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Safeguards are the means by which the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) verify a state's declaration about their nuclear materiels and activities. Since 1992, the IAEA has been strengthening the safeguard system to ensure both the correctness of these declarations by the states as well as the completeness. Correctness refers to the accuracy of a state's declaration about the type and quantities of nuclear material as well as what exactly the state plans to do with them. Completeness of a declaration means that all material is declared and there is no undeclared material. The means by which these declarations are verified include inspections at the declared nuclear facilities as well as locations outside the facilities, environmental sampling, remote sensing, and record inspections.

Safeguard objectives

The goal of the safeguard system implemented by the IAEA is the timely detection of the diversion of nuclear material from peaceful uses to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. This objective is based upon the assumption that a certain amount of nuclear material, or significant quantity, as well as a certain amount of time is necessary to produce a nuclear weapon. The intended result is the deterrent of the risk of weapons production by catching the offending state red handed by early detection before a weapon is actually produced.

Legal Authority of Safeguards

The legal authority that the IAEA uses to implement these safeguards stems from three sources. The first and most common is the comprehensive safeguard agreement. This type of agreement exists between all members of the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) and the IAEA (as well as other non proliferation treaties). This is a legally binding agreement that grants the IAEA the authority to demand that a state create and maintain an infrastructure to keep tabs on their own nuclear material, declare the amount and type and use of any and all nuclear material within the jurisdiction of that state, and grants the IAEA the authority to verify these declarations via safeguarding. The second type of safeguard agreement is a specific itemized agreement that clearly specifies the nuclear material, non-nuclear material, or facilities and equipment to be safeguarded. This type of agreement is used to regulate things like zirconium tubes and heavy water. The third type of authority comes from voluntary offer type agreements. Voluntary offer agreements only apply to ‘nuclear weapon states' (states that have built and exploded a nuclear weapon prior to Jan 1, 1967 ). Although these states already have nuclear weapons programs, they still allow safeguarding in the interest of diplomatic transparency.

Additionally, in 1995 the IAEA drafted protocols for complementary legal authority which strengthens the IAEA's ability to implement safeguards. These additional protocols grant the IAEA broader powers of verification of states declarations as well as requires states to disclose more detailed information. These additional protocols will need to be signed by the individual states before the IAEA can enact them.

Iran :

Iran was accused, mainly by the United States , of perusing clandestine nuclear weapons development under the cover of its civilian atomic energy program. Iran vehemently denies this. On September 12, the IAEA demanded that the Iranian government demonstrate that it is not and will not pursue atomic weapon development. The deadline is October 31. Iran has not signed the additional protocols that would give the IAEA the stronger legal authority. Either success or failure of these measures would necessitate an examination of the safeguarding procedures and the IAEA will need to decide if any changes are necessary or if any additional action needs to be taken in Iran specifically. If Iran has not complied by the deadline however, the IAEA will need to decide whether to continue negotiation, arrange a new plan of action, or to show its teeth (declare Iran in violation of NPT) based upon their level of compliance and any extraneous circumstances.

Delegate expectations

Delegates in the IAEA should first and foremost familiarize themselves with the safeguard processes. They should have a basic knowledge of what the IAEA can do and what it can't. Understanding of the legal authority is important as well as the complementary authority of the additional protocols. Knowing who has signed the protocols and who hasn't would help too. When researching country positions and drafting resolutions, the delegates should be specific in their position on safeguards. For example, if a delegate is for strengthening the IAEA's ability to detect clandestine weapons programs he/she should know about the IAEA's detection methods (like the environmental sampling that was used in Iran). Finally the delegates should maintain current knowledge of the ongoing situation in Iran as the Oct. 31 deadline approaches. Iran is an excellent contemporary example of the IAEA's role in the international community from which to back up your arguments.

ps. Email me if you have any questions about safeguards or the IAEA in general and I will do my best to help you.

Kelly Kirwan


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