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Improving Safeguards Implementation in Member States


General Conference delegates listening to an overview of the many ways in which the IAEA can support them in improving the conditions for the implementation of nuclear safeguards. (Photo: Y. Yustantiana/IAEA)

The IAEA and the country concerned both benefit from close collaboration between IAEA staff and national authorities in the implementation of nuclear safeguards. An event, held on the sidelines of the IAEA’s 62nd General Conference today, offered an opportunity for Member State representatives to get an overview of the many ways in which the IAEA can support them in improving the conditions for the implementation of safeguards.

Under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), each State party undertakes to accept safeguards in accordance with a bilateral agreement with the IAEA. This requires the State to establish a State System of Accounting for and Control of Nuclear Material (SSAC), to support the verification process. The IAEA works in close cooperation with States to develop or improve their SSACs.

To improve understanding of the functions of the SSAC, the competencies required, and the key steps for establishing and maintaining the necessary infrastructure, the IAEA offers SSAC training courses, which were discussed at today’s event. These courses provide an opportunity to share and learn from other States’ experiences, and to build communities of safeguards practitioners.

Safeguards Traineeship

At the event, IAEA officials presented the Safeguards Traineeship Programme,  a ten-month training course for trainees from developing countries, which is organized every two years. Since 1983, the programme has trained more than 150 individuals, many of whom have gone on to enhance the implementation of safeguards at the national or international level. Half of the trainees have subsequently returned to the IAEA to become safeguards inspectors.

Participants learn through theoretical and practical exercises from experts across the IAEA in Vienna. The programme also includes visits to nuclear facilities in Europe. Overall, it provides trainees with opportunities to learn more about the various applications of nuclear technology, nuclear power, nuclear safety, nuclear security and international safeguards, said Susan Pickett, an IAEA Safeguards Training Development Officer.

She also introduced the IAEA SSAC Advisory Service (ISSAS), which provides States with advice and recommendations on the establishment and strengthening of their SSACs. The ISSAS team works with the State to review its nuclear material accounting and reporting, and the legal and regulatory framework. These missions help to identify areas where further cooperation with the IAEA could increase the effectiveness and efficiency of safeguards and help to make recommendations on how any challenges could be addressed, while identifying good practices.

“With more than 20 ISSAS missions conducted in the last 14 years, the IAEA continues to assist countries in establishing and improving their State systems for implementing safeguards,” Pickett said. The service is especially important for those States looking to develop a nuclear programme for the first time, those reviewing their legal and regulatory framework for nuclear activities, or those rapidly expanding their nuclear programmes.

Safeguards in countries introducing nuclear power

An important subset of countries receiving IAEA support for safeguards implementation are those considering or embarking on nuclear power programmes. Nuclear power brings a significant amount of nuclear material into countries, increasing the amount of material under safeguards.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is in the process of commissioning its first nuclear power plant. “Meeting safeguards obligations can look like a complex process, but we work closely with the Agency to facilitate cooperation and make the process smooth,” said Ambassador Hamad Alkaabi, Permanent Representative of the UAE to the IAEA. “By signing a safeguards agreement we have an obligation to the world, but the Agency has obligations too: to verify and to support us in this process.”

Safeguards is one of the 19 infrastructure issues to be addressed by countries following the IAEA’s Milestones Approach — an integrated, phased approach to introducing nuclear power based on internationally derived best practices. IAEA Member States, like the UAE, are benefitting from the integrated guidance, peer review missions and capacity building activities the Agency offers to countries embarking on a nuclear power programme.

One vehicle for this support is the Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) service through which the IAEA performs a comprehensive review of all aspects of a country’s nuclear power programme and makes practical recommendations to help the country to bring its programme in line with international best practices. In every INIR mission, one IAEA safeguards expert participates to review conditions related to safeguards.

The UAE invited INIR missions in both the early (2011) and later (2018) phases of its national infrastructure development. It also requested an ISSAS mission in 2014 to complement those broad reviews and receive an in-depth review of its SSAC before the country received any nuclear fuel. “It’s helpful to think of safeguards from the very beginning to set the right expectations and prepare for the work ahead,” Alkaabi said.

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