Limits to the Safeguards System

It is clear that no international safeguards system can physically prevent diversion or the setting up of an undeclared or clandestine nuclear programme. The IAEA acts not as an executive force but as an inspection mechanism. Furthermore, the IAEA can neither force States to sign the NPT or similar treaties, nor can it prevent a State from withdrawing from such treaties. Moreover, the IAEA cannot prevent States which have signed INFClRC/66/Rev.2 agreements, i.e. agreements applying to individual facilities only, from building unsafeguarded facilities.

The ability of the safeguards system to detect diversion of declared material or the existence of clandestine nuclear activities is limited by technical considerations, by the resources made available by the IAEA Member States, and by the extent of the verification which States are prepared to accept. Currently the IAEA aims to have a high level of assurance that the safeguards system would detect the diversion of a significant quantity of nuclear material (8 kg of plutonium, 25 kg of uranium-235 in highly enriched uranium, 75 kg of uranium-235 in natural or low enriched uranium).

SIGNIFICANT QUANTITY -- The approximate quantity of nuclear material in respect of which, taking into account any conversion process involved, the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded.

A system which would detect the diversion of very small quantities, e.g. grams, would be unacceptably costly and intrusive and could give rise to a disturbingly high number of false alarms.

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