Mark HibbsSafeguards in the Spotlight

When the IAEA’s 35 governors arrived at the VIC last Monday for their quarterly June meeting, the stack of documents they picked up outside Boardroom C included the 2012 version of the Safeguards Implementation Report (SIR).

The distribution to the board of the annual SIR happens every mid-year. This report–like every other document distributed by the IAEA secretariat for the occasion–is classified “for official use only” and, during the ensuing meeting, it is routinely taken note of by board members and is then tucked away for posterity and for use by nuclear materials accountants as a reference.

Last week things were a little different.  Within a day after the board meeting began, the SIR was leaked to wire reporters at the IAEA and two accounts of its contents then appeared from Bloomberg and Reuters, on June 5 and June 7, respectively.

Both articles zeroed in on an unusually fussy accounting in this year’s report concerning delays in states’ response to IAEA requests for information, since the report spelled out that

 For 71 States (including many of the 73 States [with comprehensive safeguards agreements and additional protocols]) the Agency was not able to get timely responses to Agency requests for, or clarification of, safeguards relevant information.

The wire accounts of this fact found their way onto Twitter, and the tweets which were broadcast focused even more closely than the original articles did on a comparison between the IAEA’s safeguards activity in Iran and everywhere else. A little knowledge can be dangerous (or at least misleading) and so among the tweets circulating last week were these:

  • IAEA: Nearly half of nations not compiling with demands
  • IAEA spent 1,356 calendar days in Iran last year. They spent 180 calendar days in France, Europe’s biggest nuclear power
  • 11% of  2012 inspections were of Iran alone yet 45% of IAEA members were delinquent too. This is bias. Statistics don’t lie.
  • 159 member countries consistently responded late to IAEA requests. Iran wasn’t late on any of the reports it’s bound to file, the IAEA said
  • The US wants to attack Iran while [Iran] strictly adheres to the IAEA, while [the US] overlooks the violations and refusals

Compliance vs Performance Evaluation

The SIR has two basic components. The first is an annual safeguards “statement” which, following the June board meeting, is posted on the IAEA website. It presents the IAEA’s safeguards conclusions, drawn from all safeguards-relevant information available to the IAEA Secretariat, including state reports and notifications, provided according to safeguards agreement provisions, and the results from IAEA verification of states’ declarations.

How credible and reliable the IAEA’s conclusions are depends on how well states meet their obligations to report and notify (including timeliness) and also on how well the secretariat verifies (which depends in turn on states’ cooperation). So the second part of the SIR reports on the performance evaluation of this safeguards implementation, both by states and by the IAEA Department of Safeguards, and chiefly its three operations divisions responsible for safeguards implementation in the states. For the system to work, both states and the secretariat have to do what they are supposed to do.

The compliance part of the SIR is fairly cut and dried. The performance evaluation part however has been evolving over the years and is still evolving, depending in part on who is writing the report and what guidance they get. This year is no exception, hence 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.

Most of the discussion in cyberspace the last week conflated the difference between compliance and performance evaluation, and on Friday, I unintentionally contributed to the same result in remarks I made to the reporter who wrote the Reuters piece.

Hibbs said he did not believe it was a question of grave violations of IAEA safeguards rules, or that any of these [71 delinquent] countries was engaging in covert nuclear activity with potential military intentions. “But states are always trying to see what they can get away with” in carrying out nuclear-related activities without intrusive inspections and added bureaucracy.

The bit in quote marks was very misleading and insufficiently contextualized on my part, albeit informed by my fresh reading of this statement, also found in the 2012 report:

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.

In general it can be said with authority (and fully backed up by my historical files) that quite a  number of states–and, importantly, mostly states with significant nuclear programs–have at critical times resisted efforts of the IAEA to require that they provide more information and access.  That has been especially the case related to the negotiation and implementation of the Additional Protocol, where member states and the IAEA have since 1997 worked through a tough learning curve about how to obtain a broader conclusion about states’ nuclear activities, including legacy and historical activities.

Does this record show that states as a matter of course have resisted taking on additional obligations to the IAEA? Yes. But does this resistance imply that these same states were cheating on their current safeguards obligations? No.

Of the 71 countries which in 2012 frequently failed to report on time–let’s say states which were delinquent on more than a quarter of their reports–nearly all are developing countries with very few declared nuclear activities. None are states with advanced nuclear fuel cycles. A few developed states–including Brazil, China, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Mexico, Poland, and Portugal–missed some reporting deadlines. Uruguay and Monaco missed a lot of them.

I wouldn’t conclude on this basis that any of these states are cheating. I would conclude that the IAEA has some outreach to do in a lot of states that are having difficulty meeting their obligations because they don’t understand them, don’t prioritize them, or don’t have enough resources.


  1. yousaf (History)

    Very interesting post Mark.

    As it turns out the Agency cannot conclude that all nuclear material in 50 other nations (besides Iran) is in peaceful activities either:

    “(b) For 51 of these States, the Secretariat found no indication of the diversion of declared nuclear material from peaceful nuclear activities. *Evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities for each of these States remained ongoing.* On this basis, the Secretariat concluded that, for these States, declared nuclear material remained in peaceful activities.”

  2. mark (History)


    That is correct. You quote from the 2011 version of the SIR. The 2012 version records that the number of states with CSAs and APs but without a broader conclusion is now 54.

    Without these states providing access and information to the IAEA, it will not be possible to reach a broader conclusion in these countries.

    The record so far would suggest that it will take five years or more of investigation by the IAEA to reach a broader conclusion in states with significant nuclear activities.

    Based on what’s in my files, most of the effort involved in reaching a broader conclusion for countries with considerable nuclear activities and complex nuclear fuel cycles concerns historical nuclear activities which were not disclosed to the IAEA under states’ CSAs.

    The record since 1997 would suggest that states have resisted full cooperation and disclosure of such activities, thereby prolonging AP implementation and necessitating protracted negotiations over access and verfication procedures to resolve conflicts and permit the IAEA to draw a broader conclusion in these cases.

    You mention Iran. But you know of course that the IAEA’s verification mandate in Iran, based on resolutions of the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council, is unique and is not the same as its mandate to implement the Additional Protocol in the member states which have concluded an AP with the IAEA.

    During the discussion over the last 18 months of the development of the State-Level Approach for safeguards, a few member states have erroneously conflated the IAEA’s mandate in Iran and its mandate elsewhere under the AP. These are not the same. The IAEA’s implementation of its mandate in Iran has no bearing on its mandate in other states.

    Iran is not in compliance with BOG and UNSC resolutions because it is not sufficiently cooperating with the IAEA. Iran has not clarified issues which have been highlighted in the IAEA’s reports to the Board of Governors.

    Apart from the above-mentioned fact that cooperation from states is essential for the IAEA to implement the AP and reach a broader conclusion, I suspect that–unlike the case for Iran–the IAEA has not been able to reach a broader conclusion in at least some of those 50+ states with APs you mention because the IAEA does not have sufficient resources to have reached the conclusion without delay and that there is, in fact, a backlog of work. By contrast, the IAEA must devote considerable resources to verification in Iran (resources it might otherwise apply to unresolved AP verification exercises elsewhere) because the international community, as the texts of the appropriate BOG and UNSC resolutions spell out, has made clear that verification of Iran’s peaceful-use commitment is a high priority.

  3. Olli Heinonen (History)

    Mark, good points, but the most important performance indicator is missing from the debate: the inspection goal attainment. To that end there are criteria and guidelines for the facility and state level. The reasons for non-attainment can be attributed to the IAEA, state or the facility or a combination thereof. These a good parameters in assessing how well the system works.

    • mark (History)


      When I look at the 2012 SIR–or any annual SIR in my files for that matter–what I see is a kind of anthropological snapshot of what during any calendar year the IAEA Department of Safeguards (and maybe by way of osmosis the Board of Governors, the DG’s office, the biggest safeguards-funding member states and the author of a particular report) seem to believe is most important or what is currently on their minds.

      So for 2012–as you correctly point out–there is no discussion in the report about inspection goal attainment, beyond what is stated in the “Background to the Safeguards Statement and Summary,” which mentions that the IAEA’s “in-field activities [are] carried out to verify states’ declarations,” and the tables in Annex II which provide disaggregated data on number of inspections per state.

      Instead, the report for 2012 is heavily weighted toward the cost of safeguards implementation. There is concern with the cost of inspection activities, but there is no breakdown or analysis of inspection goal attainment in the 2012 report.

    • yousaf (History)

      The cost of safeguards implementation is definitely part of the story. From the opposite end, however, which nations bear the brunt of these costs also provides insight into the Agency’s actions.

      e.g. more 65% of the overall IAEA budget comes from USG+allied governments:

      The USG alone provides ~25% of the IAEA budget.

      Whether intended or not, this would appear to play some role in which countries are targeted for closer inspections, and are referred to UNSC once any CSA breaches are detected.

      Far better would be some mechanism to fund the IAEA without informing them of precise amount coming from each member nation — eg. via a UN pool fund. This would be one step towards guaranteeing some measure of impartiality.

    • shaheen (History)

      Yousaf – an excellent suggestion! The NAM countries (the majority of UN members) will be more than happy to pick up the tab! In fact, they’re eagerly waiting for your call, checkbooks ready!

      Meanwhile, seriously: what evidence do you have that the identity of the countries referred to the UNSC is a function of the distribution of IAEA budget shares? And I mean causation, not correlation?

  4. olli heinonen (History)

    Mark, what you say is something really new. The original purpose of the SIR was to demonstrate to the member states the efficacy of the verification system, and at the same time show that burden was properly distributed. If true, it would be good to know why the goal attainment is not any more so important. When it comes to the costs and presence in a country, one has also to look more closely what those numbers mean. For example in Iran, in order to make unpredictable and credible short notice inspections, one has to have a continuous presence in the country. Thus the number to look is the actual person days of inspection and not just days in field. In my personal view, the entire SIR should be available to public, but without disclosing proprietary information. The inspection goal attainment is not such information.

  5. mark (History)


    The data in Annex II.6 breaks down the data by country according to “total number of inspections,” “person days of inspections,” and “calendar days in the field for verification.” This can give you the relationship in each country between these two, but the data does not give you any conclusions about whether any inspection goals were attained in each country.

  6. yousaf (History)


    Some circumstantial evidence that funding buys influence was provided by wikileaks, but it is not at the level of causation:

    But the point is not there is evidence of causation but that there there is a clear conflict of interest.

    Not only is >65% of funding of IAEA from US+allies, but in the case of Iran, AP reported ~80% of Intel against Iran is from the US. Some of that ‘evidence’ has shown to be of rather poor quality.

    My view on the overall situation is here:

    I am not advocating that NAM nations pay the full tab: one option would be just to reduce the overall tab, of course.

    The other option is what I actually suggested — that nations pay their current amounts to a blind UN fund, once removed from the IAEA to remove the (perhaps only perceived) conflict of interest.

  7. Dan Joyner (History)

    I have written a post directly addressing this post, over at:

    Its up to you whether you allow this comment to stand. I hope that you will and that we can engage about the substance of our views.

  8. Cyrus (History)

    Shaheen, actually the prime example of US influence-peddling over the IAEA is in the withholding of US contributions to the IAEA’s Technical Assistance Programs with developing nations, made conditional by the US on the IAEA not sharing enrichment/reprocessing technology, which violates the NPT and the IAEA’s charter that is based on the non-discriminatory sharing of technology. The US pressed the IAEA to end all technical assistance programs with Iran, even for totally civilian and safety-related activities.

  9. Andreas Persbo (History)

    The debate about who pays for safeguards is hardly new.

    Since the IAEA uses UN rules for assessed contributions to the general budget, it’s also unavoidable that some states will contribute more money on safeguards than is “received” in safeguards implementation. However, they “loose control” (loosely speaking) on how money is spent once it flows into the general budget. That’s why the IAEA prefers to see a general budget increase, and why many member states want to contribute through separately accounted – earmarked – projects.

    Some people, spearheaded by Henry Sokolski I seem to recall, have advocated a safeguards fee, in which a heavy user of safeguards “services” pays for it. Personally, I sympathize with the idea – if you really want that shiny bulk reprocessing-plant, you shouldn’t expect others to pick up the safeguards bill for that. At the same time, it will appear unfair, perhaps even inappropriate, to ask Tuvalu, with it’s non-existing fuel cycle, to cough up some USD 20k for submitting NIL reports, so I can see why the idea hasn’t gained much traction.

    The late reporting statistics, I suspect, is partly due to the fact that people don’t want to spend a huge amount of time and money chasing CSA-AP-SQP states which are late. I think that’s understandable. Chasing NIL reports must be viewed as an ultimate waste of time – a bit like stringently safeguarding VOAs. And I note that most states with significant nuclear activities have reported on time, although there are troubling exceptions to this.

    There is also a hidden cost in safeguards implementation, namely the parallel national cost of running a national authority, receiving inspectors, and filing national reports. I suspect that many late reporting states have not adequately filled positions, or trained staff to fill out their NIL reports.