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IAEA Director General Steps Up Efforts to Strengthen Safeguards Implementation

Vienna, Austria

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, has called on those countries which still have an old-style nuclear safeguards agreement to agree to stricter verification measures as part of efforts to further strengthen the global non-proliferation inspection regime.

Director General Grossi this month sent official letters to 31 countries which have a type of IAEA safeguards protocol designed in the early 1970s for States with little or no nuclear material and no nuclear material in a facility. He asked them to replace the so-called Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) to their Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSAs) as soon as possible with a revised version introduced by the IAEA Board of Governors fifteen years ago to firm up the reporting and inspection rules, or to rescind it altogether.

“This is essential to address a weakness in the IAEA safeguards system,” he told a meeting of the Board of Governors on Monday. “In 2020, the old standard SQP is simply not adequate.”  

Safeguards are a set of technical measures applied by the IAEA on nuclear material and activities through which it seeks to verify that there is no misuse of nuclear technology or diversion of nuclear material from peaceful uses. States accept these measures through the conclusion of safeguards agreements with the IAEA.

Under the original SQP most IAEA verification activities are held in abeyance or suspended – especially those related to reporting and inspections – while the revised SQP reinstates the implementation of some safeguards requirements such as the submission of an initial report on nuclear material and the possibility of Agency inspections. In addition, it is no longer possible for a country with an existing or planned nuclear facility to have an SQP to its CSA with the IAEA, under the revised rules.

In the letter, the Director General said the IAEA safeguards system had significantly evolved in recent decades, with an increasing expectation of greater transparency and accountability.

“Safeguards implementation in States with SQPs based on the original standardized text is an area of difficulty as nuclear material declarations are not provided and the IAEA cannot implement in-field verification activities in those States,” he said. “Therefore, the IAEA’s ability to draw a credible and soundly based annual safeguards conclusion for those States is becoming increasingly challenging.”

After the IAEA Board of Governors approved the revised SQP in 2005, most of the 94 SQP States now have it in force.  However, 31 SQP States still have the old version. For further information on countries with SQPs, please see this status list.

“I have decided to re-invigorate the Agency’s efforts to encourage all remaining States to amend or rescind their SQPs,” Director General Grossi said in his letter, calling on these countries to do so as soon as possible. The IAEA stands ready to assist them in this process, he added.

IAEA safeguards are an essential component of the international security system. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the centrepiece of global efforts to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons. Under the Treaty’s Article 3, each Non-Nuclear Weapon State is required to conclude a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. For more information on safeguards agreements, including the SQP, please see here.

The number of States with safeguards agreements in force stands at 184, of which 136 have brought Additional Protocols into force that strengthens the IAEA’s access to information and locations. At Monday’s Board meeting, the Director General also renewed his call for the remaining States to conclude safeguards agreement and Additional Protocols as soon as possible. 

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