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In-field Nuclear Verification Effort Continues to Grow: IAEA Safeguards Statement 2021


IAEA Nuclear Safeguards Inspectors in Personal Protective Equipment during the COVID pandemic. (Photo credit / IAEA staff)

The IAEA conducted more than 3,000 in-field verification activities and spent more than 14,500 days in the field in 2021, according to the Safeguards Statement for 2021 published this week. This represents a return to the pre-pandemic trend of increasing worldwide in-field nuclear verification effort year after year. The Safeguards Statement presents the IAEA’s findings and safeguards conclusions for all States for which the IAEA implemented safeguards during the year.

“The IAEA successfully adjusted to the COVID-19 related restrictions, and was also able to complete in-field verification activities carried over from 2020,” said Massimo Aparo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards. “While travel restrictions, including quarantine requirements, still applied in some States, the Agency increased its verification effort to draw independent and soundly based safeguards conclusions.”

IAEA safeguards are technical measures embedded in safeguards agreements, implemented by the IAEA to verify that nuclear material remains in peaceful use.

During 2021, the IAEA conducted verification activities at more than 1,300 nuclear facilities and locations outside of facilities around the world, while nuclear material under safeguards increased by 2.1%.

The IAEA was able to draw safeguards conclusions for 185 of the 186 States with safeguards agreements in force. The one State without a safeguards conclusion is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea, where the IAEA did not implement safeguards and, therefore, could not draw any conclusion.

Of the 185 states where safeguards were implemented during the year, 177 had a comprehensive safeguards agreement in force, of which 132 also had an additional protocol in force. The additional protocol significantly increases the IAEA’s ability to verify the peaceful use of all nuclear material in a State with a comprehensive safeguards agreement. Twenty-five years since its approval by the IAEA Board of Governors, the additional protocol provides the Agency access to additional safeguards-relevant information, sites and locations.

For 72 States with a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol in force, the IAEA was able to conclude that “all nuclear material remained in peaceful activities.” For the other 105 States with comprehensive safeguards agreements, 60 of which also have additional protocols in force, the IAEA concluded that “declared nuclear material remained in peaceful activities.”

For the three countries with item-specific safeguards agreements in force (India, Israel and Pakistan), the IAEA concluded that “nuclear material, facilities or other items to which safeguards had been applied remained in peaceful activities.”

For the five countries with voluntary offer agreements in force (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), the IAEA concluded that “nuclear material in selected facilities to which safeguards had been applied remained in peaceful activities or had been withdrawn from safeguards as provided for in the agreements.”

During the year, a new comprehensive safeguards agreement with a small quantities protocol (based on the revised standard text) – a protocol for States with minimal or no nuclear material, and no decision to construct  a facility – entered into force for Eritrea and for the Federated States of Micronesia. Furthermore, an additional protocol entered into force for Eritrea and for Zimbabwe.

In 2021, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, reiterated his call to States with a small quantities protocol based on the original standard text to amend or rescind it as soon as possible. As called for by the IAEA Board of Governors in 2005, the revised small quantities protocol reduces the number of provisions of the comprehensive safeguards agreement that are held in abeyance. In 2021, small quantities protocols were amended for Belize, Brunei Darussalam, Maldives, Saint Lucia and Sudan. Non-operative small quantities protocols were rescinded for Malta and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Grossi also wrote to the remaining States Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, who have yet to conclude a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the Agency, asking them to do so without delay. In addition, he sent letters to States that have not concluded or brought into force an additional protocol to their comprehensive safeguards agreement, encouraging them to do so.

The performance of national safeguards authorities and their State systems of accounting for and control of nuclear material (SSACs) has a significant impact on the effectiveness and efficiency on the implementation of Agency safeguards, the SIR states. Under a comprehensive safeguards agreement, the State is required to establish an SSAC which forms the basis of a State’s reporting to the IAEA on its nuclear material. In 2021, the implementation of COMPASS — a project aimed at  partnering such national safeguards authorities and their SSACs in order to provide services tailored to a particular State’s needs – commenced in seven pilot States.

The IAEA strengthened its ties with Member States and other partners, in 2021. A Member State Support Programme was established with Switzerland – the first new support programme since 2013 – joining a group of 20 other support programmes provided by individual IAEA Member States and the European Commission. Member State Support Programmes support IAEA safeguards through financial contributions, training, technology transfer, and expert collaboration. The IAEA also established five new partnerships with non-traditional entities such as think tanks and non-governmental organization to widen its network of expertise and to foster innovation.

“In 2021, we strengthened our safeguards implementation support to our Member States, while establishing new partnerships in support of our mission,” said Aparo. “Implementing effective global nuclear verification takes cooperation between the IAEA, its counterparts, and our partners – cooperation which is essential for the future success of our mission.”

Read the Safeguards Statement for 2021.

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