The International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards system aims to detect and deter
diversion of nuclear materials used for civilian purposes to materials used to
make weapons. The IAEA currently monitors more than 800 facilities in more than
The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty assigns responsibility
to the IAEA to oversee all peaceful nuclear activities in member states. States
that have not ratified the NPT such as India and Pakistan, but have acknowledged
nuclear weapons programs, still can authorize the IAEA to conduct monitoring at
some of their facilities, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International
The IAEA's safeguards system has evolved in response to the increasing
sophistication of nuclear programs and efforts to hide them, according to Leonard
Spector, deputy director of the Monterey Institute of International Studies' Center
for Nonproliferation Studies.
With the exception of the five nuclear states
-- the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China and France -- all NPT member
states must comply with at least one of the organization's safeguard models.
Under the classic safeguard system, states are allowed to
have nuclear materials for peaceful energy uses. The IAEA works with each country's
nuclear energy agency to log all facilities in the country and to account for
the usage of nuclear materials. The organization also oversees regular inspections
of stated facilities to confirm that the nature of the work is legitimate.
to Spector, one shortcoming of this classic system is that it depends on the country's
declaration to be accurate.
"If a country was not forthcoming about all
of its nuclear activities, inspectors had no occasion to look beyond what had
been declared," he said.
An example of this occurred after the first Gulf
War in 1991, when coalition forces uncovered undeclared materials in Iraq that
were being used for a weapons program and found that co-located at some peaceful
energy facilities were shadow facilities used for weapons manufacturing. The IAEA
had been monitoring Iraq's civilian nuclear facilities since it adopted the NPT
There are times when a separate agreement establishing "special" safeguards is
needed to monitor suspect programs.
Because inspectors under the classic safeguards system
had no protocols in place to look outside of what Iraq had stated in terms of
their nuclear facilities and materials, in April of 1991, the United Nations drafted
Security Council resolution 687, which created the United Nations Special Commission
(UNSCOM), a special action team mandated to do more rigorous inspection than was
previously allowed in Iraq.
According to the mandate, under this system,
inspectors were allowed: "Unrestricted freedom of entry and exit without delay,
unrestricted freedom of movement without advance notice within Iraq; the right
to unimpeded access to any site or facility for the purpose of the on-site inspection,
the right to request, receive, examine and copy any record, data or information
or examine, retain, move or photograph, including videotape, any item relevant
to the Special Commission's activities and to conduct interviews; the right to
take and analyze samples of any kind as well as to remove and export samples for
off-site analysis; and the right to unrestricted communication by radio, satellite
or other forms of communication."
The UNSCOM mandate had three phases. First
was to conduct an "inspection and survey phase to gather the information necessary
to make an informed assessment of Iraq's capabilities and facilities in the nuclear,
chemical, biological and ballistic missile fields," according to U.N. Special
The new commission was also charged with disposing
of "weapons of mass destruction, facilities and other related items through destruction,
removal or rendering harmless." Iraq was allowed to keep ballistic missiles with
a range less than 150 kilometers.
Finally, UNSCOM was to engage in "long-term
monitoring" to ensure that Iraqi officials complied with the obligations outlined
in the resolution. The obligations prevented the country from re-acquiring or
rebuilding its weapons or weapons facilities.
Due to the shortcomings of
the classic safeguards system and the relative success of UNSCOM in Iraq, the
IAEA, in 1993 revised the classic safeguards and created "Program 93+2," which
broadened the system to include undeclared areas and clandestine activities.
to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, this essentially meant the
IAEA moved beyond verifying the "correctness" of a state's declared nuclear holdings
and its uses to establishing the "completeness" of its declaration. In order to
fully ascertain a state's complete capacity for nuclear activity, the IAEA had
to start assessing things not preliminarily associated with nuclear materials
and facility activity.
New tactics for inspectors included taking random
air and swipe samples from a range of locations, analyzing abnormal environmental
emissions and noting acquisition of specialized equipment that could be used for
nuclear weapon manufacturing, according to Spector.
Spector also noted that
member countries now share information as a means to prevent illegal weapons production.
the "Program 93+2" is the current safeguard model used to work with many countries,
the IAEA has been unable to get all NPT member countries to adopt the new standards.
small states, such as Burkina Faso, discontinued their nuclear programs, so ratifying
a new safeguards program didn't make any sense," Spector said. "We lost some others,
such as Iran, Syria and Israel because they found the new measures too intrusive."
All IAEA safeguard models allow for routine inspections to verify and audit nuclear
facilities and materials. Inspectors check fuel sites, uranium and/or plutonium
enrichment plants and shipment routes. Two essential functions are accounting
for all materials and checking the enrichment levels of that material.
For example, many nations have facilities using low-grade
enriched uranium and plutonium to generate energy. This material typically holds
an enrichment level less than 5 percent. Inspectors routinely check the enrichment
levels to ensure that some of that material hasn't been more highly enriched,
up to 90 percent so that it can be used for weapons.
"Depending on how
close to bomb-grade certain material is, inspectors will step up the frequency
of their inspections," Spector said. "For states that have close to bomb-grade
material, the IAEA can on-site inspectors can install or remote inspection technology."
huge potential problem is when material goes unaccounted for. To sidestep inspectors,
some states have replaced fuel rods with dummy rods, so that inspectors are not
aware of all material.
"Inspectors have to be aware of these tactics --
they're called diversion paths," says Spector. "By staying ahead of any trickery,
inspectors can make sure what they're seeing matches up with what a state has
In an effort to combat these efforts, inspectors seal lids of
materials containers, install fuel rod counters and conduct unannounced searches
of all sites, so that secret laboratories or shadow facilities can be discovered.