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Safeguards Basics

Essential Information on IAEA Safeguards Activities

Safeguards inpsectors

Safeguards inspectors use a self-contained digital surveillance system during a training exercise. The system can record up to 50 000 images. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Safeguards are a set of activities by which the IAEA seeks to verify that a state is living up to its international undertakings not to use peaceful nuclear programmes to make nuclear weapons.

Countries declare to the IAEA the type, quantity and locations of their nuclear material, and the purposes for which this material is being used. The IAEA then independently verifies these declarations.

As of mid-2010, safeguards were being applied in 175 states, which have Safeguards Agreements in force with the IAEA. Verification measures include on-site inspections, visits, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

The Agency has about 245 inspectors who go on approximately 2 000 missions each year to verify over 1 100 nuclear power plants, research reactors, conversion plants, fuel fabrication plants, reprocessing and enrichment facilities, as well as storage facilities.

The IAEA´s safeguards system functions as a confidence-building measure, an early warning mechanism, and the trigger that sets in motion other responses by the international community, if countries are found to be violating their agreements.

Legality of IAEA Safeguards

Under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), non-nuclear-weapon states are required to sign a "contract" with the IAEA. This contract is called a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement that obliges states not to use nuclear material to make weapons or other explosive devices. This agreement can be further strengthened through an Additional Protocol.

Under both these contracts, countries agree to grant the IAEA rights to access relevant facilities and agree to enable the IAEA to use advanced verification technologies.

It is only in countries with both a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and an Additional Protocol in force that the Agency has sufficient information and access to provide credible assurances of both the non-diversion of nuclear material and the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.

See Story Resources for more information.

-- By Sasha Henriques, IAEA Division of Public Information