64 Paper by Department of External Affairs

Canberra, 11 June 1965


History of Australia's Attitudes to and Obligations under Safeguards Arrangements

'Safeguards' are controls which are applied to the transfer of nuclear materials, equipment or facilities supplied for peaceful purposes. Their limited objective is to inhibit, by publicity or objective inspection, the diversion of nuclear materials and facilities to military uses. Their basic aim is to prevent any increase in the number of countries having a nuclear military capability.

Origin of Safeguards

The concept of safeguards arose from President Eisenhower's 'Atoms for Peace' speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1953.1 He proposed the setting up of an International Agency, one of whose main functions would be to create a system of safeguards to prevent the misuse for military means of fissile material. When the I.A.E.A. was set up in 1957, Article III(A)5 of its Statute authorized the Agency 'to establish and administer safeguards … and to apply safeguards … at the request of the parties to any bilateral or unilateral agreement or at the request of a State, to any of that State's activities in the field of atomic energy'.

London Proposals on Safeguards

In May, 1959, Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States agreed in London to establish an interim set of safeguards to prevent diversion of nuclear materials and facilities for peaceful purposes to warlike use. These so-called 'London proposals' were intended to 'hold the line' while a suitable system was worked out by the I.A.E.A. which would apply to all countries. A major feature of the proposals was an agreement to restrict, as far as possible, the export of 'trigger' materials.

Cabinet considered this arrangement in May 1959 and gave its assent to Australian participation.2

I.A.E.A. Safeguards

In 1959 and 1960 the I.A.E.A. Board of Governors drafted rules to implement Article III(A)5 of the Statute (mentioned above). These rules constituted a limited safeguards scheme which was approved in 1961 by a majority of I.A.E.A. members. The scheme was limited in the particular sense that it applied to small research and experimental type reactors but excluded plants for fabricating and recovering nuclear reactor fuel. The scheme also excluded large reactors until 1964, when it was extended by the Board of Governors to include reactors of any size.

Cabinet agreed in September, 1960, that Australia should support the I.A.E.A. provisional arrangements and until an I.A.E.A. Scheme came into force, should also continue to participate in 'London proposals' (subject to safeguards being applied to all transfers, for peaceful purposes, of all natural and enriched materials and of nuclear facilities).

During 1964, at the direction of the Board of Governors, a revised I.A.E.A. system of safeguards was worked out by a working group and was considered by the Board in February, 1965. The Board unanimously gave its support to the proposals (which are supported by the United Kingdom, United States and U.S.S.R.), which will be put before the General Conference of the I.A.E.A. in Tokyo in September, 1965. The Australian Government's views on the suitability of the proposed arrangements as a safeguards system to be operated by the Agency have not been formulated, but approval is likely.

U.S. Safeguards

The United States is the [major]3 supplier of nuclear materials and operates a safeguards scheme under provisions of bilateral Agreements for Cooperation concerning the Civil Uses of Atomic Energy. Australia has such an agreement (concluded on 22nd June 1956) with the United States,4 whose present declared policy is to transfer the safeguards provisions of all its bilateral agreements to the I.A.E.A.

Under its agreement with the United States, Australia is bound to submit to inspections and controls by United States Safeguards inspectors to satisfy them that nuclear materials and facilities supplied by the United States are not being diverted to military purposes. In practice United States inspections have been voluntarily limited to the inspection of materials.

Registration Point Proposal

In 1960, the United States, as a move towards universal acceptance of I.A.E.A. Safeguards, suggested a 'registration point proposal' which aimed at recording all transfers of nuclear materials and facilities in a central registry.

Cabinet discussed this proposal in September 1960 and agreed to it subject to the following main qualifications:

  1. facilities should be registered as well as materials;
  2. Australia's bilateral agreement with the United States should be excluded from Agency safeguards, and particularly inspections; and
  3. other friendly countries should accept the proposal.

U.S. Proposals May 1964

In May 1964, the U.S. informed Australia that, as from 1st July, 1964, it proposed to notify the I.A.E.A. of all transfers to Australia by nuclear materials supplied under the bilateral agreement. The United States also sought information on whether Australia would agree to notify the I.A.E.A. of all transfers of nuclear material for peaceful purposes to third countries.

Australian Attitude, April, 1965

After considerable inter-Departmental discussion, the Australian attitude to these proposals, as put by the Minister of National Development5 to the Prime Minister (who approved them), was formulated in April of this year6 as follows:

  1. Whereas in 1960 when approving the U.S. 'registration point proposals', Australia had insisted on notification of facilities (in addition to materials), this was no longer necessary, principally because Australia wished, in the interest of national security, to retain freedom of action to develop nuclear weapons, should that ever be considered necessary.
  2. Australia agreed to the U.S. notifying the I.A.E.A. of transfers of nuclear material to Australia.
  3. Australia could not at this stage agree to notify its exports of nuclear material to third countries on the grounds that 'so long as any possibility exists that Australia might wish to acquire nuclear weapons, it is desirable to avoid as long as possible a step which might bring pressure on our suppliers (e.g. United Kingdom and France) to close off avenues for obtaining, without publicity, supplies of essential materials' (para. 31, Interdepartmental Report 1965). The American Government accordingly was told that Australia had not reached any conclusion on this matter which it would consider further when it had firm assurances that all other major Western suppliers would also notify the I.A.E.A.
  4. Australia should ask the United States to present its proposals for the terms and conditions of a renewal of the present bilateral agreement. This proposal was agreed upon in view of the belief that the U.S. [might] request that the bilateral treaty safeguards provisions be transferred to the I.A.E.A. perhaps as the unstated price of renewing the bilateral Agreement, which is, of course, of great value to Australia. Such a request would raise a number of important policy matters affecting defence potential and inspection arrangements which would need to be closely examined by Cabinet. (The Prime Minister, in commenting on the Report as a whole, emphasized this point.)

The Interdepartmental Committee also recommended that Australia should reserve the right to sell uranium, and seek the exclusion of monazite sands from safeguards arrangements. Also Australia should support the view that the I.A.E.A. should pay the costs of I.A.E.A. safeguards.

The Australian decisions were conveyed to the United States on 12th April, 1965.

Early in May 1965 [informal] discussions were held in the State Department on the American proposal to transfer the bilateral safeguards under the U.S./Australian Agreement to the I.A.E.A. It was clear from the discussions that the U.S. is firmly committed to a policy of transferring its bilateral safeguards arrangements. This has already been done for 13 countries. Australian representatives reserved the Australian position, and pointed to a number of possible difficulties in the draft.

[NAA: A1838, 919/19 part 1]