The Year in Review

Dr Robert Floyd
Director General
Australian Safeguards and
Non-Proliferation Office

Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Safeguards Developments

The International Non-Proliferation Environment

Key developments in the non-proliferation sphere during the 2018–19 reporting period included further talks on denuclearisation between the United States (US) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK); developments in Iran's nuclear program and initiation of procedures to add new chemicals to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention CWC) for the first time. Despite the challenges, the overwhelming majority of States are compliant with their Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and CWC obligations and the critically important roles of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) continue to be demonstrated.

Despite the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on 8 May 2018, the other parties to the deal have continued with its implementation. ASNO provided technical advice to a review of the JCPOA led by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2018. Following the review, the Government decided to maintain Australia's position on the JCPOA, subject to Iran's continuing compliance.

Iran announced on 8 May 2019 that it will incrementally scale back its compliance with the JCPOA while remaining within the arrangement. Iran has argued the move was justified under the JCPOA given the international community's failure to preserve the deal's promised economic benefits in the face of the US' ‘maximum pressure' campaign on Iran. In July 2019, the Director General of the IAEA reported that, consistent with Iran's declared intentions, Iran had exceeded the limits prescribed by the JCPOA on its total enriched uranium stockpile (300 kg UF6 equivalent) and the enrichment level of uranium produced at Natanz (3.67 per cent). Iran announced—against the backdrop of increased tensions with the US and incidents in The Gulf and Gulf of Oman – that it would take further steps every 60 days unless the international community made tangible progress to ensure economic benefits for Iran, including on its oil exports. So far, Iran has continued to implement and accept IAEA verification of its other nuclear-related commitments under the deal.

After escalating tensions in 2017 on the Korean peninsula following DPRK's nuclear tests and missile launches, tensions decreased during 2018–19 in light of renewed US and Republic of Korea (ROK) diplomatic efforts. US President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un met twice during the reporting period while Kim and ROK President Moon Jae-in met once. The February 2019 US-DPRK summit in Hanoi, Vietnam concluded without an agreement. On 30 June 2019, the two leaders met again at the Korean Demilitarised Zone, promising to resume working-level talks on denuclearisation. ASNO has provided advice to the Government on how Australia might support any eventual international efforts to verify any concrete DPRK denuclearisation.

The OPCW has confirmed that the chemical detected in the United Kingdom's March and June 2018 chemical incidents was one of a family of nerve agents known as ‘Novichoks'. ‘Novichok' nerve agents and their related precursor chemicals are not currently listed in the CWC's Schedules of prohibited substances. The CWC does prohibit the use of any toxic chemical as a weapon, even if it is not specifically listed in the Schedules. In response to the use of nerve agent in the United Kingdom, the addition of ‘Novichoks' to the CWC Schedules will be discussed at the Conference of States Parties in November 2019.

Although the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not entered into force, the International Monitoring System (IMS) continues to play a vital role in monitoring for nuclear tests. In August 2018 testing and certification of Australia's final International Monitoring System (IMS) facility – an infrasound monitoring station at Davis Station, Australian Antarctic Territory – was completed by experts from the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). Australia ranks third among countries hosting the largest number of monitoring facilities. It covers all four technologies used for nuclear test detection. Worldwide around 90 per cent of all CTBT IMS stations, intended for 89 countries, are now in place and detailed preparatory work continues that will allow the CTBT verification regime to be fully operational before the Treaty enters into force.

It is with deep sadness that ASNO notes the recent passing of IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in July 2019. DG Amano led the IAEA for a decade during which time the organisation faced many challenges, from the negotiation of the JCPOA and developments in DPRK, to responding to the Fukushima nuclear accident. He was deeply committed to the peaceful use of nuclear technology and multilateralism and it has been an honour for DG ASNO to chair DG Amano's Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI) for the past seven years.

International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards

ASNO assesses that the IAEA continues to effectively fulfil its objective of verifying that states uphold their respective non-proliferation commitments, using the tools available under safeguards agreements and under Additional Protocols (when in place). The IAEA uses a combination of in-field inspections of nuclear material, facilities, and research and development (R&D) activities; as well as its analysis of information at its headquarters in Vienna. The overarching framework the IAEA uses to prioritise and optimise verification activities is the use of state-level approaches. These are customised approaches to how the IAEA applies safeguards in each State, based on a standardised methodology using acquisition path analysis of technically plausible pathways for the acquisition of nuclear material suitable for a weapons program.

The environment the IAEA operates in is one of steadily increasing quantities of nuclear material and facilities under safeguards, as well as an evolving risk profile for the international nuclear fuel cycle. The IAEA therefore needs to be adaptive and innovative with technology and analytical tools to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of safeguards implementation to stay ahead of the curve. This is achieved by the combined effort of the IAEA and Member States to keep pace with evolving challenges, as well as opportunities from emerging technologies and analytical techniques. Safeguards is a niche area for R&D that has traditionally relied somewhat on more mainstream tools for measuring and verifying nuclear material. However, IAEA safeguards can benefit significantly from work in technical fields that have developed and evolved for applications quite unrelated to safeguards, such as data analytics, novel detector technologies, and robotics.

To support this, in recent years the IAEA has been conducting broader searches for novel technologies and tools by engaging with research leaders with limited or no prior experience servicing safeguards needs. To assist the IAEA in broadening its engagement to other sectors, ASNO has helped promote research efforts at CSIRO and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in areas related to safeguards. This complements the technology development support Australia has been providing since the 1980s, particularly through a range of projects led by Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). A highlight in efforts to broaden collaboration reported in last year's Annual Report was the Robotics Challenge hosted by CSIRO in Brisbane, November 2017. Since that time, the IAEA selected three robotic devices for proof-of-concept testing in a spent fuel pond at the Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant in Finland in November 2018. And in January 2019, the IAEA announced Datastart Ltd of Hungary the winner of the challenge. The IAEA is exploring how to further refine and test the design to ensure it is compliant with all applicable requirements.

The winning design by Datastart Ltd from the Robotics Challenge undergoing testing at the Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant in Finland.

Another highlight is the work by researchers at the UNSW's Faculty of Engineering across projects related to safeguards, and presented at the IAEA's Symposium on International Safeguards in November 2018. One of these was a student project on using machine learning tools to identify discrete terms that can be used to differentiate literature on uranium mining/milling processes from the processing of other minerals in open-source datasets. Another project underway at UNSW relates to an application of blockchain technology to nuclear accountancy. Blockchain is a technology developed in 2009 for crypto-currencies that is designed to ensure the consistency and immutability of electronic data held among multiple parties. Blockchain has potential well beyond crypto-currencies, such as improving the efficiency, data integrity and security of systems that manage and report to the IAEA on nuclear accountancy transactions. UNSW has recently commenced collaboration with the Stimson Center and Finland's nuclear regulator (STUK) on a project to develop a blockchain-based nuclear accountancy prototype based on Finland's safeguards system with a focus on accountancy for Finland's deep geological spent fuel repository. Further details on these and other projects under the Australian Safeguards Support Programme are described in Output 1.4.

While innovation by the IAEA is important, it is also important for each Member State to ensure effective domestic systems are maintained for managing and reporting on safeguards obligations. IAEA safeguards are fundamentally about maintaining international confidence of the compliance of States with non-proliferation commitments, so there is an important role for States to assist each other in raising awareness and promoting better practice. The IAEA continues to work directly with individual States to address specific issues and conducts outreach and awareness-raising activities through workshops and meetings. Australia plays a role through participating in reviews of safeguards approaches and training courses, such as through DG ASNO's chairing of the Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI), and through ASNO's membership of the Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network (APSN) and assistance with capacity building in the region, such as the safeguards training course that ASNO contributed to in Timor-Leste in February 2019. More details on ASNO's work in these areas are in Output 1.4.

Domestic Developments

In 2019, the IAEA continued to report that it found no indication of the diversion of declared nuclear material from peaceful nuclear activities and no indication of undeclared nuclear material or activities in Australia. The IAEA has drawn this "broader conclusion" that all nuclear material remained in peaceful use activities for Australia every year since 2000.1

During the reporting period, the IAEA conducted various verification activities (under different names but all essentially inspections) in Australia under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol.

In total, twelve separate inspections, plus one technical visit, were carried out at ANSTO, CSIRO and Heathgate Resources Beverley uranium mine sites. The IAEA generally combine several inspections together, so these twelve inspections were all conducted over four separate visits and the IAEA's findings (where available at the time of publication of this Annual Report) are in Output 1.1 and Appendix B.

Along with completing routine reports to the IAEA and overseeing IAEA inspections, ASNO also works to ensure that IAEA safeguards can be effectively implemented. One focus of this work is in relation to ANSTO's new Nuclear Medicine (ANM) radiopharmaceutical production plant. When operational the plant is designed to ensure security of supply of nuclear medicines to Australian patients and has the capacity to supply a significant proportion (up to 25 per cent) of the world's requirements for molybdenum–99. ANSTO commenced hot commissioning of ANM in September 2018.

There are technical challenges with verification of the uranium content in the solid waste stream end of the plant so the IAEA has developed a customised detector to do this measurement in a hot cell. In February 2019, the IAEA conducted a hot commissioning test of this detector in a hot cell at ANSTO. Over time the uranium content in solid waste will accumulate. It is important therefore that the IAEA is able to verify the uranium content so that Australia can demonstrate to the international community that all nuclear material is accounted for.

Another focus of ASNO's work was contributing to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science's National Radioactive Waste Management Facility project. ASNO is working with ANSTO to ensure that the engineering designs of the facility can meet requirements to facilitate IAEA verification of any nuclear material held, while seeking to minimise costs associated with verification and facility design. ASNO presented a paper to the Symposium on International Safeguards in November 2018 on the application of the concept of safeguards by design to facilities for long-term storage or disposal of nuclear material in low and intermediate-level waste repositories.

Nuclear Security Developments

As part of its regular inspection program, ASNO conducted 10 security inspections including at ANSTO, CSIRO, BHP Olympic Dam, Heathgate Resources Beverley, Silex Systems Limited and uranium oxide concentrate (UOC) transporters. These are further described in Section 4 – Output 1.2.

The preparatory process for the Article 16 Conference of States Parties for the Amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material began with an unofficial meeting of Parties, which developed a provisional roadmap for the Conference due to held in 2021. The first meeting in the roadmap will take place in July 2019, for which Director General, ASNO accepted an invitation to Co-chair with Argentina.

Australia provided expertise to assist the IAEA regarding identification of undeclared gas centrifuge enrichment plants (GCEP) for high enriched uranium (HEU) production and revision of the IAEA physical model related to uranium enrichment processes.

A summary of international nuclear security developments can be found in the IAEA's 2019 nuclear security report, released during its annual General Conference.

Bilateral Safeguards Developments

During 2018–19, all Australian Obligated Nuclear Material (AONM) was accounted for in accordance with the procedures and standards prescribed in Australia's network of 25 Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (NCAs) covering 43 countries plus Taiwan. All NCAs contain treaty level assurances that AONM will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and be covered by IAEA safeguards. They also require that appropriate nuclear security measures are applied to AONM exported overseas, as well as a number of supplementary conditions.

A new Australia-UK NCA was signed in August 2018. Australia's domestic treaty-making processes have been completed and the NCA is ready to enter into force to allow continued exports of Australian uranium to the UK, should the UK formally withdraw from the European Union (EU). Around a fifth (worth more than $120 million annually) of all Australian uranium exports are supplied to the UK, for use and/or processing on behalf of third countries within Australia's network of NCAs. The UK holds almost one third of the total Australian uranium inventory in the EU.

The Australia-Ukraine NCA became operational in September 2018, allowing for the use of Australian uranium in Ukrainian nuclear power plants. Ukraine has 15 nuclear power plants that supply about half of the country's electricity. The NCA provides another avenue for Ukraine to diversify nuclear fuel services, currently largely dependent on Russia.

There has been a successful first year of operation of the new Nuclear Material Balance and Tracking (NUMBAT) database in relation to the approval of shipments to transfer UOC internationally. This has led to streamlined approvals and communications with permit holders and domestic and international counterparts.

Chemical Weapons Convention Developments

Domestic Developments

During the reporting year, ASNO submitted comprehensive and timely annual declarations in accordance with the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). These declarations included reports of Australia's CWC-related chemical trade and other relevant chemical activities within industry and Defence laboratories, as well as Australia's national programs for assistance and protection against chemical weapons.

ASNO facilitated a routine OPCW inspection at Clariant (Australia) Pty Ltd, designated as an ‘Other Chemical Production Facility', in Victoria. This brings the total number of inspections in Australia to 57 since entry-into-force of the CWC in 1997. The inspection report confirmed Australia's declared information, including the absence of any undeclared CWC-Schedule 1 chemicals and/or their production.

ASNO has continued to inform Australia's policy positions through provision of technical advice on CWC and verification-related issues.

International Developments

Efforts to rid the world of chemical weapons, and to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction more broadly, involve many domestic and international stakeholders. To this end, ASNO works closely with key stakeholders in the fields of non-proliferation and counter-proliferation. ASNO has a close relationship with the International Security Division within the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Australia's lead on most international non-proliferation and counter-proliferation policy issues – as well the Australian Posts in Vienna, The Hague and Geneva.

According to the OPCW there are now 193 States Parties to the CWC. This leaves only four countries that have yet to join – Egypt, Israel (signed but not ratified), North Korea and South Sudan. South Sudan announced its intention to join the CWC at the 22nd Conference of the States Parties (CSP) in 2017; however, they have not yet completed this action. There remains 71 States Parties yet to enact comprehensive implementing legislation that is required in order to reduce the threat of the use of chemical weapons by non-State actors, including terrorists.

Since entry into force of the CWC, the OPCW inspectorate has conducted 7,139 routine inspections at 3,217 chemical weapon-related and 3,922 industrial sites in around 80 States Parties. Aside from routine verification work, OPCW resources continued to be stretched by non-routine inspections and fact-finding missions to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use.

On 25 July 2018, Ambassador Fernando Arias of Spain replaced Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü of Turkey as Director-General of the OPCW. Director-General Arias had a challenging first year.

Between 2014 to 2018, the OPCW's Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) worked to investigate allegations of toxic chemical use as a chemical weapon in Syria. The mandate of the FFM was to determine whether, or not, a chemical weapon has been used, and to verify the identity of any chemicals used in a specific chemical attack.

The FFM determined that chlorine, sulfur mustard and sarin have all been used as chemical weapons in Syria. On 1 March 2019, the OPCW released the FFM's final report addressing allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria the April 2018. The report outlined that the FFM had conducted on-site visits, analysed environmental and biomedical samples, interviewed witnesses, and undertook toxicological and ballistic analysis. The FFM report concluded that chlorine had been used as toxic chemical in Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018.

At the end of the last reporting period, on 27 June 2018; the 4th Special Session of the CSP to the CWC empowered the OPCW to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. They further agreed to consider options for universal attribution of all uses of chemical weapons in the territory of any State Party.

With a mandate given by the Special Session the Technical Secretariat established an Investigation and Identification Team that had the authority to identify perpetrators of the use of chemical weapon use in Syria.2

Future allegations of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons in Syria will be investigated by the Investigation and Identification Team which will seek to attribute those responsible for chemical attacks. The Decision of the Fourth Special Session of the CSP also decided that, if requested by a State Party, the OPCW could provide technical expertise to identify, amongst others, perpetrators of CW use. The Technical Secretariat is currently developing its capability to be able to attribute use of CW.

Permanent Representative of Australia to the OPCW, H.E. Ambassador Matthew Neuhaus and OPCW Director-General, H.E. Mr Fernando Arias on the occasion of Australia's contribution of funding to the OPCW's Trust Fund for Syria Missions. Photo courtesy of the OPCW.

In March 2019, Australia contributed EUR100,000 to the OPCW's Trust Fund for Syria Missions. The funds will contribute to the OPCW's ability to investigate and attribute responsibility for use of chemical weapons in Syria. Other countries, including Norway, Denmark and Switzerland, have also made significant contributions to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapon use.

The 23rd CSP and the Fourth Review Conference of the CWC were held back-to-back in The Hague in November 2018. There were useful discussions during the meetings; however, consensus was not reached on the Review Conference Report. A Chairperson's Report was released; although not legally binding it provides a guide for States Parties for the following year.

Following the use of ‘Novichok' chemicals in the United Kingdom last year, the OPCW received two proposals for a technical change to Schedule 1 of the Annex of the CWC. In October 2018, Canada, The Netherlands and United States of America submitted a joint proposal to include additional toxic chemicals to the list of Schedule 1 chemicals. Although supported by the Executive Council, one State Party objected. The Russian Federation submitted an alternative proposal that included the chemicals listed on the first proposal as well as additional toxic chemicals to be added to Schedule 1. This proposal also received an objection from another State Party. Both proposals will be considered in November 2019 at the CSP. The proposals are significant in that the Schedules of chemicals in the CWC have not been updated since the convention entered into force in 1997.

Central Nervous System Acting Chemicals (CNSACs) are chemicals, such as fentanyl and its analogues, that act as anaesthetics, sedatives and analgesics. CNSACs have been used in aerosolised form for law enforcement purposes outside Australia. Australia remains committed to raising awareness of the dangers of the use of CNSACs and such advocacy continues to gather momentum and support for discussions within the OPCW.

Worldwide chemical weapon destruction continues. As at 31 May 2019, 70,161 metric tonnes (97.04 per cent) of declared Schedule 1 chemical weapons has been destroyed. Iraq, Libya, the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic have verifiably destroyed their declared chemical weapon stockpiles, and the Syrian Arab Republic has destroyed all of its chemical weapon production facilities under OPCW verification. Progress on the US chemical weapon destruction program continues and is on track to be completed in advance of the planned completion date in 2023.

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)

Although the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is not in force, its normative value is significant. The support of the great majority of states for the aims of the CTBT is strong. Most continue to provide active support to development of all aspects of the verification regime, including the provisional operation of the International Monitoring System (IMS). Around 90 per cent of IMS facilities have been established. Only the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has conducted nuclear test explosions in the 21st century, and the international community has condemned each test.

With the certification in late 2018 of an infrasound monitoring station at Davis station in the Australian Antarctic Territory, all of Australia's 21 IMS facilities are in place and providing monitoring data to all CTBT signatory states. ASNO continues to provide support for outreach to promote the CTBT as well as support for development of the verification regime. Details are set out in Section 4 — Output 1.6.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Marise Payne at the 9th Ministerial Meeting of the Friends of the CTBT, New York, September 2018. Photo courtesy of The Official CTBTO Photostream

Other Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Activities

International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV)

Practical steps toward nuclear disarmament will need to be underpinned by effective verification. The International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) formed in 2015 to bring together both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states under a cooperative framework to further understand and find solutions to the complex challenges involved in the verification of future nuclear disarmament.

Nearing the end of a second two-year work phase, commitment to the IPNDV from its diverse membership is firm. IPNDV's Working Group 4 (co-chaired by the UK and Poland) is focusing on verification to confirm weapons holdings. Working Group 5 (co-chaired by Australia (DG ASNO Floyd) and the Netherlands) focuses on verification of weapons dismantlement and processing of the resulting nuclear material. Working Group 6 (co-chaired by the US and Sweden) considers technology requirements for verification. Products of this work will be published on IPNDV's website in the lead-up to the 2020 NPT Revcon.

IPNDV engages a wide range of states in its work, including three of the five NPT Nuclear Weapons States, as well as states that support measures such as the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT)

A verifiable ban on production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons is widely seen as one of the practical steps that could be taken toward nuclear disarmament. However, impasse in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has prevented negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT). Australia has actively supported a number of initiatives to advance international discussions on an FMCT, both to promote the commencement of negotiations, and to develop proposals that could assist negotiators.

The 71st session of the UN General Assembly agreed to form a High Level Expert Preparatory Group (EPG) to consider and make recommendations on substantial elements of a future FMCT. The EPG met for two two-week sessions during 2017–18 and its report was released in July 2018. DG ASNO led Australia's contribution to a successful outcome of the process that led to the report. ASNO continues to support Australia's efforts to promote international negotiations on the FMCT.

1 The IAEA can only draw the broader conclusion after a period of successfully implementing both a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol. Australia was the first country to conclude an additional protocol with the IAEA in 1997 and it was among the first countries to achieve the broader conclusion in 2000.

2 paragraph 10 of C-SS-4/DEC.3,