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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 1999-2000

Current Topics

IAEA SafeguardsAn Overview

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. Nor is the IAEA an international policeman. Rather, the political objective of safeguards, in simple terms, is to exercise a positive influence on the behaviour of States by:

  • providing assurance to reinforce non-proliferation commitments; and
  • 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 elements in the non-proliferation regime such as: export controls on nuclear items; political incentives and sanctions; and national intelligence activities. Some institutional and technical aspects of non-proliferation are discussed at page 65.

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 187 Parties. Only four States remain outside the NPT. Three (Israel, India and Pakistan) have unsafeguarded nuclear activitiesthe fourth, Cuba, has safeguards on all existing 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 the 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)[5] 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 or comprehensive safeguards).
  • All Parties agree to cooperate in the peaceful uses of nuclear energybut not to supply nuclear items to a NNWS except under safeguards.
  • All Parties agree to pursue nuclear disarmament, and complete and general disarmament.

IAEA Safeguardsthe Classical System

The system of safeguards developed to give effect to the full scope safeguards commitment under the NPT is commonly described as the classical system. The classical system is characterised by:

  • an emphasis on the verification of nuclear materials accountancy, using containment and surveillance as complementary measures; and
  • a focus, inherited from pre-NPT safeguards, on the concept of diversion as comprising the removal of nuclear material from declared facilities or locations.

The legal basis for classical safeguards is an agreement concluded by each State with the IAEA. In the case of the full scope (now more commonly called comprehensive) safeguards applied to NNWS NPT Parties, these agreements are based on an IAEA document referred to as INFCIRC/153 (Information Circular number 153).

The central feature of IAEA safeguards is inspectionsthe verification of nuclear material in declared facilities by safeguards inspectors. Nuclear facility operators are required to maintain, under the supervision of each countrys 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 technical measures 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.

The classical safeguards system has provided the international community with a high level of assurance that all the nuclear material declared to the IAEA by NPT Parties remains in the civil nuclear fuel cycle. However, events in Iraq showed the limitations of the classical system and prompted a program to strengthen safeguards, in order to address the possibility of undeclared nuclear activities.

Strengthened Safeguards

From the early 1990s, the IAEA, with the assistance of Member States, has been engaged in a major undertaking to strengthen and streamline the safeguards system. The principal directions of the strengthened safeguards system currently under development 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, introducing methods based upon quite different principles (such as environmental analysis), resulting in a more robust system.

Early in the strengthening process two broad groups of safeguards strengthening measures were identified: Part 1 measures which the IAEA could implement under current safeguards agreements, and Part 2 measures which required additional or complementary legal authority. Part 1 measures include enhanced information collection and analysis, environmental sampling at nuclear sites, and use of unannounced inspections. To provide the necessary legal authority for Part 2 measures, it was decided to establish an Additional Protocol, a legal instrument that would complement existing safeguards agreements.

The Additional Protocol

The text of the Additional Protocol (published by the IAEA as INFCIRC/540), to be used as a model for each State to conclude a Protocol with the IAEA, was negotiated in a Special Committee of the IAEA Board of Governors, and was agreed in May 1997. Australia played a major role in the negotiation of the Additional Protocol and, as outlined in the following article in this Report, was the first State to bring an Additional Protocol into effect.

Key elements of the strengthened safeguards regime, 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 access to:
    • 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.

Progress with strengthened safeguards

As mentioned above, a range of strengthened safeguards measures (Part 1 measures) were introduced under existing safeguards agreements, and have now been in operation for some five years. Part 2 measures require the conclusion of Additional Protocolsthese have proceeded more slowly than Australia would wish, though it is recognised that many States have had to introduce complex legislation and administrative arrangements. At 30 June 2000 only 11 Protocols were in force[6]a further 44 had been signed or approved by the IAEA Board of Governors. It is of concern however that there were 23 NNWS NPT Parties with nuclear activities that had yet to commit to concluding Protocols.

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.

Information analysis is an essential component of strengthened safeguards. An important aspect of this is acquisition path analysis, that is, assessment of the feasible opportunities available to the particular State to produce or acquire nuclear material to manufacture nuclear weaponsseparated plutonium or HEU (high enriched uranium) of suitable quality. A would-be proliferator needs either access to such materials directly or the technologies required to upgrade nuclear materialsi.e. enrichment capability to produce HEU or reprocessing capability to separate plutonium. Diversion of materials requiring further processing, such as natural or low enriched uranium or spent fuel, would be useful only if the diverter has these technologies. Acquisition path analysis is a key part of designing safeguards implementation strategies.

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 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.

Integration is prompted by the degree of overlap between the old and the new safeguards measures. Certain acquisition paths have components detectable by both classical and strengthened safeguards (e.g. diversion of spent fuel followed by reprocessing in a clandestine reprocessing plant). There are also acquisition paths that can be detected only by classical safeguards (e.g. diversion of separated plutonium), and others that can be detected only by strengthened safeguards (e.g. totally clandestine fuel cycles). Where there is redundancy there is room for rationalisation, so that the cost-effectiveness of safeguards can be enhanced. Integration therefore is central to efficiency: it is about how to prioritise safeguards resources to achieve the best results.

Integration would involve a reduction in the classical safeguards effort in appropriate areas. The IAEA is developing criteria for integration, which will include achieving and maintaining positive results from the Agencys various safeguards activities. For example, if strengthened safeguards led to confidence of the absence of a reprocessing plant in a particular State, the intensity of classical safeguards on power reactors and spent fuel could be reduced accordingly.


The greatest single challengeof critical importance to the credibility of the safeguards systemis to effectively address the issue of undeclared nuclear activities. This is a much less tangible goal than the verification of declared material, and the level of assurance which can be provided will be less certain. Obviously it is essential to avoid the dangers of over-expectation. Nor however should we be pessimistic about what can be achieved over time.

How realistic is it to expect the IAEA to be able to detect undeclared nuclear activities? The difficulties encountered in Iraq in the 1990s, where there was a very intrusive verification regime following the Gulf War, show this 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, and increasingly sophisticated verification methods. It is most important for the Agencys work to be complemented through States making available information obtained by intelligence activities and other national means. Other essential elements in the success of this work will be the transparency of States and their willingness to cooperate with the Agency. It can be expected that refusal to cooperate, especially obstructing the exercise of access rights, will be viewed very seriously by the international community.

Therefore, 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.

[5]. The NPT formally recognises as NWS the States that had nuclear weapons when the Treaty was concluded in 1968, i.e. US, Russia, UK, France and China.

[6]. In addition the IAEA is implementing Additional Protocol measures in Taiwan, China.

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