Department of Safeguards releases documents

Mar 29 2012
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament

Andreas Persbo, London

It is often difficult, even for those that specialize in verification, to get a grip on how the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) safeguards system actually works. Most would know that it involves the state declaring that they have a certain amount of material, with the IAEA checking that the declaration is correct. But how does the inspectors actually go about checking this, and how do states in practice declare their fissile material holdings? A new set of documents on the Agency website shows just that.

A little gem of a page can be found hidden in a crevice deep inside the Agency’s sprawling website. This page contains a collection of documents, aptly named ‘resources for states’, and is designed to help countries implement their safeguards obligations. The collection is by no means easy to read, and only a mad person (or someone terribly committed to safeguards) would attempt to analyse in a web-entry what they all contain.

In a nutshell, however, they give out the how, what, when and why of practical safeguards implementation. They give examples of how to fill out declarations, what forms to use, and how to use them. And they give fantastic tabular examples of how inspections are supposed to be conducted in practice. Previously, this kind of information used to be guarded. When VERTIC, for instance, conducted a study on Iran many years ago, we had to ask member states for subsidiary arrangement language, or detail on what is contained in the Codes. We got access to most of what we needed, but only after a long period of time.

The release of this documentation can only be welcomed. There is considerable confusion in the public debate on what Codes actually say and mean – the debate about Iran’s Code 3.1 springs to mind – and this set of documents will end some of that debate. Of course, the information is still undigested, and most people will not bother to read it. Nevertheless, these new documents will come in handy for those striving for exactitude in their facts, and precision in their arguments. The data is also very useful when comparing with the implementation documents of other arms control regimes – such as the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty On-Site Inspection Manual or the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Inspection Manual. The IAEA, and its Department of Safeguards, ought to be commended for their decision.

Now, of course, it would be equally good if the IAEA were to convince its member states to also release the unabridged version of the Safeguards Implementation Report to the general public. It does contain exceptionally useful data on how well the system works in practice, and how well the organization hits their timeliness and quantity goals. Recently, also, it has started to feature some really interesting financial data, allowing the member states to see how much (or rather how little) the safeguards system actually costs. Safeguards are done on the cheap, and the IAEA should not really have to beg on its knees to secure necessary budget increases. That’s a discussion to be had in the future, however.


Last changed: Apr 28 2012 at 9:38 PM




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