Every year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Secretariat submits a Safeguards Implementation Report (SIR) for the preceding year to the agency’s Board of Governors. The SIR includes information for IAEA member states on difficulties the Department of Safeguards encountered in fulfilling its mandate to ensure the correctness and completeness of declarations about nuclear materials and activities—a sort of annual health checkup on safeguards. The difficulties identified in the SIR do not warrant state-specific reports to the Board of Governors, like those currently produced for Iran and Syria, but are nonetheless important. Indeed, the limitations inspectors faced in 2012 when attempting to carry out their verification mandate are quite concerning and should be addressed more explicitly.

In normal practice, the board meets in early June, takes note of the SIR, and authorizes the public release of a Safeguards Statement and a Background to the Safeguards Statement and Summary. Distribution of the more detailed and sensitive information in the SIR typically remains restricted to IAEA member states. 

Pierre Goldschmidt
Goldschmidt was a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment.
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But this time was different. Following the board’s quarterly meeting on June 3, 2013, the full report for the year 2012 was leaked to the media, making rather troubling details public.

Commentators quickly highlighted some of the report’s findings. Quite understandably, most of the focus was on the “Areas of Difficulty in Safeguards Implementation” section. Carnegie’s Mark Hibbs, for instance, noted “the attention in the 2012 document to the matter of timely reporting which is not equalled in any previous annual SIR reports I’ve seen.” 

Getting states to provide timely responses to the IAEA’s requests for information on nuclear material and activities under Additional Protocols does appear to be a significant challenge, as the 2012 SIR notes:

Twenty-two States [with an Additional Protocol in force] did not submit any additional protocol declarations during 2012, as required under their additional protocols; 16 of which have not yet submitted their initial declarations. An additional 24 States had not dispatched some of their additional protocol declarations that were due in 2012, and an additional 53 States dispatched some of their additional protocol declarations after the dates specified in the additional protocol.

However, highlighting the issue of late or absent reports required by an Additional Protocol misses the broader problem of all reporting failures by non-nuclear-weapon states with significant nuclear activities, especially those that have signed a comprehensive safeguards agreement but not an Additional Protocol. Of this group, the SIR states that accounting reports were received more than forty days late from Brazil (more than 180 reports or 18 percent of the total Brazil is required to submit), Egypt (twenty reports or 4 percent), Syria (two reports or 100 percent), and Thailand (sixteen reports or 81 percent).1  

Such findings indicate that greater scrutiny should be given to how those states cooperate with the IAEA or support the nonproliferation regime more generally.

For instance, only three non-nuclear-weapon states with significant nuclear activities have ratified neither the Additional Protocol nor the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Egypt, Syria, and Thailand, all of which also fell short in their IAEA reporting requirements. Moreover, Syria was found in noncompliance with its safeguards obligations in 2011 and was reported to the UN Security Council, and Egypt was reported to the IAEA Board of Governors in 2005 for its “repeated failures to report nuclear material and facilities to the Agency in a timely manner,” which were “a matter of concern.”

Beyond issues of timely and incomplete reporting, the SIR also reveals rather alarming details about states’ lack of cooperation during IAEA inspections. The report indicates that several states:

  • delayed access by Agency inspectors to a facility or LOF [Location Outside a Facility] for inspection activities;
  • limited inspector activities;
  • limited or did not permit environmental sampling;
  • or did not provide the necessary access as requested by the Agency, including access for the Agency to verify design information in areas of facilities not containing nuclear material or to locations at which the agency considered that access was required to ensure the absence of undeclared nuclear material or activities.

Limiting inspectors’ activities, such as the taking of environmental samples, or refusing to provide the access requested by the agency without a reasonable justification (such as temporary safety reasons) are by far the most important indicators that a state might be trying to hide something from the IAEA. Such safeguards failures were encountered in every recent example of a state later found to be in noncompliance with its safeguards agreements: North Korea, Iran, Libya, and Syria.2

According to the IAEA Safeguards Glossary, “Obstruction of the activities of IAEA inspectors, interference with the operation of safeguards equipment, . . . [and] prevention of the IAEA from carrying out its verification activities” are clear cases of noncompliance. In this context, it is distressing to read in the 2012 report that “for 71 States . . . the Agency was not able to get timely responses to Agency requests for, or clarification of, safeguards relevant information” and that “safeguards effectiveness was affected in several States that did not provide, for example, design information, in accordance with Code 3.1 of their Subsidiary Arrangements General Part, or advance notification of nuclear material receipts and transfers.” It is equally troubling that several states “did not provide sufficient cooperation to clarify or resolve Agency questions,” including questions concerning the correctness or completeness of their declarations. 

The IAEA Secretariat should go one step further and identify in the SIR those states that have deliberately and without good reasons delayed access or environmental sampling.

The report also reiterates a long-running problem with the lack of appropriate state systems of accounting and control in some countries. It notes, “In 2012, in some States, national systems of accounting for and control of nuclear material or authorities responsible for safeguards had yet to be established. Moreover, not all State and regional authorities have the necessary authority, independence from operators, resources or technical capabilities to implement the requirements of safeguards agreements and additional protocols.”

This problem was highlighted in prior SIRs. The 2008 report, for instance, noted that the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority “did not have the authority necessary for it to exercise effective control of all nuclear material and activities in the State.” The reporting failures by Egypt mentioned in the 2012 SIR might indicate that the situation has not yet been satisfactorily resolved.

Efforts to address this type of ineffectual state or regional system of safeguards control have met with limited success. The IAEA sought to use the State System of Accounting and Control Advisory Service (ISSAS) to assist states such as Egypt in strengthening their nuclear control authorities. From the beginning of the project in 2004 until the end of 2009, eleven ISSAS missions were conducted. Since then, as far as the public knows, the SIRs make no mention of further ISSAS missions. This is a matter of concern since it might indicate an unwillingness on the part of many states to improve the effectiveness and independence of their systems of accounting and control. 

Where the IAEA Secretariat has identified serious deficiencies in the independence and competence of these systems, it should encourage the relevant states to voluntarily request an ISSAS evaluation mission. If such requests are not forthcoming, these facts should be mentioned in the SIR.

Furthermore, the IAEA Board of Governors should request that the Secretariat evaluate and report on the effectiveness and necessary independence of state systems of accounting and control, beginning with those states that have previously failed to report nuclear material and activities as required under their safeguards agreements. 

Although the details of the SIR were not intended to be public, the IAEA Secretariat should be congratulated for highlighting for the first time in great detail the problems it encountered with late reporting. But limitations on inspector access and verification activities within agreed time frames are a matter of greater concern. 

If the Department of Safeguards judges that the number and importance of safeguards-implementation problems in any state might signal the existence of undeclared nuclear material or activities, that state should be named in the SIR, possibly even in the part that is intended to be publicly available. Such reporting would constitute a clear warning to those states that the international community takes these deficiencies seriously and the state needs to correct them promptly.


1 Of the states with an Additional Protocol in force, Georgia, Jamaica, and Latvia performed poorly in providing their accounting reports and Additional Protocol declarations on time.

2 It was also encountered in South Korea, a state that had failed to report nuclear material and activities before ratifying the Additional Protocol in 2004.

3 It is doubtful that this paragraph applies to the European Atomic Energy Community. It can therefore only apply to the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials, which supervises the nuclear activities in Brazil and Argentina, two countries that have not signed the Additional Protocol. It would be useful for the next SIR to be more explicit.