THE INTERNATIONAL Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors approved a program of enhanced nuclear safeguards during a special session in Vienna May 1516, the first major expansion of the agency's monitoring and inspection powers in 25 years. The new measures are embodied in a model protocol that will need to be adopted by each of the 131 states (along with Taiwan) that has a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. The protocol will substantially expand IAEA access to information and facilities, thereby improving the agency's ability to verify that non-nuclear-weapon states that are parties to the nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) are not conducting clandestine nuclear weapons programs.
The new protocol represents the second part of the IAEA's "Program 93+2," initiated in 1993 as a result of the confirmation in 1991 that Iraq—an NPT signatory—had been clandestinely pursuing a nuclear weapons program by utilizing undeclared facilities not covered by existing safeguards. The name "93+2" refers to the initial goal of completing a plan of action in two years, in time for the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference.
The IAEA began implementing Part 1 of Program 93+2 in January 1996, by adopting new monitoring techniques (such as environmental sampling and use of no-notice inspections at key measurement points within declared nuclear facilities) that did not require any new legal authority for their implementation. Some methods for analysis and monitoring, field tested during Part 1, have subsequently been incorporated into Part 2, which aims to close the undeclared facilities loophole. The agency determined that Part 2 would require the addition of a protocol to current safeguards agreements. The IAEA has said it anticipates the program will lead to "more cost-effective use of its safeguards resources."
The Model Protocol
Incorporating lessons learned in Iraq and North Korea, the new protocol represents a significant expansion of the scope of IAEA safeguards from a narrow focus on detecting the misuse of declared facilities or diversion of declared material, to broad oversight of the totality of a nation's nuclear activities. Specifically, the protocol makes four major changes that will significantly reduce the likelihood of a nation with a comprehensive safeguards agreement successfully concealing a nuclear weapons program:
First, in addition to the current requirement to provide nuclear fuel and fuel cycle activity data, states will now have to furnish an "expanded declaration" on a broad array of nuclear-related activities such as "nuclear fuel cycle-related research and development activities—not involving nuclear materials" and "the location, operational status and the estimated annual production" of uranium and thorium mines. All trade in items on the Nuclear Suppliers Group trigger list will also have to be reported to the IAEA.
Second, the number and types of facilities the IAEA will be able to inspect and monitor will substantially increase beyond the present level. To resolve questions or inconsistencies in the information a state has provided about its nuclear activities, the new inspections regime provides the IAEA with "complementary," or pre-approved, access to "[a]ny location specified by the Agency," as well as all of the facilities specified in the "expanded declaration." States accepting the model protocol, in effect, guarantee the IAEA access on short-notice to all of their declared, and if necessary, undeclared facilities "to assure the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities."
Third, the agency's ability to conduct short notice inspections is augmented by streamlining the visa process for inspectors and guaranteeing them, with one month's notice, "appropriate multiple entry/exit" visas that are valid for at least a year.
Fourth, the model protocol confirms the agency's right to use environmental sampling techniques—not previously specified as a valid and objective method in the "scope of inspections,"—throughout its monitoring and inspections activities.
According to Gary Samore, National Security Council senior director for nonproliferation, "The protocol substantially strengthens the ability of the IAEA to detect clandestine nuclear programs by giving it access to additional information and locations." The shift in the IAEA's focus from strict material accountancy to a more comprehensive approach to a state's nuclear activities should considerably deter "rogue" states' secret pursuit of nuclear weapons programs. A senior administration official said, "Nations attempting to conceal their nuclear weapons programs will be in a Catch22' position, that is, with heavy pressure to sign [the protocol] but serious concern they'll get caught."
Unlike the non-nuclear-weapon states, which are required by the NPT to accept IAEA safeguards on their nuclear activities, the five nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia), because they are entitled to manufacture nuclear weapons, are free from this requirement. However, to augment the acceptability of the new protocol and to show they are not seeking a commercial advantage, all five countries have announced their intention to apply some of the new safeguards to their commercial nuclear facilities. On May 16, the White House announced that it would accept the new measures "in their entirety except where they involve information or locations of direct national security significance," and promised to seek legislation to make the protocol legally binding. Britain and France have said they will accept almost all of the new measures, while Russia and China are expected to adopt fewer parts of the model protocol on the grounds of national security concerns.