UN atomic watchdog strengthens safeguards against diversion of nuclear material

IAEA safeguards inspectors on site

23 September 2005 – Stepping up efforts to prevent nuclear materials from falling into terrorist hands and other diversions, the United Nations atomic watchdog has moved to plug a loophole in its safeguards system by strengthening reporting and inspection terms for States that have little or no nuclear material and no such material in facilities.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei today called the action by the agency's Board of Governors "timely and necessary."

"It redresses some important limitations and will serve to reinforce the nuclear safeguards system," he said of the Board-approved modifications to the Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), currently in force in 76 States as addenda to their comprehensive safeguards agreements with the IAEA.

The changes include requirements that States provide initial reports to the IAEA inspectorate on all their nuclear material and design information for any planned nuclear facilities, and reinstate the Agency´s right to conduct inspections in SQP States.

The previous standard text allowed States to possess small amounts of nuclear material without having to report those holdings to the IAEA.

The IAEA has been reviewing the implementation of SQPs for some time. In June, the Board endorsed the view that SQPs constitute a weakness of the safeguards system, and considered strengthening options. In early September, the Agency conducted a seminar for Member States to provide detailed answers to relevant technical, legal and financial questions associated with those options.

As a next step, the IAEA will now contact SQP States on the necessary changes to texts of the protocols.

Over the past year, Mr. ElBaradei has frequently called for a whole raft of measures to strengthen safeguards, including reinforcing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

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