The US President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed in 1952 a program called “Atoms for Peace”. Based on that proposal the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was founded in 1957 as an organ under the UN with the purpose to promote secure, safe and peaceful nuclear power. Since the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, came into force in 1970 the IAEA has in addition become the international agency to ensure that the nuclear weapons free states use nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes.
The IAEA is governed by a board where at present 35 countries are members, always including the five original nuclear weapon states. The board oversees the work in IAEA but can also ask that the agency carry out additional tasks, often requested by the UN Security Council.
The IAEA has repeatedly been called to investigate whether a country is involved in the development of nuclear weapons, although such inspections are not a part of the IAEA mandate according to its statutes. For these inspections the IAEA must often hire outside experts.
Purpose and mandate
The IAEA works to promote secure, safe and peaceful use of nuclear science and technology and to prevent that this peaceful use is not diverted to the production of nuclear weapons.
There are according to the IAEA constitution three areas where the Agency should work: Control mechanisms and security agreements (safeguards), security and safety and science and technology. Today 163 countries have signed the security agreements of the IAEA. DPRK (North Korea) left the IAEA in 1994, the only country to have done so.
Control mechanisms and security agreements
The first obligation of the IAEA is to inspect nuclear facilities, check their security and to monitor that no nuclear material is diverted to possible military uses. Uranium must not enrich to the level needed for nuclear weapons, and plutonium from the used fuel of nuclear power stations must not be reprocessed to nuclear weapons quality. To account for every kilogram of plutonium in a nuclear power plant has proven to be complicated.
Security and safety
The IAEA supports upgrading and verification of security and safety functions in nuclear establishment and inspects these to ensure that international standards are followed. The main purpose is to protect personnel and public from radiation, and to prevent nuclear accidents.
Science and technology
One important purpose for the IAEA is to promote and help with the peaceful use of nuclear technology, such as in agriculture and medicine.
Security agreements between the IAEA and the member state decide to which extent and with what means IAEA can inspect and monitor that the state respects its responsibility according to the NPT not to develop nuclear weapons programs. The member state can thus to a considerable degree decide how far the IAEA can go in its inspection program.
The Non Proliferation Treaty, NPT, employs the IAEA as the organ to control that member states do not use civilian nuclear programs to make nuclear weapons.
The member states shall report to the IAEA all the nuclear material and all the facilities included in the agreement. Certain countries, for instance Brazil, India and Israel allow only certain of their installations to be inspected.
Early in the 1990-ies it became clear that Iraq had a secret nuclear weapons program. This showed that the IAEA inspection system must be strengthened. Extended safeguards and additional protocols were developed.
The Additional Protocol is a legal document granting the IAEA complementary inspection authority to that provided in underlying safeguards agreements. The states must provide more detailed and extensive reports of their nuclear cycles. The protocols also give the IAEA inspectors’ access to nuclear facilities with short notice and the right to use several different inspection methods.
Additional protocols are now, in March 2015, in power for 127 states. They have proven to be very important when the IAEA is called to inspect that no fissile material is diverted to weapons production. The protocols apply even to the five recognized nuclear weapon states and to India. Israel and Pakistan do not accept inspections according to additional protocols. Facilities for the production of nuclear weapons in the five nuclear weapon states and India are entirely outside the mandate of the IAEA. With extended safeguards and additional protocols in place it has become very difficult for at state to secretly develop nuclear weapons.
Last update: March 5, 2015