The Review Conference for the Amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material

The Original CPPNM – Limited in Scope

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) was established to facilitate international cooperation between states on issues of common interest related to physical protection of nuclear material. After two years of negotiation, the CPPNM was opened for signature on 3 March 1980 and entered into force on 8 February 1987. On 22 September 1987, Australia was the 19th state to ratify the CPPNM. The scope of the CPPNM was limited to physical protection of nuclear material in international transport but also covered the criminalisation of offences, international cooperation and information exchange. To this day, it remains the only international legally binding undertaking on physical protection of nuclear material.

The 2005 Amendment

Over time, there were calls to expand the scope of the CPPNM to apply to physical protection of nuclear material in domestic use and storage. Finally, in July 2005, a Diplomatic Conference adopted a detailed amendment. The amendment not only extended the remit of the original 1979 CPPNM to cover domestic use, storage and transport but also criminalised acts of sabotage against nuclear facilities and trafficking in nuclear materials. Further, it integrated the Fundamental Objectives and Principles of Physical Protection, which were developed by a legal and technical expert group and endorsed by the IAEA Board of Governors in 2001. While adopted in 2005, it took over ten years for the Amendment to enter-into-force in 2016, after significant outreach and lobbying during the course of the nuclear security summits over 2010–2016. Australia was the 17th state to ratify the Amendment, in 2008.

Article 16 Review Conference

Both the original and amended Conventions provide for a mandated review conference (Article 16.1) to be held five years after entry into force of the respective Conventions but also for additional review conferences (Article 16.2) should a majority of States Parties desire to do so.

The CPPNM's article on review conferences is similarly worded to the corresponding article in the NPT. However, unlike the NPT, for which review conferences have been convened every five years and for which there is well established cycle of annual Preparatory Committee meetings (PrepComs), there has been only one review conference for the original CPPNM and there is no established preparatory process.5 That single review conference took place 29 September 1992. The final statement of that review conference concluded flatly that the Convention was adequate. No additional Article 16 review conferences for the original Convention have been held.

The entry into force of the 2005 amendment in 2016 set the stage for the amended CPPNM review conference to take place after 8 May 2021.

Breaking Down Article 16.1

"A conference of States Parties shall be convened by the depositary five years after the entry into force of the Amendment adopted on 8 July 2005 to review the implementation of this Convention and its adequacy as concerns the preamble, the whole of the operative part and the annexes in the light of the then prevailing situation".

Article 16.1 comprises three main elements that drives the conduct of the review conference:

Article 16.1 comprises three main elements that drives the conduct of the review conference

In light of the prevailing situation: This sets the context for reviewing implementation and adequacy. Nuclear security technologies, nuclear technologies, international transport of fuel and the nature of threats to nuclear material and facilities have all changed since the Amendment was first agreed in 2005. It would also be prudent to examine whether the Convention is robust to the anticipated prevailing situation in the coming years.

A review of implementation of the Convention: Already during the negotiation of what would become the 2005 Amendment, a peer review mechanism was explicitly excluded from the Amendment. However, there is wide scope for individual Parties to share their experiences on implementation for the benefit of all and to discuss areas where international cooperation, criminalisation or extraditions have been successful or problematic. The ultimate goal is to achieve high standards of implementation which supports the purpose of the Convention (see below).

A review of adequacy of the Convention: A suitable basis to assess adequacy could be the stated purpose of Convention as set in Article 1A, i.e. ‘to achieve and maintain worldwide effective physical protection of nuclear material used for peaceful purposes and of nuclear facilities used for peaceful purposes; to prevent and combat offences relating to such material and facilities worldwide; as well as to facilitate co-operation among States Parties to those ends'. This purpose statement was absent in the original 1979 CPPNM. Any conclusion need not be binary as there will be a variety of views from States Parties on various aspects of Convention.

The Road to the Review Conference

As noted above, there is no prescribed process for the holding of the mandated Article 16.1 Review Conference. In order to discuss the preparations the IAEA Secretariat held an informal meeting of CPPNM Parties on 10–11 December 2018. The meeting developed a provisional roadmap to the Conference, which included meetings of legal and technical experts and a preparatory committee (PrepCom) to establish thematic and procedural matters for the Conference.

In June 2019, Director General ASNO accepted an invitation to co-chair with Argentina the meetings of Legal and Technical Experts and to also co-chair with Hungary a Preparatory Committee in 2020. Switzerland and Nigeria agreed to co-chair the Review Conference.

Two meetings of legal and technical experts were held in July and December 2019. These meetings discussed the process for the review of the Convention and put together a draft agenda and program and a suggested outline for national statements. The meetings also discussed elements of the rules of procedure to apply during the review conference. There was also strong support to bring focus to universalisation of the ACPPNM in the lead-up to, and during, the Review Conference. As of 30 June 2020, 124 of 161 (77 per cent) of CPPNM Parties had the Amendment in force.

PrepCom – COVID Interrupted

The PrepCom was to be held in June 2020 but due to the constraints placed on the holding of meetings at the IAEA's headquarters in Vienna and travel restrictions due to COVID–19, the meeting was postponed to December 2020. Given the continued uncertainty of the status of COVID–19 worldwide, this date remains tentative as is the date for the Review Conference.

Table 1: Key data related to the CPPNM and its Amendment.
Treaty adopted 26 October 1979 8 July 2005
Treaty open for signature 3 March 1980 N/A
Australian signature 22 February 1984 N/A
Australian ratification 22 September 1987 17 July 2018
Treaty entry into force 8 February 1987 8 May 2016
Parties (as of 30 June 2020) 161 124
Article 16 Review Conference 29 September 1992 2021 (Date TBD)

5 Other relatively modern nuclear-related treaties such as the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management have detailed provisions for preparatory and review meetings specified in the treaty text.