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50 years of NPT Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements – The Legal Bedrock of Nuclear Verification

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visits Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland, a nuclear facility under IAEA safeguards. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Safeguards agreements concluded by the IAEA and their associated framework underpin the IAEA’s verification mission. The majority of safeguards agreements in force are comprehensive safeguards agreements (CSAs) concluded in connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The first such agreement, which was concluded between the IAEA and Finland, entered into force fifty years ago on 9 February 1972.

Safeguards are technical measures applied by the IAEA to verify that States are honouring their international legal obligations to use nuclear material and technology solely for peaceful purposes. The safeguards agreements between the IAEA and States define the rights and responsibilities of each party, as well as specific procedures to implement the obligations involved. Through the implementation of such safeguards agreements, the IAEA’s independent verification work allows it to play an indispensable role in helping to deter the spread of nuclear weapons.

A country with a CSA in force is required to declare all nuclear material in all peaceful activities to the IAEA. The CSA provides the Agency with the unique right and obligation to verify that all nuclear material in the State remains in peaceful use. However, it is only for States with an Additional Protocol in force, which provides broader access to information and locations to the IAEA, that the Agency has the tools at its disposal to fully achieve this objective. 

"Activities conducted under CSAs constitute the vast majority of the IAEA's nuclear verification work", said Massimo Aparo, IAEA Deptuty DIrector General and Head of the Department of Safeguards. "For a country with a CSA in force, the CSA provides the IAEA with the unique right and obligation to verify that all nuclear materials in a country are in peaceful uses. However, it is only for CSA States with an Additional Protocol in force that the Agency has the tools at its disposal to fully achieve this verification objective. Today, there are 178 States with a CSA in force and 132 of these State have concluded Additional Protocols with the Agency. The Agency stands ready to help any other States to conclude an Additional Protocol if they so request."

Prior to 1972, safeguards agreements concluded by the IAEA were known as ‘item-specific safeguards agreements,’ whereby only specified nuclear material, facilities, equipment and certain other items were safeguarded. Required by the NPT, the CSA obliged the non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the Treaty to place all nuclear material in all peaceful nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards.

“The opening for signature of the NPT meant the IAEA and its Member States had to devise an agreement that required a State to provide to the IAEA a complete declaration of all of its nuclear material and associated activities, and obligated the IAEA to verify it,” said Peri Lynne Johnson, Legal Advisor and Director of the IAEA’s Office of Legal Affairs. “In 1972, the IAEA Board of Governors approved INCIRC/153 (Corrected) as the basis for negotiating a CSA between the Agency and non-nuclear-weapon States party to the NPT. CSAs have been concluded on this basis ever since.” 

This year marks another historic milestone: the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Additional Protocol by the IAEA’s Board of Governors in May 1997. At this year’s Safeguards Symposium in Vienna, 31 October – 4 November 2022, participants will reflect on the achievements and lessons learned from 60 years of safeguards implementation, and work to anticipate the challenges and opportunities of the IAEA’s operating environment that are likely to emerge in the decades ahead. To learn more about the Safeguards Symposium 2022 and how you can participate, see the event page.

Last update: 07 Apr 2022

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