Saturday, 14 November 2020

Why two-tier nuclear safeguards systems undermines universality of safeguards application

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has made a series of outreach initiatives in recent times. This past week he spoke via video conference to the UN General Assembly on “the Crucial Role of Nuclear Technologies in Fighting Pandemics and Climate.” Part of what he told diplomats in New York was under the headline: ‘Safeguards under the pandemic’, on which he said: “To carry out time sensitive safeguards verification work during the pandemic, the IAEA chartered airplanes to transport inspectors during the period of travel restrictions. This and other measures enabled the IAEA to continue its work inspecting nuclear facilities around the globe– verifying that the use of nuclear material is not diverted from peaceful purposes.” (emphasis added) (“UN General Assembly: IAEA Director General Highlights the Crucial Role of Nuclear Technologies in Fighting Pandemics and Climate Change, “ But this week, DG Grossi also made the highly unusual decision to respond personally to several questions on nuclear safeguards and the UK I posed to him during a webinar between DG Grossi and Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency Director-General Dr William D. Magwood 1V on 15 October 2020. In response to my question: If D-G Grossi will make comment on the precedent set by the United Kingdom in establishing its own national nuclear safeguards system; how can the international community verify the validity of the UK self-reporting; and if he will say whether he would be happy for other IAEA member states, for example, Iran to have a similar self-reporting safeguards system? And if not,why not? Dr Grossi said “It is not a precedent for the UK to establish its own national nuclear safeguards system. A bilateral voluntary offer safeguards agreement (VOA) between the Agency and the UK in connection with the NPT was approved by the Board of Governors and signed in June 2018. As the UK is a nuclear-weapon State (NWS) party to the NPT, it is not required like non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) parties to the NPT to conclude a CSA in connection with Article III of the Treaty. The bilateral VOA, which is not yet in force, will replace the trilateral VOA between the UK, EURATOM and the Agency for the application of safeguards in the UK in connection with the NPT which entered into force on 14 August 1978, as a result of the withdrawal of the UK from the EURATOM Treaty. The content of the bilateral VOA is similar to the trilateral VOA, except that EURATOM is not party to the agreement. Article 7 of the bilateral VOA requires the UK to establish and maintain a national system of accounting for and control of all nuclear material subject to safeguards under this agreement (SSAC). This provision is based on INFCIRC/153 (Corrected) and has been included in the VOAs concluded by the Agency with all nuclear-weapon state (NWS) parties to the NPT, as well as in all Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSA) concluded with non-nuclear weapons state (NNWS) parties to the NPT. In particular Article 7 of the bilateral VOA provides, like in other VOAs and CSAs, that “the Agency shall apply safeguards in accordance with the terms of this agreement in such a manner as to enable the Agency to verify, in ascertaining that nuclear material which is being safeguarded in facilities or parts thereof designated in accordance with Article 76(a) is not withdrawn from civil activities, except as provided for in this agreement, findings of the accounting and control system of the UK. (emphasis added) The Agency’s verification shall include, inter alia, independent measurements and observations conducted by the Agency in accordance with the procedures specified in Part II. The Agency, in its verification, shall take due account of the technical effectiveness of the system of the UK”. In terms, this confirms that the UK- as with other nuclear weapons states- is legally at liberty to weaponise, should it wish to do so, its entire fissile material stockpile ( the UK has circa 160 tonnes of stockpiled separated plutonium at Sellafield I followed up his initial question by asking: Is the DG relaxed about the Agency being a signatory to five so- called voluntary safeguards agreements with the P5 nuclear weapons states that allows each state to withdraw safeguarded fissile i.e. explosive nuclear materials from the scope of IAEA safeguards coverage with a simple notification to the Agency of this intention? What if non-nuclear weapons states were granted this opportunity? DG Grossi responded: “The scope of VOAs is not the same as the scope of CSAs. Under the VOAs the States may exercise the right set forth in the agreements to withdraw nuclear material from safeguards in accordance with the procedures specified for this purpose in the VOAs and Subsidiary Arrangements thereto. Such right does not exist under any CSA which require the application of safeguards to all nuclear material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the State territory, under its jurisdiction or control anywhere.” (emphasis added) This confirmed that a discriminatory two tier-system of voluntary and involuntary ( ie mandatory ) safeguards systems operates The UK Government has stated in official disclosures that it has requested nuclear materials be removed from safeguards on more than 600 occasions since 1978, when the UK “voluntary” safeguards agreement entered into force. (; [ The reponse to me came from Ms Francine Lontok, Executive Assistant, Director General’s Office International Atomic Energy Agency | Vienna International Centre, PO Box 100, 1400 Vienna, Austria | Email:| T: (+43-1) 2600-21005]

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