Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office: Annual Report 2012-13

Fundamentals and Good Practices for safeguards regulatory authorities – an Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network (APSN) Project

The main element of the required architecture for states to implement their obligations under IAEA safeguards agreements is the safeguards regulatory authority. It is important that each safeguards regulatory authority is effective in its administration of the state's safeguards obligations as it is the interface through which the IAEA conducts all its verification activities and receives state reports and declarations.

The importance of effectiveness, cooperation and transparency of safeguards regulatory authorities has received greater focus recently in light of the work of the IAEA Department of Safeguards to evolve its approaches for safeguards implementation and evaluation to consider a broader range of safeguards-relevant information about each state – known as the state-level concept (see report at pages 15–17 of the 2010–11 ASNO Annual Report). International confidence in the compliance of states with their non-proliferation obligations is dependent on confidence in the IAEA's inspection and evaluation activities for each state, and an effective safeguards regulatory authority contributes to this. If a safeguards regulatory authority has demonstrable authority to compel compliance by nuclear facilities, consistently prepares accurate and timely reports to the IAEA, and is responsive, cooperative and transparent in responding to IAEA enquiries, then clearly this will make the IAEA's task of evaluating compliance more efficient, and have a positive influence on the IAEA's evaluations of that State. This was put very well in the IAEA's recently published Safeguards Guidance document8:

'while clearly a requirement for both States and the IAEA, effective cooperation also demonstrates a State's commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and furthers national interests by strengthening nuclear security and reducing the risk of unauthorized use of nuclear material. A partnership between the IAEA and the State can also make safeguards implementation more cost effective and minimize its impact on nuclear operations without compromising the safeguards objectives.'

Essentially the IAEA is stating that the confidence dividends that arise from a cooperative and transparent relationship with the IAEA can pay efficiency dividends in how safeguards are implemented.

So, with this in mind, if a state wishes to strive for a high standard of effectiveness, cooperation and transparency in its dealings with the IAEA, then what should it do and how should it conduct itself? The concept of effectiveness can lend itself to being evaluated in a semi-quantitative way by considering, for example, the timeliness and accuracy of reports, but the concepts of cooperation and transparency are more difficult to measure. One aspect of cooperation and transparency is going beyond minimum legal reporting requirements and IAEA access requirements where doing so can reasonably assist the IAEA in its inspection and evaluation activities. There is currently no particular guidance on this, and the IAEA is somewhat constrained in setting guidelines that go beyond legal requirements, which is where the value of regional networks of safeguards practitioners such as Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network (APSN) comes to the fore.

APSN comprises around 15 members and observers from states across the Asia-Pacific region, with a broad range of nuclear profiles, such as: states with small populations through to states with large populations; developing states through to developed states; states with no nuclear fuel cycle activities through to states with advanced nuclear fuel cycle activities; and, states with and without the Additional Protocol on strengthened safeguards in force. This broad community of safeguards practitioners desiring to complement and support the important work the IAEA is doing in promoting effective safeguards completed a paper on their collective perspectives on the fundamentals and good practices for safeguards regulatory authorities. The APSN paper is available on the IAEA's website of safeguards resources for states, and on the APSN website.

The APSN paper outlines the fundamentals and good practices for safeguards regulatory authorities under three categories: international engagement; domestic engagement; and education, training and professional development. The paper goes into some detail under each of these categories, but this article will summarise the key narratives under the international and domestic engagement categories.

International Engagement

The main thread that runs through this category is the importance of cooperation and transparency with the IAEA. For example, the fundamentals and good practices under this category include promoting and cultivating a good cooperative relationship with the IAEA, being proactive in the voluntary provision of relevant information to the IAEA, and being responsive to IAEA requests for information.

Domestic Engagement

The main thread in this category is accountability of safeguards regulatory authorities to a suitably high level of government and the authority to compel compliance by facilities within the State.

These messages on international and domestic engagement appear obvious, but do in fact relate to real issues the IAEA has experienced in the safeguards performance of some states. In mid-2013 there were reports from some media outlets on the areas of difficulty in safeguards implementation highlighted in the IAEA's Safeguards Implementation Report for 2012. These areas of difficulty included that several states had not provided timely responses to IAEA requests for clarifications of safeguards relevant information, and that not all safeguards regulatory authorities have the necessary authority and independence.

The purpose of APSN's paper is to provide practical guidance that states in other regions of the world can draw upon in assessing, evaluating or benchmarking their safeguards regulatory authorities. The paper represents the collective views of the broad community of states that make up APSN, which has the added value of demonstrating that the fundamentals and good practices are universal and do not just apply to one category of state, nor, for that matter, only to states with the Additional Protocol in force. A testament to the value of this APSN paper is that the IAEA has chosen to include APSN's paper in its small library of safeguards resources for states.9