The IAEA contributes to a central U.S. national security objective: preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It applies nuclear safeguards – consisting of monitoring, inspection, information analysis, and other activities – to verify that nuclear activities remain peaceful and detect and deter their diversion, including to weapons-related purposes. In particular, the IAEA implements comprehensive safeguards agreements mandated by the NPT, which serve as a first line of defense against nuclear weapons proliferation. The IAEA seeks to verify that states are abiding by their obligations to accept safeguards on all nuclear material in peaceful use and provides warning to the international community about suspected cases of nuclear proliferation.
At the end of the Persian Gulf War, the world learned the extent of Iraq’s clandestine pursuit of an advanced program to develop nuclear weapons. In order to increase the IAEA’s capability of to detect such programs and to provide assurances of their absence, the IAEA adopted the Model Additional Protocol to strengthen its safeguards system. The Additional Protocol requires states to provide broader declarations to the Agency about their nuclear programs and nuclear-related activities and expands the access rights of the Agency. The combination of a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and an Additional Protocol has become the de facto standard for achieving the safeguards objectives of the NPT.
The IAEA strengthens the global nuclear safety and security framework. It identifies and promotes best practices and safety standards and implements programs to assist states in applying these standards. The IAEA is also a key player in the effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. It provides a variety of advisory and support services to help states strengthen nuclear security, including by enhancing the security of vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials, reducing the risk that such material could be acquired by terrorists. Moreover, the IAEA enhances national, regional, and international capacities to respond to nuclear and radiological incidents, which is essential to minimizing their impact. In the event of an incident, the IAEA plays a lead role in providing timely and authoritative information to the international community.
The IAEA works to extend the benefits of nuclear technology to address socio-economic development and environmental goals of its Member States, including by advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Its programs are one of the main mechanisms for the “fullest possible exchange” of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, as described in the NPT. IAEA programs in cancer therapy, malaria prevention, agricultural pest control, clean drinking water, and food safety, among other areas, all work to improve human health and wellbeing, particularly in developing countries. As more states turn to nuclear power, the IAEA stands ready to provide advisory services on the responsible development of a nuclear power program, including the human resources to staff it and a nuclear regulatory infrastructure to ensure its safe, secure, and peaceful operation.
IAEA programs also help to promote safe and responsible international nuclear cooperation and commerce. IAEA safeguards are a requirement for U.S. bilateral nuclear cooperation, thereby ensuring that the legitimate commercial transfer of U.S. goods and services is implemented in a responsible fashion. Moreover, IAEA nuclear power development initiatives support the U.S. nuclear industry’s efforts to ensure greater access to safe, secure, and peaceful nuclear power.
IAEA Safeguards in the United States
The United States was the first country to conclude a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, covering four research reactors and intended to help the IAEA develop its safeguards methods. During the negotiation of the NPT, the United States committed to accept the same safeguards on its civil nuclear facilities that non-nuclear-weapon States would be required to accept under the NPT. This “voluntary offer” safeguards agreement (VOA) entered into force in 1980. Under the VOA, the United States provides the IAEA with a list of civil nuclear facilities, excluding only those facilities of direct national security significance to the United States, thereby making them eligible for IAEA safeguards. The IAEA may select any facility on this list for the application of safeguards. As of December 2019, 274 facilities are on the Eligible Facilities List, and the IAEA applies safeguards at one facility, the K-Area Material Storage facility at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site. Between 1981 and 2019, the IAEA conducted over 869 inspections at 19 facilities in the United States.
During the negotiation of the Model Additional Protocol, the United States committed to accept all the measures of the Model Protocol with respect to its civil nuclear activities, excluding only information, location, and activities of direct national security significance to the United States. The U.S. signature of the Additional Protocol was an important factor in the decisions of many non-nuclear-weapon states to accept the Model Protocol and provided significant impetus toward their early acceptance. The U.S. Additional Protocol entered into force on January 6, 2009. By submitting itself to the same safeguards on its civil nuclear activities that non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the NPT are required to accept, the United States demonstrates that adherence to the Model Protocol does not place other countries at a commercial disadvantage.
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