International Security Studies


Just How Much Can the IAEA Safeguard?

June 13, 2008 // 12:00pm1:30pm
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This meeting, jointly sponsored by the Center's Division of International Security Studies, Asia Program and Middle East Program and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was another in the ongoing Nonproliferation Forum series.

Henry Sokoliski addressed the critically important question of what can be done to enhance the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)'s ability to detect and prevent nuclear diversions. Such measures would reduce the risks of additional states covertly acquiring nuclear weapons and thereby raise confidence levels about the envisioned global expansion of nuclear energy production. These issues are explored in a new book edited by Sokolski, Falling Behind: International Scrutiny of the Peaceful Atom.

Nuclear power is currently limited to Europe, North America, and 12 other states. But since 2006, 18 additional countries have announced plans to build large "peaceful" nuclear reactors. Among this group are several countries that in the past had explored the option of acquiring nuclear weapons. Since civil nuclear facilities create the possibility of diverting nuclear materials, this development points to the possibility that some of these countries are "hedging their security bets." He noted the extraordinary statistic that between 1984 and 2004, the IAEA budget doubled, while the amount of nuclear materials that the organization was mandated to monitor increased by a factor of six.

Sokolski pointed to persistent gaps in the ability of the IAEA to meet its safeguarding mission. These deficiencies – such as in its network of remote cameras to monitor facilities and in its ability to account for all nuclear materials in large fuel-making or reprocessing facilities – call into question whether the IAEA can detect diversions in a timely manner. Timely detection, Sokolski argued, is the sine qua non of safeguards.

Sokolski offered several recommendations to meet these challenges: (1) establishing a "continuity of inspections" over nuclear fuels through improved real-time surveillance; (2) increasing safeguards funding through the establishment of an inspections user fee for each country pegged to how much nuclear energy it is producing; (3) encouraging the IAEA to distinguish between what it can "safeguard" (based on the criterion of timely detection) and what it can merely "monitor"; (4) rejecting the view that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes a per se right to make nuclear fuel; and (5) imposing automatic sanctions on any state that withdraws from the NPT while in violation of it.

Experts & Staff

  • Robert S. Litwak // Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies
  • Tonya Boyce // Program Assistant, International Security Studies

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