Editor's Note: In an article in the February-March 2009 issue of Survival on "Exposing Nuclear Non-Compliance," Pierre Goldschmidt suggested that the lack of discussion about Egypt in the IAEA Annual Report for 2005 and subsequent Safeguards Implementation Reports gave the false impression that the issue has been resolved.[1] The IAEA’s credibility is at stake, as Dr. Goldschmidt lays out in this Proliferation Analysis.

Following the spectacular revelations in 2003 about Iran’s clandestine nuclear program, little attention has been paid to the less spectacular but nonetheless clear violations of safeguards that occurred in both South Korea and Egypt. In 2004, South Korea admitted to undeclared activities as it prepared to adopt its Additional Protocol. In that same year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) followed up on some open source information about undeclared nuclear material and activities in Egypt. The IAEA reported in February 2005 that Egypt failed, inter alia, to declare 67 kg of imported UF4, 3 kg of uranium metal, 9.5 kg of imported thorium compounds, unirradiated fuel rods containing 10 percent enriched U-235 (some of which had been used in undeclared fuel dissolution experiments), and the undeclared irradiation of uranium and thorium targets that had been dissolved in three laboratories.

Since then, no information has been released publicly by the IAEA about its safeguards verification in Egypt. When the IAEA Board of Governors convenes in June, however, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei will ask it to approve the Safeguards Implementation Report (SIR) for 2008, which contains a one-page report on Egypt. This report deserves closer examination because it might reveal a general reluctance of the IAEA to fully and promptly disclose the results of its verification findings.

What the SIR 2008 Says About Egypt

"Between 2004 and 2006, Egypt made available to the Agency nuclear material that it had failed to report."

The last report to the Board of Governors on Egypt was issued in February 2005. It appears, therefore, that after that date the Agency found additional undeclared nuclear material in Egypt. This is confirmed by the fact that after October 2006 the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) “undertook a State-wide investigation of its nuclear holdings, during which additional, previously unreported nuclear material was identified, including several depleted uranium items…” This constitutes a clear breach of Egypt’s safeguards agreement, which should have been reported to the Board at least in the IAEA’s SIR for 2006 issued in May 2007. It would be useful to know what other nuclear material have been found (in addition to depleted uranium) and their quantities and physical form (U metal, UO2?) and composition, as well as the locations where they were used and found.

"In 2007 and 2008, some high enriched uranium (HEU) and low enriched uranium (LEU) particles were found in environmental samples at Inshas" and the Agency "has not yet identified the source of the uranium particles" which Egypt believes "could have been brought into the country through contaminated radioisotope transport containers."

Here again it is disturbing to find out that the presence of HEU particles discovered in Egypt in 2007 were not promptly reported to the Board (not even in the SIR for 2007 issued in May 2008). One should remember that the HEU particles found in Iran originated from illicit nuclear trade with Pakistan and were connected with undeclared uranium enrichment activities.

"The Agency was informed in 2004 by Egypt’s SSAC [State System of Accounting for and Control of Nuclear Material], the Atomic Energy Authority (AEA), that it did not have the authority necessary for it to exercise effective control of all nuclear material and activities in the State."

This information was neither mentioned in the Director General’s February 2005 report to the Board, nor in the Egyptian press statement of January 25, 2005, on the implementation of its safeguards agreement. The Egyptian Atomic Energy Agency’s lack of authority is an explanation but not an excuse for the lack of effective control of all nuclear material and activities in the State.

It demonstrates once more the necessity for the IAEA Board of Governors to request the Secretariat "to provide an evaluation of the effectiveness and necessary independence of SSACs, starting with those states that have previously been found to be in breach of their safeguards obligations," as recommended in the April 2009 Carnegie Paper on "Concrete Steps to Improve the Nonproliferation Regime."[2]

"The issues raised in the [February 2005] report to the Board are no longer outstanding."

Unfortunately, the SIR for 2008 makes this conclusion without providing any information about Egypt’s clarification of its past undeclared activities, nor on the results of the analysis of the environmental samples and destructive sampling referred to in the February 2005 report. Confidence that the issues have been resolved would be greater if the other questions discussed here did not remain.

The Secretariat "will…seek to clarify this issue as part of its ongoing verification activities."

This could mean that the Secretariat considers the file as closed, begging the question of identifying the possibly foreign origin of HEU particles. This identification process does not appear to be a standard or routine safeguards activity.

"The Agency found no indication of the diversion of declared nuclear material in Egypt. Therefore the Agency was able to conclude for Egypt that all declared nuclear material remained in peaceful activities."

The IAEA made this conclusion for Egypt, just as it has for 69 other states with a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement but no Additional Protocol in force. This statement is correct but misleading. It sends a reassuring message even as it does not address the additional undeclared nuclear material and HEU particles found in Egypt. These undeclared materials and the origin or the HEU particles should be addressed seriously.

The SIR correctly explains that even for states without an Additional Protocol in force "the Agency seeks to determine whether there is any indication of undeclared nuclear material and activities in the State which would need to be reflected in the Safeguards Statement." It is therefore not sufficient for the Secretariat to conclude that it "found no indication of the diversion of declared nuclear material from peaceful nuclear activities." Instead, the Secretariat should add that it "found no indication of undeclared nuclear material and activities in the State" or report explicitly when this is not the case.
 
Let's be clear. From the information made available so far by the IAEA there is no ground for concluding that the undeclared nuclear material and activities found in Egypt are or were part of a deliberate effort to evade safeguards obligations, that a policy of concealment exists, or that the IAEA findings could be the tip of an iceberg. Rather, what should be a matter of concern is that the IAEA Secretariat appears reluctant to fully, promptly, and explicitly report on its findings on Egypt. This policy undermines the Secretariat’s credibility.

It is quite understandable that Egypt is upset with the leak of the SIR before the upcoming June Board meeting. But Egypt should not blame others for its own failures. Cooperating fully and transparently with the IAEA by implementing the Additional Protocol (if not signing and ratifying it as requested by the IAEA General Conference [3]) would be the best way to reassure the international community and close the file.

A number of IAEA member states may agree with the present analysis and recommendations but will most likely choose to remain silent at the next Board meeting.


Pierre Goldschmidt is nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Head of the Department of Safeguards.


Notes

1. Pierre Goldschmidt, "Exposing Nuclear Non-Compliance," Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, vol. 51, no. 1, February-March 2009.

2. Pierre Goldschmidt, "Concrete Steps to Improve the Nonproliferation Regime," Carnegie Paper, no. 100, April 2009.

3. In a resolution adopted on October 4, 2008, the IAEA General Conference “Requests all concerned States and other Parties to safeguards agreements, including nuclear-weapon States, that have not yet done so to promptly sign additional protocols and to bring them into force as soon as possible, in conformity with their national legislation.”