IAEA Safeguards Symposium ends

Nov 05 2010
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament

Earlier today, the eleventh Safeguards Symposium of the International Atomic Energy Agency was brought to a close by safeguards head Herman Nackaerts, who told participants that he was ‘personally delighted’ by the event’s outcome. The Symposium has succeeded in its objective to foster dialogue, Mr Nackaerts said, and strengthened his conviction that the challenges facing the Agency’s safeguards department can be met.

The final morning of the Symposium also saw the former head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, John Carlson, deliver an address on the ‘highlights’ of the five-day gathering – highlights he grouped into eight categories.

First was the work in support of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime in evidence at the Symposium. Building support for the safeguards mission involved a variety of factors, Mr Carlson, noted, including the promotion of a shared safeguards culture, greater communication and outreach efforts, greater transparency on the part of the Agency as to the costs of safeguards implementation and – following that – a need to address the funding problems constraining the IAEA’s safeguards work. Expectations were beginning to exceed the Agency’s capability to realistically deliver, warned Mr Carlson, before proposing a re-evaluation of the merits of a safeguards ‘user fee’ to address the financial shortfall.

What’s more, Mr Carlson spoke briefly of possible ‘future verification missions’ for the Agency, arguing that the IAEA is ‘well-equipped’ – on both the legal and technical fronts – to take on greater responsibilities in the realm of disarmament verification. Which of course only leaves the political aspect, although the undercurrent of support at the Symposium for greater IAEA involvement with disarmament has been encouraging.

Second, Mr Carlson addressed the issue of IAEA involvement with other international organisations, noting that the Agency had much in common with bodies such as the OPCW and CTBTO and that they should all learn to work more harmoniously together in the future. Mr Carlson’s third category related to improving cooperation between the IAEA and member states, including on issues such as integrated safeguards – where there remains room for further improvement, he said – and state’s all-important systems for nuclear accountancy and control.

Fourth, Mr Carlson spoke of the need to address the various safeguards challenges facing the Agency. This includes the further development of the holistic ‘state-level approach’ to safeguards monitoring as well as the shift to fully ‘information-driven’ safeguards implementation. His fifth category, closely related to the fourth, was the need to prepare for the coming rise in the number of states investing in nuclear power – and for the additional safeguards burden that would inherently entail. The nuclear ‘renaissance’ will bring with it an increased ‘volume of activity’ for IAEA inspectors to deal with, but the amount of available resources are not currently matched to the task ahead.

Categories six and seven related, respectively, to safeguarding advanced nuclear fuel cycles and new facilities – where the concept of ‘safeguards by design’ (i.e. facilities built to accommodate safeguards) comes into play – and advanced technologies and methodologies, where there are both challenges and opportunities for technical creativity and innovation. What is essential though, said Mr Carlson, is that new technologies and methodologies are conceived of, developed and put into operation in ways that are always mindful of the need to be both low-cost and reliable.

Last, but by no means least, Mr Carlson addressed the need to continually enhance the development and use of safeguards resources. Here the importance of the Safeguards Departments long-term strategic plan, presented to the Symposium on Monday, comes into play as a document central to the planning, performance and self-improvement of the Agency’s safeguards activities. Among other positive consequences, the plan promotes strategic thinking, said Mr Carlson, as well as acting to support internal decisions on priorities and resources – both of which are reasons to commend the work of its drafters.

In his final comments, Mr Carlson, praised the ‘outstanding professionalism and dynamism’ of IAEA staff in tackling the safeguards challenges facing the Agency, as well as the work of the wider non-proliferation community in support of its safeguards mission. Cultural change, a feature of the last Safeguards Symposium in 2006, appeared again here also, with Mr Carlson stressing the importance of the shift away from thinking about processes to thinking in terms of outcomes. But one of the most fundamental problems is that of resources, he said. Without appropriate steps to remedy funding issues, the Agency will never be able to maximise its potential, both in the areas of non-proliferation and, perhaps one day, disarmament also.

David Cliff, Vienna

Last changed: Jan 11 2011 at 6:13 PM