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Legally bound

Safeguards agreements and protocols

Joanne Liou

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi delivers his remarks at the opening session of the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in August 2022.

(Photo: C. de Francia/IAEA)

Non-proliferation treaties and agreements, as well as safeguards agreements concluded with the IAEA, provide the legal basis for IAEA safeguards and its verification activities. The IAEA serves as the international safeguards inspectorate under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The objective of the NPT, which came into force in 1970, is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear technology and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.

With 191 parties — 186 non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWSs) and 5 nuclear-weapon States (NWSs), namely China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America — the NPT is the most widely adhered to treaty in the field of nuclear non-proliferation.

The IAEA plays an indispensable role in the implementation of Article III of the NPT, which requires each NNWS to conclude a comprehensive safeguards agreement (CSA) with the IAEA to enable the IAEA to verify the fulfilment of the State’s obligation under the Treaty.

Comprehensive safeguards agreement

Safeguards agreements concluded before the NPT entered into force were known as item-specific safeguards agreements, under which the IAEA applied safeguards to specified nuclear material, facilities and equipment. Under a CSA, a country is required to declare to the IAEA all nuclear material in all peaceful activities — not only specific items — and the IAEA is obligated to ensure that safeguards are applied to verify that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

In 1971, the IAEA Board of Governors approved document INFCIRC/153 and requested the Director General to use it as the basis for negotiating CSAs between the IAEA and NNWSs. The document — which outlines the structure and content of CSAs — specifies the rights and obligations of the parties; details the safeguards measures and procedures to be applied (e.g. the provision of information and inspections); and provides for the establishment of State systems of accounting for and control of nuclear material, the designation of IAEA inspectors, and the privileges and immunities for the IAEA and its inspectors. Finland became the first country to conclude and bring into force a CSA in 1972, and Guinea-Bissau is the most recent country to bring into force a CSA in 2022.

Additional protocol

Among the 181 States with a CSA in force, 135 also have additional protocols (APs) in force. In May 1997, the IAEA Board of Governors approved the Model Additional Protocol to strengthen the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of the safeguards system as a contribution to global non-proliferation objectives. The AP expands the IAEA’s access to information and locations in States with CSAs in force.

Under the AP, the IAEA has short notice access to any building on a nuclear site, as well as access to all parts of a State’s nuclear fuel cycle and related research and development activities not involving nuclear material. The IAEA can also collect location specific environmental samples.

The Model Additional Protocol contained in INFCIRC/540 serves as standard text for the conclusion of APs to CSAs. This year, 2022, marks 50 years since the entry into force of the first CSA and 25 years since the approval of the Model AP and entry into force of the first AP.

Small quantities protocol

The IAEA introduced the small quantities protocol (SQP) in the 1970s for States with minimal or no nuclear activities to minimize the burden of safeguards implementation in such States. The protocol was revised by the Board of Governors in 2005 in recognition of the fact that the original SQP constituted a weakness in the safeguards system, as the IAEA could not receive declarations on nuclear material and facilities or conduct in-field verification activities in such States.

The revised SQP reinstates the obligation of the State to provide the IAEA with an initial report on all nuclear material and the IAEA’s right to conduct in-field inspections. In addition, a country with an existing or planned nuclear facility can no longer have an SQP to its CSA.

At the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT in August 2022, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi urged all countries that had not yet done so to bring into force their CSA, amend their SQP and conclude an AP enabling the IAEA to carry out effectively its nuclear verification mission. “A safeguards regime, reinforced by the additional protocol and the amended small quantities protocol, can give us all the trust and confidence we need that States using nuclear energy for the wellbeing of their people are not hiding anything,” Mr Grossi said.

Voluntary offer agreement

The five NPT NWSs are not required to conclude safeguards agreements with the IAEA under the NPT; however, these five States have concluded voluntary offer agreements (VOAs). Under a VOA, the State voluntarily offers a list of eligible facilities, which may be selected by the IAEA for the application of safeguards. VOAs also contribute to nuclear non-proliferation objectives. In the United Kingdom, for example, the IAEA applies safeguards to large amounts of plutonium. For nuclear material shipments from an NWS to an NNWS, it is also more efficient to verify the material and apply seals at the point of origin in an NWS.

Item-specific safeguards agreement

Item-specific safeguards agreements are in place today for three States that are not party to the NPT: India, Israel and Pakistan. Like the agreements that predated the NPT, these agreements cover only nuclear material, facilities and other items specified in the agreements.

Key figures

(as of September 2022)

•  181 States have comprehensive safeguards agreements in force

•  141 States have additional protocols in force

•  5 States have voluntary offer agreements in force

•  3 States have item-specific safeguards agreements in force

October, 2022
Vol. 63-3

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