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Background on IAEA Board of Governors' Approval of Framework for Integrated Safeguards

The IAEA Board of Governors in session (Photo: D.Calma / IAEA)

At its Meeting from 18-22 March 2002, one item high on the Agenda of the IAEA Board of Governors was the 'Conceptual Framework for Integrated Safeguards', the blueprint for a new approach to the design and implementation of Agency safeguards, or IAEA verification activities.

The IAEA has the unique responsibility within the international community for verifying that States abide by their legally binding nuclear non-proliferation commitments. Most States have entered into such commitments through membership (now at 187 parties) in the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), through which States undertake neither to acquire or seek to acquire nuclear weapons nor to help other States to acquire them.

The Agency's experience in Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War, and later safeguards implementation difficulties in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) showed that safeguards as implemented thus far needed major strengthening. In particular, they needed to enhance the Agency's then limited capability to be able to detect any 'undeclared" (or clandestine) nuclear activities or material which States might use to contravene their non-proliferation commitments. This realization was the catalyst for major efforts since the early 1990's to strengthen safeguards. A high point in this context was the approval in May 1997 by the Agency Board of Governors of a Model Additional Protocol,' which gives the Agency authority and verification 'tools' not provided for in safeguards agreements alone. For States with both a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol in force, the Agency is now equipped to provide credible assurance, inter alia, of the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in those States.

Another milestone has been reached with the unveiling, at the March 2002 meeting of the Board of Governors, of a "blueprint" to enable the Agency to implement its safeguards in the most technically effective and resource efficient way. The blueprint does not represent a new safeguards 'system' as such. It represents instead a fresh approach to safeguards implementation which synthesizes, or 'integrates', all of the safeguards measures that are now available to the Agency, old and new, in the optimum way. Clearly, this has potential benefits for the international security environment, States themselves and the Agency.

The blueprint, known to experts as 'The Conceptual Framework for Integrated Safeguards', is the culmination of three years of intensive development effort involving the IAEA Secretariat, Agency Member States, (notably, though not exclusively, through Member States' Safeguards Support Programmes), the Director General's Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI), and a separate external Group of Experts, whose technical advice and input was also sought throughout. This Framework will now guide the Secretariat in fulfilling its on-going safeguards obligations and responsibilities. Like any blueprint in initial use, it may need to be adjusted and fine-tuned in the light of new, pertinent technical developments and/or implementation experience. It is thus a 'living' new approach, one that is dynamic and flexible.

The Framework is not a document as such but a collection of complementary and mutually reinforcing elements. These include a clearly defined and stated Overall Objective; some Basic Principles, which must always apply, whatever the country in which safeguards are being implemented; new approaches to technical implementation including design of a State level approach as well as model approaches for specific nuclear facility types, and written guidance to help Agency safeguards inspectors and other relevant staff to carry out their work effectively and efficiently.

In practical terms, the new emphasis on the State level approach to safeguards implementation means that, for any individual State with a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol in force, the Agency will be able to design a safeguards approach and implementation plan tailor made for a State. It will do so by drawing upon the elements in the blueprint and by taking into account technical State-specific features and characteristics such as the types of nuclear facilities present in the State, the specific design features of a particular plant, the State's future fuel cycle-related development plans, and whether or not the State has its own nuclear safeguards inspectorate which can work with IAEA safeguards inspectors in implementing safeguards in that particular State or region.

In carrying out its development work on the Conceptual Framework, the IAEA Secretariat, as expected by the Board of Governors, has always had "cost neutrality" as an objective. Although the initial implementation of additional protocols has resulted in and will continue to result in increases in safeguards expenditure (largely because of the human resource requirements for conducting State evaluations), savings realized from reductions in some of the Agency's verification activities under integrated safeguards can be used towards partially offsetting these increases. It is clear, however, that in the crucial area of seeking to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, cost cannot be the over-riding factor. In his closing remarks to the March Board of Governors Meeting, the Director General of the Agency again underscored the long term objective of cost neutrality. He nevertheless made clear that "the safeguards system has at all times to be technically sound and not compromised by financial constraint; it has to be driven primarily by effectiveness".

Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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