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Addressing Verification Challenges

Vienna, Austria

 Vienna, Austria
Symposium on International Safeguards (16 - 20 October 2006)

On behalf of my colleagues and myself, I welcome you here to our tenth major safeguards symposium, held in cooperation with the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management and the European Safeguards Research and Development Association. Our last symposium was in October 2001, and you will all be aware of the many things have changed since that time. I will just refer to a few of the new challenges we are facing.

But let me first say that safeguards is probably the most difficult task entrusted to an international organization. To determine all the details of a country´s nuclear programme is a very daunting challenge. What level of assurance do you need; how do you draw assessments from the facts; how do you distinguish between technical data and future intentions? These are difficult issues which we have been grappling with, particularly in the last few years.

We are expecting and seeing a major increase in nuclear power around the globe - and rightly so, because of shortages of energy, concern for energy independence, and concerns about climate change. On the one hand this is good because for the 2.4 billion people who have no access to modern energy systems there is no hope for development without energy, and nuclear energy can obviously play an important role. But on the other hand it means that nuclear know-how and nuclear technology will continue to spread to more and more countries. There will be more nuclear engineers, nuclear physicists and radiochemists. The knowledge is available and can be applied to both peaceful purposes and unfortunately also non-peaceful purposes.

We are still investigating the clandestine network which we discovered a few years back. We now understand most of that network but we still have work to do to make sure exactly who got what, when and where. Knowing that the design for centrifuges and possibly even weapons can be held on a CD ROM makes our challenge much more difficult. Over reliance on export control is no longer, in my view, a viable option.

Then of course we have seen an increase in the number of countries who want to go in for the nuclear fuel cycle: sensitive fuel cycle activities, enrichment and reprocessing, but mostly enrichment. This in some cases makes economic sense; but in others, I think - although one does not like to guess - countries are hedging their bets to have the know-how in case they need to develop their own deterrence. This creates many new challenges, both for the international community and for us, because verifying enrichment facilities or reprocessing facilities is quite difficult and the so-called conversion time is very short. So we are dealing with what I call "virtual nuclear weapon States".

One of the issues I have been talking about for a number of years is the need to develop a new international or multinational approach to the fuel cycle so as to avoid ending up with not just nine nuclear weapon States but another 20 or 30 States which have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons in a very short span of time.

Unfortunately the political environment is not a very secure one. There has been temptation for countries to develop nuclear weapons in the last decade or so. We started with Iraq, then there was Libya. We have seen the nuclear test in North Korea. So it´s becoming fashionable, if you like, for countries to look into the possibilities of protecting themselves through nuclear weapons.

Why that´s happening is obviously a different issue but we need always to remember the linkage, as I call it, between nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Many articles appeared over the weekend discussing the situation where some countries continue to rely on nuclear weapons, or even try to develop new weapons, while at the same time telling others that such weapons are no good for them. The logic is simply not there.

A Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was developed and then shelved for the last ten years. Would a legally binding ban on testing have changed the behaviour of North Korea? Perhaps.

It is important always to remember the background because, as we see more and more, safeguards, although very much a technical activity, operates in a politically charged environment. Indeed we have seen that it could make the difference between war and peace and this puts an additional responsibility on our - and your - shoulders, to make sure that we are providing the results of our verification activities in an as objective and as impartial way as we can.

There is obviously also the security dimension - nuclear terrorism. That also presents a new challenge because State systems for accounting and control become not just simply tools for safeguards but provide information relevant to physical protection as well.

Obviously our job is to make sure that countries with comprehensive safeguards are conducting all their nuclear activities exclusively for peaceful purposes. As I said, we are probably the only organization that sits in judgment of its Member States. And that´s not easy of course because the Member States are our subjects and they are our masters at the same time. And how to juggle that relationship is sometimes difficult; we have to stand our ground on many cases but also have to rely on their financial and political support.

A key focus of our activities is how to detect possible undeclared activities. That´s something that was not really our focus until 1991, when we uncovered the Iraq programme, but is now very much a major part of our activities. Sure, we still have to worry about declared activities, particularly sensitive activities, but the ability to discover possible undeclared activities is the key challenge we are facing. And that requires that we look at the information that we are getting. Are we getting all the information we need? Unfortunately not.

For example, we do not get systematic information from the Nuclear Suppliers Group on exports and imports. That´s obviously a gap in the system. Do we have all the access we need? Again, not always. We have it with the additional protocol but the additional protocol is now in force in only 78 countries out of over 180 that are party to the NPT. And that is nearly a decade after the model protocol was agreed. So we are not doing very well as an international community in getting everybody to be party to the protocol. Without the protocol, as I have said, we are hampered in our ability to detect undeclared activities. I can give you R&D as an example. Right now in Iran, without the protocol, we cannot look into R&D activities that do not directly involve nuclear material, although R&D is very important to give us a projection of Iranian capacity building.

Financial resources are another key issue. Our budget is only 130 million dollars; that´s the budget with which we´re supposed to verify the nuclear activities of the entire world. Reportedly some $1 billion was spent by the Iraq Survey Group after the war in that country. Our budget, as I have said before, is comparable with the budget of the police department in Vienna. So we don´t have the required resources in many ways to be independent, to buy our own satellite monitoring imagery, or crucial instrumentation for our inspections. We still do not have our laboratories here in Vienna equipped for state-of-the-art analysis of environmental samples.

One of the new issues we are facing today arose in Iran. If you are going to reconstruct the history of a programme that has been undeclared for 20 years, even the additional protocol measures are not sufficient. On the one hand, a country is fulfilling the legal dimensions but on the other hand you are not moving forward in providing the required assurances to the international community. Hence we have been talking about transparency measures in certain situations: interviewing people, having access to documents, things that are not strictly required by the additional protocol but without which we cannot move forward.

Another challenge, as we have seen in Libya and Iraq, arises when a country has already moved into the weaponization field. How do we verify that weapons are dismantled, weaponization structures are destroyed, and custody is taken of weapon design information? We had that kind of involvement in South Africa in fact. Iraq came later on (although in Iraq we had a different mandate from the Security Council) and then Libya. And we are going to face the question for sure in North Korea.

These are some of the issues that illustrate how important it is that the system continues to be ahead of the game. Because our focus is on a moving target. We cannot just continue to do business as usual, we cannot continue with mechanical or mechanistic operations. Safeguards is an important tool for peace and security.

We have moved recently from a system based on facility verification into a State system. We are very much concerned with integrated safeguards - on the one hand to be more cost effective and on the other to be able to provide better assurances. These assurances obviously are never one hundred percent. And this is something that is difficult to explain — that we do as much as we can but assurance is never total. And that is because of the limitations of the system but also because of the political dimension. We do not get into reading future intentions of countries because we are not equipped to do so and also because, as we know, future intentions can change. I mentioned Libya. A few years ago Libya was considered to be a country with an undeclared programme. This is no longer the case: Libya is now regarded to be in compliance with its safeguards agreement.

How we can make sure that we get up-to-date information. Access is the key. You can use environmental sampling, you can use satellite monitoring but there is no substitute for being on the ground. We have seen how important that is in many countries where we are on the ground and are doggedly asking questions until we understand what is really going on.

I have mentioned environmental sampling and satellite monitoring. These are new tools we are now using almost routinely. And we continue working with you on developing new verification tools. Unfortunately, again, because of our modest financial resources, we rely on Member States for the support programme. I wish we could have our own programme but at least now we are taking the initiative and giving you the specifications of what we need rather than in the past when you would simply tell us what you have. Some of the new tools we are looking at are exciting and challenging. For example, wide area environmental sampling would help us in detecting undeclared activities. On-site sampling and analysis to determine the nature and history of relevant material would be a significant advance for us, as would improved analysis of particles from environmental sampling to derive with precision the history and nature of the material.

Each of the issues I have mentioned brings its own challenges. And I´m sure that you will be discussing these issues in depth. We are here this week to explain some of our work to you. But more importantly, we want to receive your input, your ideas. Are we doing well? How can we improve? What do we need to do to make a better system? The large number of participants here is an indication of how much importance the international community attaches to safeguards activities.

Last year, the high level panel established by the UN Secretary-General referred to IAEA safeguards as an extraordinary bargain. It was good to be told how much we are credited with doing with the limited amount of money. The Norwegian Noble Committee referred to our work as being of incalculable importance. That´s again good to hear. But I always remind my colleagues that we cannot rest on our laurels; we have always to remember that there is room for improvement and that´s really the purpose of this symposium. How can we continue to be effective and relevant, a valuable instrument to help the international community deal with nuclear weapons proliferation.

I wish you success and I wish you a pleasant stay.


Last update: 26 Nov 2019

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