190 Cablegram from Department of Foreign Affairs to Embassy in Washington

Canberra, 30 March 1973

1524. Confidential

NPT Safeguards Agreement

This message outlines some queries relevant to our NPT safeguards agreement which we wish to raise with American authorities.

  1. Australia's ratification of the NPT requires us inter alia to negotiate an agreement with the IAEA whereby the agency will apply treaty safeguards (as outlined in IAEA document INFCIRC 153) to all nuclear material in Australia subject to safeguards under the agreement. The exclusive purpose of these safeguards is to verify that materials are not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. The contents of INFCIRC 153 have been accepted by IAEA members as a satisfactory basis for negotiating agreements between the IAEA and member states for the application by the agency of effective safeguards under NPT. There is thus little flexibility for negotiation within the framework of the document.
  2. Australia holds a significant amount of nuclear material of US origin under the provisions of the US-Australia bilateral agreement for co-operation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Under Article XI of this agreement Australia guarantees that no material, including equipment and devices, transferred to the Government of Australia or authorised persons under its jurisdiction from the USA pursuant to this agreement, and no special nuclear devices materials produced through the use of such material, equipment and devices will be used for atomic weapons, or for research or on development of atomic weapons, or for any other military purpose. The last six words give rise to one major difference in the safeguards obligations Australia undertakes under the NPT and the bilateral agreement. Under the NPT Australia may legally use nuclear material for non-explosive military uses. A second major difference, though closely related to the first, is the extent of safeguards.
  3. Safeguards on US-supplied nuclear materials in Australia are at present applied by IAEA under a trilateral agreement with USA and Australia. They are known as 'Safeguards Transfer Agreement' or STA safeguards. They embrace a wider range of nuclear materials than do NPT safeguards and also cover equipment and facilities. When they are replaced by NPT safeguards some US-supplied nuclear materials in Australia (we have no equipment or facilities supplied under the bilateral) at present under STA safeguards would not be safeguarded under NPT, e.g. the heavy water required for operation of the Hifar reactor.
  4. Since our ratification of the NPT the US has invited us through our embassy in Vienna to sign a protocol having two purposes related to safeguards. The first is to suspend the application of STA safeguards to US-supplied nuclear materials and at the same time apply NPT safeguards to these materials. The second purpose is to bridge the gap between STA and NPT safeguards by ensuring the application to US-supplied nuclear materials, equipment or facilities in Australia of safeguards additional to NPT safeguards, i.e. 'residual safeguards'. Residual safeguards when added to safeguards under NPT would cover all US materials in Australia as they are presently covered by the existing STA system. These residual safeguards would be applied by the agency.
  5. We are sending the text of the draft protocol by separate cable. There are two aspects of it on which we would like you to have initial discussions with the Americans. (We have been invited to do this by the Americans in Vienna whom we have consulted, see our 10881 and Vienna's OP14.)
    1. It is our view that NPT safeguards should be adequate to provide the necessary reassurance to the US Government. For this reason we do not see the necessity for residual safeguards but we acknowledge that the US is entitled to insist on them by reason of our bilateral undertakings. So, because of the terms of the bilateral agreement with the USA, we are prepared to accept the residual safeguards on material of US origin, but we feel that if the US requires these safeguards to satisfy itself that we are honouring our guarantee, then the US should apply them. Please note that neither the IAEA nor the NPT require them. For the IAEA to apply these safeguards would appear to us to be tantamount to both Australia and the agency suggesting that NPT safeguards are inadequate for their purpose and require bolstering by additional and more comprehensive measures. We see disadvantages for both Australia and the agency in getting into this position.
    2. With regard to the undertaking in our bilateral with the US that we will not use US-supplied material or equipment for non-explosive military purposes we understand that having ratified the NPT we do not have the option of continuing to apply STA safeguards to US-supplied nuclear material, while accepting NPT safeguards on our remaining nuclear material. This being so, we see no practical alternative to accepting the provision in clause 2 of the draft protocol—which is additional to the requirements of the NPT—under which Australia would be obliged to notify the US, as well as the agency, if we wish to exercise the right to use non-US-supplied nuclear material for non-explosive military purposes, e.g. fuelling portable military power stations (always assuming no other conflicting bilateral provisions). However the draft protocol uses the words 'to the extent that' in its clause 1. Enquiries of the Americans in Vienna indicate they expect normal NPT safeguards to detect diversion to non-peaceful nuclear activities in addition to weapons, but if this is not so in practice they may require other as yet undefined measures to ensure detection of such diversion. We feel that such an openended provision, if it were a correct interpretation, would be outside our understanding of the spirit of the bilateral agreement and inconsistent with our understanding of the purpose of the obligations we have undertaken in ratifying NPT. It would be most difficult for us to accept.
  6. We would like you to ascertain the views of the Americans on these two matters, hopefully obtaining their acceptance of our position. We aim to settle the terms of the agreement with the agency staff in mid-April and your reply will be important to our consideration of some aspects of the agreement, as well as to the arrangements we can make with the Americans. We will instruct you further concerning these arrangements after we have considered your reply.

[NAA: A1838, 919/10/5 part 36]