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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 15, May 1997

New IAEA Safeguards Protocol

On 15 May, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meeting in Vienna, approved a new 'Model Protocol' stipulating important changes to the Agency's nuclear safeguards regime. The Model Protocol is summarised below - please see next issue for substantial extracts from the Protocol text.

IAEA Press Release

'IAEA Board of Governors Approves Strengthened Measures to Verify Nuclear Weapons Pact,' IAEA Press Release PR 97/9, 16 May 1997

Full text

"The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has approved new strengthened measures for use by its inspectors who verify States' compliance with their commitments not to produce nuclear weapons. More than 130 countries have already made such commitments under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and similar treaties. The new measures are detailed in an agreed Protocol through which countries would accept stronger, more intrusive verification on their territory.

Commenting on the Board's action, after a special meeting held in Vienna 15 May, its Chairman, Ambassador Peter Walker of Canada, said: 'This is a major achievement, crowning five years of effort by IAEA Member States and the Secretariat.'

Non-proliferation treaties require that States declare all of their nuclear activities to the IAEA. The key objective of the new measures is to enhance the IAEA's capability to detect possible clandestine nuclear activities in non-nuclear weapon States (NNWS) and thus to increase confidence that these States are abiding by their obligations. However, while the Protocol is part of a plan for strengthened and more efficient safeguards in NNWS, it also contains measures that could improve safeguards in other States, including nuclear-weapon States.

These new measures provide enhanced access for inspectors - access to more information about States' nuclear programmes, current and planned, and access to more locations on their territory. Inspectors will have access not only to nuclear sites but also to other locations that could contribute to a nuclear programme, such as research or manufacturing facilities.

The new measures include the use of state-of-the-art technologies to trace nuclear activity through samples taken from the environment and to remotely operate surveillance and monitoring systems at key locations in the inspected state. States accepting the Protocol will also be required to simplify the designation of inspectors and visa requirements for them, thus facilitating inspections at sites on short notice.

Many of the new measures have undergone extensive field trials in cooperating Member States and build on reinforcing steps already implemented under the IAEA's existing legal authority.

The IAEA also anticipates that the implementation of these measures will lead to more cost-effective use of its safeguards resources.

Welcoming the Board's action, IAEA Director General Hans Blix said: 'With this decision, an important new chapter in the history of safeguards will begin: the Secretariat stands ready to move ahead with implementation as soon as individual States subscribe.'"

Statement by IAEA Director-General

'Statement to the First Session of the Conference of the State Parties of the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW),' Statement by IAEA Director-General Hans Blix, The Hague, 8 May 1997


"Despite great progress on the issue of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament significant global and regional challenges remain. Effective safeguards verification through the IAEA is one such challenge. I am glad to tell you that in the field of nuclear verification there have been very significant developments within the IAEA in the last few years - not least in this 40th anniversary year of the organization. ...

The 1995 NPT Conference recognized the Agency as a centre for international co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and as the competent authority responsible for verifying compliance with safeguards agreements. Recalling the lessons of Iraq and the challenge posed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the 1995 Conference called for support of the Agency's efforts to strengthen safeguards and to develop its capability to detect possible undeclared nuclear activities; support was also expressed for an expanded IAEA role in the field of verification; namely, that nuclear material released from military use should be placed under IAEA safeguards as soon as practicable, and that safeguards should be universally applied once the elimination of nuclear weapons has been completed. These recommendations, not much noticed by media, are moving toward realization.

After discovery of the clandestine nuclear weapons programme in Iraq, the Agency has incrementally strengthened its safeguards system and a series of additional verification measures have been introduced. New measures which are applied under current safeguards arrangements include a much expanded collection and analysis of information and the collection and analysis of environmental samples which will improve the Agency's capacity to detect the presence of undeclared nuclear activities at specific locations. Even more important, in addition to the measures already implemented, the Agency's Board of Governors is expected to adopt, at a special session - next week - a Model Protocol additional to existing Safeguards Agreements which - when accepted by States - will provide the Agency with complementary legal authority to implement a number of new important safeguards verification measures.

The strengthened safeguards verification system of the IAEA will focus on three elements:

  • the first is increased access to information about a State's nuclear activities;
  • the second is broader access to nuclear sites and other locations within a State;
  • the third is maximum use of new and available technologies to increase detection capacity and, in due course, to reduce the frequency of on-site inspections.

The new measures include no-notice inspections, greater freedom of movement for inspectors and use of the most modern means of detection and communication. Acceptance of the new measures will not be limited to non-nuclear-weapon States with comprehensive safeguards obligations. The five Nuclear-Weapon States have also expressed their intention to apply those measures provided for in the Model Protocol that each of them identifies as capable of contributing to the non-proliferation and efficiency aims of the Protocol and as consistent with their obligations under the NPT. In addition, it is hoped that other States not parties to comprehensive safeguards agreements will accept, to the extent they are able to do so, measures described in the Protocol.

The test of any new measure is naturally whether it enhances the effectiveness - i.e. the reliability - of the verification system and is cost-effective. Experience gained in the implementation of some of the IAEA's new measures suggests that these can be implemented without much additional intrusion or cost to the States involved. However, the potential sensitivity associated with some of the new measures is recognized and the Agency is now updating its regime for the protection against disclosure of commercial, technological and industrial secrets as well as other confidential information coming to its knowledge. ... Further, a system-wide training programme for IAEA safeguards inspectors is being implemented so that the inspectors will be provided with the knowledge and information required for the implementation of the new safeguards measures.

Cost-effectiveness is an important aspect of verification. It must be considered in the light of what degree of assurance the system is expected to provide. You get what you pay for. One must recognize that 'no diversion' and 'no undeclared nuclear activities' is something that cannot be positively detected. Such conclusions can only be inferred from the absence of evidence to the contrary. The strength of the inference - and thus the level of assurance and reliability of the verification - is obviously related both to the level of transparency of the inspected country and the amount and quality of the information and access available to the inspectors. Even if it were technically feasible, which is hardly the case, it would be prohibitively expensive to aim at 100% assurance. Rather the aim of a verification system - and certainly of the IAEA safeguards system - is to provide an acceptably high level of assurance of non-diversion and of the absence of undeclared material and activities. It may reasonably be assumed that such verification will also have a deterrent impact on any potential violators. At the IAEA we are confident that, with the new measures we are introducing, we shall be able to raise the level of assurance considerably. Following an increase in cost in the introductory phase, the new safeguards measures are expected to lead to some savings, particularly through the use of advanced technologies and a stronger concentration of the inspection activities on nuclear material directly relevant for weapons use. Over time, we expect the strengthening measures to be cost neutral."

US reaction

Statement by the President

'Strengthened International Safeguards,' Statement by President Clinton, 16 May 1997

Full text

"On 15 May, the international community took a major step toward significantly reducing the danger that any nation can secretly acquire a nuclear arsenal. Last September, in my speech at the United Nations, I called on the international community to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and improve our ability to identify and isolate those States that seek to violate its rules. In the most dramatic strengthening of nuclear inspections in the last quarter-century, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its member States have agreed in Vienna to develop strong new tools to assist in tracking the use and location of nuclear materials around the world.

During the last four years, we have made significant progress in curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ending the dangerous legacy of Cold War weapons stockpiles. But as the clandestine efforts of nations such as Iraq to acquire nuclear weapons have made clear, we must reinforce our ability to find and stop secret nuclear weapons programs. Only in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War were we able to discover the full scope of Iraq's activities and intentions.

The strengthened safeguards system adopted by the IAEA will give international nuclear inspectors greater information and access to nuclear and related facilities worldwide. By accepting a new legally-binding protocol, States will assume new safeguards obligations that will make all their nuclear activities more transparent - including by allowing inspections at all suspicious sites, not just at declared sites.

I urge all nations to adopt as soon as possible appropriate protocols to their own safeguard agreements or to make other legally-binding arrangements that will put this new system of safeguards in place. And I call on all nations that have not already signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to do so without delay.

Reducing the threat of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is one of our highest obligations. Since I took office, we have made the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty permanent, dramatically cut existing nuclear arsenals under the START treaties, and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention that will outlaw poison gas forever. I look forward to working with the Senate as we seek ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and as we seek congressional approval of this protocol and other arms control measures. Together, we must continue our efforts to provide the American people with real and lasting security."

White House Fact Sheet

'International Nuclear Safeguards Strengthened,' White House Fact Sheet, 16 May 1997

Full text

"On 15 May, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its member States took a major step forward in tracking the location and use of nuclear materials worldwide by adopting new safeguards arrangements for strengthening the effectiveness and improving the efficiency of the safeguards system. These new arrangements address a priority goal of President Clinton to combat the threat of weapons of mass destruction by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and giving the IAEA a stronger role and sharper tools for conducting worldwide inspections.

These new arrangements, in the form of a model protocol to safeguards agreements, represent the first major change of the IAEA safeguards system in 25 years, and identify new technologies and new methods to strengthen safeguards and improve efficiency. The model protocol requires States to provide additional information on nuclear and nuclear-related activities and gives the IAEA greater access to activities and locations to undercover clandestine nuclear programs.

For many years the IAEA, based in Vienna, has provided oversight of nuclear materials in peaceful nuclear programs worldwide. This system of verification and oversight is known as the international safeguards system, and has been expanded in scope and practice since it began in 1959. While IAEA safeguards inspectors were given access to peaceful nuclear facilities identified by a State to the IAEA, the safeguards system was never designed or intended to detect secret or clandestine nuclear activities such as those undertaken by Iraq prior to the Persian Gulf War. When Iraq's pursuit of a major nuclear weapons development program was discovered in 1991, the IAEA and the world community quickly learned that new tools with sharper teeth were needed in order to guard against the threat of other secret nuclear weapons programs.

The new model protocol will give international nuclear inspectors far greater information about nuclear and nuclear-related activities in a State, and far greater access to nuclear and related facilitates in a State. The IAEA will also have access to other sites when suspicions arise. By accepting a new legally binding Protocol, States will assume these new obligations and ensure far greater transparency for all of their nuclear activities, both declared and undeclared.

This action was the result of a four-year development effort that proceeded in two parts. Part I reemphasizes and focuses on measures under IAEA's existing legal authority to detect undeclared nuclear activities. It was approved by the IAEA Board of Governors in June 1995 and is being implemented now. Part II, approved by the Board of Governors on 15 May, consists of new safeguards measures which will significantly strengthen the IAEA's ability to detect clandestine nuclear activities in States with comprehensive safeguards agreements. The strengthened measures under Part II require States to make their nuclear programs more transparent by providing additional information and access.

Elements of Part I include:

  • taking environmental samples at locations to which the IAEA has access for design information verification or inspections. This will be a powerful tool for detecting the presence of undeclared activities at or near declared nuclear sites;
  • using no-notice inspections at the strategic points of all nuclear facilities. Such inspections will improve the verification of movement of declared materials and provide another means of detecting the presence of undeclared material;
  • confirming the Agency's right of access to records of activities carried out before entry-into-force of a safeguards agreement to help ensure that all material has been properly declared; and
  • use of advanced technologies that can operate unattended to transmit information to Agency headquarters, considerably reducing the need for frequent and expensive inspector travel.

Elements of the Model Protocol under Part II include:

  • an 'expanded declaration' to provide information on nuclear fuel cycle-related activities not involving nuclear material including nuclear research and development and non-nuclear activities that support the nuclear fuel cycle to give the IAEA a far better understanding of a State's nuclear program, its future direction, and the kinds of nuclear activities the program's infrastructure could support;
  • access to any place on the site of a nuclear facility, to any decommissioned facility, and to any other location where nuclear material is present; to the nuclear-related manufacturing and other locations identified by the State in its expanded declaration; and to other suspect locations identified by the IAEA; and
  • the use of environmental sampling as well as other measures at these locations.

The United States intends to accept the new measures in the protocol in their entirety except where they involve information or locations of direct national security significance to the United States. It is our intention to make the protocol legally binding, and we will seek legislation that may be needed to implement the protocol here."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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