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UPDATE: Eight Questions and Answers on the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material

The Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) entered into force on 8 May 2016. Described by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano as “the single most important step which the world can take to strengthen nuclear security,” it expands the scope of the Convention adopted in 1979. The following FAQs explain the significance of and background to the Amendment. 

What is the significance of the entry into force of the CPPNM Amendment?

The Amendment reduces the risk of a terrorist attack involving nuclear material and the smuggling of such material. It also reduces the risk of an attack on a nuclear power plant, other nuclear facilities or nuclear material in transport.

The Amendment, adopted in 2005, had been the most important area of unfinished business in nuclear security, according to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. Its entry into force demonstrates the determination of the international community to strengthen nuclear security globally.

What is the background to the CPPNM and its Amendment?

The CPPNM, the only legally binding international undertaking in the area of physical protection of nuclear material, was adopted in 1979 and entered into force in 1987. It focuses on the physical protection of nuclear material used for peaceful purposes during international transport, but does not cover the protection of nuclear facilities or nuclear material in domestic use, storage and transport. In July 2005, the Parties to the CPPNM adopted the Amendment to broaden the scope of the original Convention in this regard.

The amount of nuclear material in peaceful uses in the world has risen by 70 percent since 1999 and will continue to grow in the coming decades as global use of nuclear power increases.

Currently, there are 152 States Parties to the Convention. The adherence of two-thirds of the States Parties to the CPPNM was required for entry into force of the Amendment. This threshold was reached on 8 April 2016.

What are the new obligations for States under the Amendment?

The Amendment broadens the scope of the CPPNM to also include physical protection requirements for nuclear facilities and nuclear material in domestic use, storage and transport.

In addition, it further expands the existing offences identified in the CPPNM, such as the theft of nuclear material, and also introduces new ones, including the smuggling of nuclear material and the actual or threatened sabotage of nuclear facilities.

It requires States to minimise any radiological consequences of sabotage, and to prevent and combat related offences.

It provides for expanded cooperation among countries on locating and recovering stolen or smuggled nuclear material. These last two components are particularly relevant for States which do not have nuclear material or nuclear facilities.

It requires States, in the case of theft, robbery or any unlawful taking of nuclear material or credible threat thereof to exchange information, as appropriate, with each other, the Agency and other relevant international organizations with a view to recovering and protecting such material.

What impact will the Amendment have on the IAEA?

The responsibility for implementing the Amendment lies with States. However, the IAEA, upon request, will provide technical assistance to Member States, including on drafting national implementing legislation and in establishing and maintaining a national physical protection regime.

The IAEA will also work out a robust arrangement on information sharing. The IAEA will continue to promote peer review missions to advise States on meeting their nuclear security obligations and commitments.

In addition, the IAEA will stand ready to help, upon request, those countries which are not parties to either the Convention or the Amendment.

What are the next steps following the entry into force of the Amendment?

Even after the Amendment enters into force on 8 May, many countries will still not be parties to it; the next goal, therefore, will be universal application to help ensure that nuclear material throughout the world is properly protected against malicious acts by terrorists and other criminals.

Achieving universal application will require, among other things, greater coordination and information sharing among States. The IAEA Director General has announced that he will periodically host meetings to improve mechanisms for sharing information, while also protecting confidentiality.

As the depositary for the Convention, the IAEA Director General will, as provided for in the Amendment, convene a conference of States Parties five years after the Amendment’s entry into force, to review its implementation and adequacy.

What about States not already party to the CPPNM? Can they also join the Amendment?

The Amendment is not a separate treaty and is subject to ratification (or, alternatively, acceptance or approval) by the States Parties to the CPPNM. Therefore, States that are not yet party to the Convention but want to join the Amendment have to express their consent to be bound by both the CPPNM and its Amendment.

Why is it still necessary to refer to the “Amendment to the CPPNM” now that the Amendment is in force? Would it not be simpler to refer to the “Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities”, which, pursuant to the Amendment, is the new title of the Convention?

Despite the recent entry into force of the Amendment, the IAEA Secretariat, in line with established depositary practice, will continue to refer to the “CPPNM” and to the “Amendment to the CPPNM” until all States Parties to the CPPNM have consented to be bound by the Amendment.

Until this happens, the use of the new title of the Convention as amended, i.e. “Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities” would be misleading, because it could give the impression that, alongside the original convention, there is now a new convention and that States could now join either one or the other.

What is the IAEA’s role on nuclear security?

The IAEA assists States to establish, maintain and improve national nuclear security regimes. The IAEA does this by providing guidance, training, advice and equipment to Member States, as well as by facilitating exchange of information among them.

Since 2002, the IAEA has provided nuclear security training to more than 19 000 people from over 120 States. The Agency has provided physical protection upgrades and carried out risk-reduction activities such as the repatriation of High Enriched Uranium (HEU). The IAEA also regularly provides nuclear security assistance for major international sporting events, including the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Agency maintains the Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB), in which 131 States voluntarily take part. The ITDB contains 2,899 incidents reported since 1995.

In the event of a nuclear security incident, the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) is able to liaise with the affected State; offer and facilitate requests for assistance; assess the event and its possible consequences; share information with other States and  communicate with the general public and media, while protecting confidentiality; and coordinate a response with other international organizations.

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Last update: 26 July 2016