A series of IAEA regional seminars for governmental decision-makers is encouraging more countries to place all their nuclear activities and materials under strengthened safeguards, a step that would enable the IAEA to verify their commitments against the further spread of nuclear weapons. In late February, a seminar was held for African countries in Burkina Faso, and more seminars are scheduled in Namibia, Vienna, and Jamaica.
The seminars aim to deepen understanding about safeguards, and how and why agreements are concluded, in the context of peaceful nuclear cooperation, security, and non-proliferation. Sessions typically include expert overviews and panel discussions on the role of safeguards and how they have been strengthened through additional protocols and other measures. Most IAEA safeguards agreements are concluded pursuant to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Treaty obligates States to conclude comprehensive safeguards agreements with the IAEA covering all their nuclear material and activities. The Agency's safeguards system is also foreseen as the means of verifying compliance with regional Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) Treaties, including the one in Africa known as the Pelindaba Treaty.
The seminar in Burkina Faso was held in Ouagadougou, with financial support from France and Japan, for States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), plus Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. More than 25 participants from 10 West African countries participated. Minister Alphonse Bonou of Burkina Faso called on all States of ECOWAS to bring into force and implement the instruments that would strengthen the non-proliferation regime, in particular the Pelindaba Treaty and the necessary IAEA safeguards agreements and additional protocols. The Minister recalled the importance of South-South cooperation and the participants' recommendation that the ECOWAS Secretariat, in addition to its responsibilities with regard to stemming the spread of small arms, play a greater role in promoting the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons among its members.
Over the past year, IAEA safeguards agreements and additional protocols in the African region entered into force for Burkina Faso, Madagascar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, such legal instruments were submitted by Gabon, Togo, and Niger for approval of the IAEA Board. It is expected that a number of countries of West Africa - an important uranium producing region - will follow these steps to bring their own safeguards agreements and additional protocols into force in the near future. All African States are NPT Parties and 50 of them have signed the Pelindaba Treaty. Most of them use peaceful nuclear applications to address development problems in agriculture, health, water resources and other fields.