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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

Progress on Strengthened and Integrated Safeguards

The system of safeguards developed to give effect to the full scope safeguards commitment under the NPT is commonly described as the classical system. Classical safeguards are directed primarily at the detection of diversion, that is, the undeclared removal of nuclear material from safeguards coverage. The IAEAhad not been expected to look for undeclared nuclear activities, except as these would be revealed through diversion. While the IAEA has the right of special inspection, which can be applied to undeclared as well as declared locations, it was generally considered that it should not be invoked unless there was substantial evidence of a safeguards breach.

The discovery of Iraqs clandestine nuclear program, following the Gulf War, indicates the more likely course for a proliferator: not only is diversion of safeguarded material unattractive because of the likelihood of detection, but in fact there are limited opportunities to divert weapons grade materials because these are unusual in civil programs. Accordingly, in most circumstances a state pursuing a weapons program would need to establish nuclear upgrading capabilities―enrichmentor reprocessing. If the state is able to do this clandestinely, it is unlikely to risk detection by diverting safeguarded nuclear material.

Thus events in Iraq have shown that for safeguards to continue their key confidence-building role, it is essential to adequately address the issue of detection of undeclared nuclear activities. At the same time, safeguards must become more efficient, so as to manage an expanding workload within budget constraints.

Shortcomings in classical safeguards

The principal weakness in standard safeguards agreements is the limitation placed on the IAEAs access for routine safeguards inspections. Broadly speaking, Agency inspectors are restricted, not just to nuclear facilities, but to defined strategic points within those facilities. Iraq had been able to take advantage of this restriction―it was found later that some clandestine activities had even been undertaken on safeguarded sites, away from the strategic points where Agency inspectors could go. A related deficiency was the lack of any mechanism by which the body of information which was accumulating regarding Iraqs interest in nuclear weapons could be reflected in any additional verification activity.

Addressing these shortcomings

From the early 1990s, the IAEA, with the assistance of Member States (Australia is an active participant), has been engaged in a major undertaking to strengthen and streamline the safeguards system. From the outset, it was recognised that under a strengthened safeguards system the IAEA would need:

  • greater access rights, both at declared nuclear sites and to other places in the statebut, unlike special inspections, access should be available on a non-accusatory, hence non-confrontational, basis;
  • greater capabilities to acquire and analyse information; and
  • deployment of new technologies, particularly environmental analysis.

The principal directions of this work are to:

  • shift the focus from declared inventories and flows of nuclear material at individual facilities, towards safeguards approaches based on evaluation of the state as a whole;
  • provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in the state; and
  • diversify the methods of detection―resulting in a more robust safeguards system.

By 1995 the IAEA and Member States had developed a detailed outline of strengthened safeguards measures. There was general acceptance that certain of the measures proposed could be carried out under existing safeguards agreements, and the IAEA Board of Governors endorsed the implementation of these in 1995. Important aspects include use of environmental sampling at nuclear sites, and use of unannounced inspections. The latter, which have substantial deterrent value because they are unpredictable to the state and operator, are expected to feature prominently in strengthened and integrated safeguards, and the IAEA is currently developing guidelines for their effective use.

For certain other measures additional legal authority was necessary and a new legal instrument, complementary to existing safeguards agreements, was established. This took the form of a model Additional Protocol, to serve as the model for each state to conclude an individual protocol additional to its safeguards agreement with the Agency. The text of the model Additional Protocol was agreed by the Board of Governors in May 1997. Australia played a major role in the negotiation of the Additional Protocol and was the first state to sign and to ratify an Additional Protocol.

Strengthened Safeguards System

Key aspects of the strengthened safeguards system, of which the Additional Protocol is a central element, are:

  • The IAEA receives 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 substantially increased access rights, termed complementary accessto:
    • anywhere on a nuclear site;
    • various locations included in the Expanded Declaration; and
    • locations elsewhere in the state to carry out environmental sampling and other verification measures.

At nuclear sites and certain locations listed in the Expanded Declaration the Agency has right of access to confirm that there is no undeclared nuclear material or activities at those places. Access on nuclear sites can be short-notice, two hours or less, if carried out with a routine or other inspection. Elsewhere access is given to enable the Agency to resolve any question or inconsistency arising from its information review. The state may require that access be on a managed basis to protect certain categories of information.

  • Environmental sampling is initially 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 applies its safeguards approaches and draws its conclusions on the basis of the state as a whole.

Substantial work has been undertaken, and is ongoing, developing the approaches and procedures, technologies, quality systems, evaluation methodologies and reporting required to ensure that the strengthened safeguards system will be effective in practice. As outlined elsewhere in this Report, Australia is actively involved in this process.

Some of the technical approaches under development include:

  • environmental analysisthis is a very powerful safeguards tool, the value of which was first demonstrated in Iraq. Nuclear activities leave indicatorsminute traceson building surfaces, in plants and soil, in water, and in the air. Detection of such traces can indicate the existence of undeclared nuclear activities;
  • remote surveillancethe use of video cameras and instruments to monitor nuclear facilities, transmitting safeguards data to IAEA headquarters by telephone, satellite, and potentially the internet;
  • use of satellite imagerythough currently too expensive for covering wide areas, this can be valuable for specific applications, such as investigating suspect sites, confirming the operating status of facilities, and possibly assessing production levels of uranium mines.

Integrated Safeguards

While the implementation of strengthened safeguards is progressing, the focus has already turned to integration, that is, how to merge classical safeguards and strengthened safeguards to give the most effective and cost-efficient outcome. Integrated safeguards do not represent a separate system of safeguards, but rather a rationalisation of classical and strengthened safeguards measuresthe optimum combination of all safeguards measures available to the IAEA under comprehensive safeguards agreements and Additional Protocols which achieves the maximum effectiveness and efficiency within available resources.

Under classical safeguards, the level of verification effort takes into account the possible existence of clandestine nuclear activities. The timeliness goal for detection of diversion of spent fuel incorporates the assumption that an undeclared reprocessing plant may exist ready for processing diverted material immediately after diversion. Thus, the inspection frequency for spent fuel at light water reactorsthree monthscorresponds to the conversion time, i.e. the time required to reprocess spent fuel and manufacture the separated plutonium into weapon components.

The basis of integrated safeguards is that classical and strengthened safeguards are mutually reinforcing and to some extent redundantas strengthened safeguards establish credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear activities, a corresponding reduction is possible in the intensity of classical safeguards effort. For example, if there is credible assurance that a state has no undeclared reprocessing plant, the time required for conversion of diverted spent fuel will be extended by the very considerable time required to establish such a facility, and this can be reflected in a reduced inspection frequency for spent fuel, from three months to, say, 12 months.


The development of strengthened safeguards measuresand even more so the development of integrated safeguardsis very much a work in progressinevitably the approaches developed will require refinement in the light of practical experience.

Major issues being addressed include, how to ensure the verification activities undertaken by the IAEA are sufficient to support a credible conclusion of the absence of undeclared nuclear activities. This involves both establishing the appropriate methodology and ensuring the methodology is implemented at an appropriate quality standard. An important group of issues concerns how to implement integrated safeguards in a flexible manner, based on state-specific factors, incorporating the expert judgment of the Agency, in a way that avoids discrimination, and delivers the required credibility.

The difficulties encountered in Iraq in the 1990s, where there was a very intrusive verification regime following the Gulf War, show that detection of undeclared nuclear activities is not an easy task. On the other hand, compared with individual states, the IAEA has considerable advantages to build on in pursuing this task. In addition to its expertise, the Agency will have comprehensive information bases, extensive access rights (the ability to get under the roof), and increasingly sophisticated verification methods.

As the strengthened safeguards system develops and experience is gained, it can be expected to make a major contribution to international confidence-building. Australia will continue to be a strong supporter of this process.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade