far-reaching change, prompted by pressures to achieve greater effectiveness and improved cost-efficiency. For safeguards to continue to fulfil their vital confidence-building role, a capability must be developed to detect undeclared nuclear activities. In parallel with the development of techniques and technologies to support this effort, in 1997 the IAEA Board of Governors agreed the text of a Model Protocol which is to be used as the basis for each State to conclude an individual Protocol, additional to its existing safeguards agreement, giving the IAEA substantially increased authority.

The Model Protocol

Key elements of the strengthened safeguards regime, of which the Model Protocol is a central element, are:

  • The IAEA is to receive considerably more information on nuclear and nuclear-related activities, including through an ‘Expanded Declaration’ by each State and widened reporting requirements. This includes, inter alia, information on nuclear-related R&D activities, production of uranium and thorium, production of heavy water and graphite, and nuclear-related imports and exports.
  • IAEA inspectors have rights of complementary access to anywhere on a nuclear site, to various locations included in the Expanded Declaration, and to locations elsewhere in the State to carry out environmental sampling and other verification measures.
  • Access on nuclear sites can be short-notice, two hours or less, if carried out with a routine or other inspection.
  • The IAEA can employ environmental sampling, to look for indications of undeclared nuclear activities anywhere in the State. Initially this is to be ‘location-specific’, but the Protocol recognises the possibility of using ‘wide-area’ environmental sampling, looking for nuclear indications over extensive areas, once the efficacy of this technique has been established.
  • Information analysis and the conduct of complementary access are to be used to establish a State Evaluation, that is, the IAEA will apply its safeguards approaches and draw its conclusions on the basis of the State as a whole.

IAEA safeguards constitute a dynamic or evolutionary system. The Additional Protocol, reflecting the development of strengthened safeguards so far, together with the NPT safeguards agreement (IAEA document INFCIRC/153), represent a consolidated statement of the contemporary ‘Agency safeguards system’. This should now be seen as the standard for comprehensive safeguards pursuant to the NPT. Although the IAEA can implement some aspects of strengthened safeguards without reliance on the Protocol, the Protocol is central to efforts to establish more effective safeguards, and as noted elsewhere in this Report, it is imperative that it be brought into general application without delay.


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