The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the organization for cooperation in the field of nuclear technology. The IAEA was founded in 1957 in response to the fears and expectations that grew in the world after the discovery of nuclear power.
The initiative for an International Atomic Energy Agency originally came in 1952 from then US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower gave a speech entitled Atoms for Peace, in which he proposed, among other things, the creation of an international atomic energy agency under the UN.
Since the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, entered into force in 1970, the IAEA has been the international control mechanism that ensures that the non-nuclear-weapon states live up to their pledges to use nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes.
The IAEA as an organization is overseen by a Board of Directors, which currently has 173 countries as members, including all five official nuclear weapon states. The board reviews the work within the IAEA but can also submit data to the IAEA, often at the request of the UN Security Council. For example, the organization has often been ordered to investigate whether a country is working on developing nuclear weapons, even though such inspections are not within the IAEA’s purview under the organization’s statutes.
Control mechanisms and security agreements
The IAEA’s main task is to inspect and control nuclear facilities. Inspectors work to verify and ensure that the nuclear materials and activities of countries placed under the IAEA’s control through safeguards agreements are not used for military purposes.
It is particularly important to ensure that nuclear uranium enrichment facilities are not used for the production of weapons-grade uranium, and that plutonium processed from nuclear waste is not transferred to weapons production.
Safeguards agreements between the IAEA and the inspected state determine the degree to which the IAEA can verify that a state lives up to its international commitments not to use nuclear technology programs for nuclear weapons purposes. In other words, a country can to a certain extent decide for itself how far these agreements should extend and what rights they give to the IAEA.
The IAEA’s safeguards agreements increase trust between states and serve as a warning system if any country engages in illegal activities.
The member state is obliged to report to the IAEA all nuclear material and all facilities included in the safeguards agreement. The country must also update that information continuously. In addition to this, IAEA inspectors can visit the facilities to check operations. Several countries, for example Israel, India and Brazil, make only certain facilities available for inspection.
In the early 1990s, it emerged that Iraq had a secret nuclear weapons program. It was then clear that the IAEA’s security system needed to be further strengthened. Also, the fact that South Africa ended its nuclear weapons program at this time increased the demands for control mechanisms. Suddenly there was released nuclear weapons material from the South African program that was not allowed to disappear unchecked into the world, but needed to be carefully controlled and secured.
The existing safeguards agreements were inadequate and did not allow IAEA control to the extent necessary. Additional protocols were then created that the states had to agree to, where the IAEA’s powers increase to strengthen the control system. According to the Additional Protocol, countries must submit more detailed reports on their nuclear fuel cycles, from uranium mining to nuclear waste.
The additional protocols give IAEA inspectors increased access to nuclear technology facilities with short notice or unannounced inspections and the right to use several different inspection methods.
The Additional Protocol has entered into force for 138 states (March 2022). The protocol also includes the five official nuclear weapon states as well as India. Israel, North Korea and Pakistan are not covered by the Additional Protocol.
However, the facilities used for nuclear weapons production in the five official nuclear weapons countries and in India, Pakistan and Israel are completely outside the IAEA’s mandate. Argentina and Brazil have chosen not to sign the additional protocol, they believe that they have their own controls and do not accept that the IAEA would carry out unannounced controls.