During the last two decades, a number of nuclear proliferation cases have challenged the nuclear weapons status quo. Much of the achievements to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons can be attributed to the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Nonetheless, new cases of proliferation have revealed weaknesses in the IAEA verification systems, and illustrated states’ willingness to circumvent international safeguards. These cases also highlight the need to recognize that safeguards verification is a work in progress that must adapt to evolving challenges and technology.
The IAEA has taken action in a number of instances to rectify its various shortcomings, such as adopting the Model Additional Protocol (AP), revising the Small Quantities Protocol, and advocating a more analytical safeguards culture. These and other efforts have had varied levels of support from its member states. Timely detection, prevention, and deterrence of states’ proliferation-related activities in order to ensure the purely peaceful nature of nuclear power use should be, at best, understood as without absolute guarantee. Rather, safeguards can only strive to reduce the uncertainty factor as much as possible. Understanding this calls for the need for strengthened safeguards as well as resources. Both have not been easy to secure, and the path forward will likely face a similar trajectory. What this means is that effective international safeguards must embody up-to-date verification tools and enhanced access to relevant information on nuclear programs.
When looking forward, the increasing number of uranium enrichment plans, which could pave the path to nuclear latency, calls for new verification approaches. It is not only time to introduce near real time accountancy to enrichment plants, but also measures to further enhance the IAEA state level evaluation by augmenting indicators which could suggest the orientation of states at an early stage. Similarly, the IAEA should have new tools to detect, in-situ, higher uranium enrichments from environmental sampling and develop new methods to speed up sample analysis for bias defects.
Technology, innovation, capability, and states support are needed in enhancing the future of international nuclear safeguards.
Argonne Physics Division Colloquium Schedule