Jeffrey LewisReplacing Olli

With Olli Heinonen’s resignation as IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards, questions are naturally turning to “Why did he leave?” and “Who will replace him?”

I think the answers are: Because it was time for him to move on, and I have no idea. But there is a little more that can be said, if only to start a discussion in the comments thread.

Why Did He Leave?

There are some rumors about disagreements with Amano, but I’ve talked to a few people and the general consensus seems to be that Olli was ready to move on, and the sinecure at Harvard was some time in planning. (He gave a lecture in September 2009, which is usually a sign someone is looking at moving. That’s a little tip, from a former employee.) His wife is, apparently, a Singapore diplomat. Perhaps she was ready to move someplace other than Vienna.

Heinonen has been at the IAEA since 1983 and served as DDG for Safeguards since 2005. It was time.

Moreover, I would be very surprised if the IAEA was excited about loosing Olli on the world. Indeed, Heinonen at Harvard is a potential nightmare for the VIC. He knows where all the bodies are buried, so to speak. He was point on Safeguards for all the interesting developments on Iran, Syria, Myanmar and one or two other places. Amano and the rest of the IAEA has to be terrified about what he can say now, that he couldn’t a few months ago. Which is to say, having Heinonen in Cambridge is a huge bonus for civil society.

Who’s Next?

Reuters reports that Herman Nackaerts — currently head of Safeguards Operations Division B (SGOB), Heinonen’s old job — is angling for promotion.

Historically, the IAEA has not appointed DDGs for Safeguards from within the VIC — Heinonen was unusual in this regard. A more typical route to the top is to come from outside, usually from industry.

The job of a DDG for Safeguards is very different today. The emphasis today is much less on verifying anticipated compliance and much more on resolving outstanding issues of noncompliance, whether we are talking about hard cases like Iran and North Korea, or more ambiguous situations with Egypt and South Korea.

Another candidate being mentioned is James Casterton, Director of the International Safeguards Division of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Chair of the IAEA Director-General’s Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation.

Other candidates may emerge, but I doubt the wrangling will be very public. This is hardly going to be Wrestlemania, though that would be awesome.

Safeguards, Past and Present

I often get annoyed when I hear the IAEA Director-General called the world’s “top nuclear inspector” — after all, the top inspector is really the Deputy for Safeguards. I looked around for a list of those who’ve held the job, but couldn’t find one.

I said to Mrs. Wonk, “Can you believe there is no decent online list of previous DDGs for Safeguards?”

“No,” she deadpanned, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

Well, in any event, the Reliable Replacement Wonk was napping, so I took some time this afternoon to read about the history of the job and the go through the UN Yearbooks to create a tentative list of DDGS for Safeguards.

Roger Smith, of Canada, led a safeguards division at the IAEA from 1958-1960, but he wasn’t a Deputy Director-General. (See, Fischer, History of the IAEA.)

Allan McKnight, of Australia, is usually described as the “first Inspector-General” of the IAEA. You can see a late 60s shot of McKnight on a very cordial inspection of a British nuclear power station.

By the way, how rad is the title Inspector-General? Schiff, in International Nuclear Technology Transfer (terrible title, great book) claims that the IAEA eliminated the “Inspector General” title as McKnight’s successor, Rudolf Rometsch, neared retirement. Rometsch, Schiff explains, had become a bit imperious and Sigvard Eklund, then IAEA Director-General, wanted to reduce the status of the job to the level of other division heads. (Schiff uses passive voice, avoiding attributing the motive to anyone in particular.)

Anyway, here is a list, as best I can tell, of the men (and they are all men) who served as the “top nuclear watchdog” for the IAEA. Comments and corrections are welcome.

Term Name Nationality Previous Position
1964—1968 Allan D. McKnight Australia Chairman, IAEA Committee of the Whole
1968—1977 Rudolf Rometsch Switzerland Director-General EURODIF
1978—1983 Hans Gruemm Austria Director, Österreichischen Studiengesellschaft für Atomenergie Ges.m.b.H. (Seibersdorf)
1984—1985 Peter Tempus Switzerland Senior Advisor, Board of Federal Institute of Technology
1986—1992 Jon Jennekens Canada President and CEO, Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) of Canada
1992—1999 Bruno Pellaud Switzerland Head of a nuclear department for a Swiss engineering company
1999—2005 Pierre Goldschmidt Belgium Director General, SYNATOM
2005—2010 Olli Heinonen Finland Director, SGOB

Source: UN Yearbook


  1. mark hibbs

    The buzz in Vienna and elsewhere is that the US favors Jim Casterton becoming the next DDG for SG. If so, we could be see a return to the debate which raged back then when Olli took over from Pierre Goldschmidt. That was against a longstanding unwritten rule that this job should be filled by someone from outside the agency and representing a NNWS with comparatively squeaky clean SG credentials. But no one then stepped up to the plate—the experience of Pierre Goldschmidt under MEB showed us that this is a VERY stressful post…stay tuned.

  2. Allen Thomson (History)

    > Which is to say, having Heinonen in Cambridge is a huge bonus for civil society.

    We can hope.

    My hobby horse is the Syria/DPRK reactor story and I’ll happily buy beer for answers to questions such as

    – Where are the three additional sites in Syria the IAEA wants to inspect?

    – Is there any credible evidence to support allegations that Iran was providing financial support to the reactor project(*)?

    (*) The latest such allegation was by John Bolton on June 26.

  3. archjr (History)

    Lest we become overoptimistic about Mr. Heinonen’s post-retirement openness, we should remember that all inspectors have a confidentiality requirement that continues after they leave. There has been a good deal of debate about confidentiality over the years, as the protection of commercially-valuable information has long been a concern of industry, and has been a constant source of tension with the inspectorate. Thus the tradition of appointing a DDG from outside the Agency, the better to protect these commercial secrets as well as ensuring the Agency was up to snuff with the latest goings on in the commercial world. And a host of other reasons: minimizing disruption of operations due to inspections has always been important, whether the facility was commercial or for research.

    One of the important things about Heinonen was he was a kind of “inspector’s inspector. Not to cast aspersions on any of his predecessors, but this did make a difference in multitudinous ways.

    To me the most interesting thing about this change, after the advent of adversarial inspections in the DPRK and Iran, was the increasing importance in those latter situations of finding and using information from all sources. A reactor in Spain carries with it a different set of considerations, and proliferation paths, than one in the DPRK. So a greater necessity arose for the inspectorate to make qualitative distinctions between safeguards approaches (and to implicitly consider things like “intent,”) rather than trying to treat all similar facilities alike, that has left the inspectorate open to the political questions we are all familiar with.

    These are the kinds of subtleties we can expect Mr. Heinonen to explicate, but hopes for any wonky-geeky details about Syria will, sadly not be among them.

  4. Andreas Persbo

    There is an informal arrangement in the UN system that certain posts belong to certain regions. DDG-S seems European to me, which would talk against our Canadian candidate. That said, you never know.

  5. Allen Thomson (History)

    > These are the kinds of subtleties we can expect Mr. Heinonen to explicate, but hopes for any wonky-geeky details about Syria will, sadly not be among them.

    I think (with a certain amount of geeky regret) that you’re probably right. But an explication of IAEA’s evolving perception of its responsibilities and the means needed to fulfil them would certainly be of interest.

  6. mark hibbs

    Andreas: Jon Jennikens was Canadian, so the Europeans don’t own this post. There has been an inner-EU poker game about staffing the Department of Safeguards in tandem with the Euratom Safeguards Directorate. That latter post was more or less for many years “German,” meaning that a German would not be appointed DGG for SG. That is now at least politically possible, since the EU job is held by an Italian. But there are other considerations of the same political/personality variety, having to do with whether a country aiming for a DDG position is overdue in landing a top international organization position. More interesting would be the scenario if, say, a very experienced nuclear materials/verification/industry person from a NAM state with a serious nuclear program were to throw his hat in the ring, from South Africa, for example. But what do I know at this moment. I’m not in Vienna but in Chicago for the rump of the July 4 holiday…

  7. Andreas (History)

    Mark. A NAM candidate would be very interesting indeed. Would throw things up a bit.

  8. hass (History)

    Exactly what “outstanding issues of non-compliance” are we talking about with respect to Iran, since the Feb 2008 report said that all of the outstanding issues had in fact been resolved except for ALLEGED studies whose existence is highly doubtful, and let along an “oustanding issue of non-complinace” (I would point out that even if true, most of the allegations in the alleged studies do not amoount to “noncompliance” with IRan’s safeguards which by its every explicit terms, is limited to detecting diversion of nuclear material only — and not building missiles or shafts or whatever.)

  9. archjr (History)

    In addition to Heinonen, Taniguchi (Safety, from Japan), Cetto (Technical Cooperation, from Mexico), and Burkart (Science, from Germany) are the DDsG leaving in the near future. So 4 of 6 top staff are leaving. NAM countries will expect to keep the DDG-TC. I can guarantee the jockeying has already begun.

  10. Markus Weenstock (History)

    Enough WEOGs, time for an Asian, African or Latam candidate. Will help depoliticize the SG div. Heinonen played games, pushed American agenda quite blatantly.

  11. Andreas (History)

    Archjr, interesting. I did not know that. Well, if NAM want TC (and they do), they can’t expect to get SG. And since a lot of inspection burden is here in the EU, I have a nagging feeling that the next SG will be from Europe.