IAEA wants to scrap flaw in N-inspection
VIENNA: The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants to scrap a little-known loophole in UN nuclear non-proliferation rules, which allows countries to keep out unwanted inspectors, an internal UN document says.
The so-called “small quantities protocol” is an agreement that states who say they have little or no nuclear material can sign with the IAEA.
The IAEA is tasked with policing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the global pact against nuclear weapons.
One result of the protocol is that it allows NPT signatories to remain exempt from rules which compel them to notify the IAEA of stocks of natural uranium up to 10 tonnes, which experts say could be purified into fuel for at least one atom bomb.
The IAEA said in a confidential report circulated to the 35 states on its board of governors that 86 countries have signed this protocol, nearly half of the NPT’s 189 signatories.
The protocol “has the effect of holding in abeyance the implementation of most of the safeguards measures” as well “obligations to provide certain information and the agency’s right to request access to relevant locations.”
“As a result the (IAEA) does not independently verify a state’s initial confirmation that it meets the requirements for (the protocol), nor that that state continues to do so,” the IAEA report, obtained in full by Reuters, said.
In other words, once a state has signed the protocol it is assured that UN inspectors will have virtually relinquished their authority to uncover secret activities, a diplomat said.
“Once you sign the small quantities protocol, you’re off the hook,” said the diplomat from an IAEA board member state.
The IAEA’s internal report recommended that the agency’s board approve no further small quantities protocols and that it grant IAEA chief Muhammad ElBaradei the authority to ask that all signatories of the protocol agree to cancel them.
As a result, the report said the protocol “would cease to be operational”, eradicating what one diplomat described as a “very dangerous loophole in the IAEA inspection regime”.
The report said the IAEA hoped to formally discuss this issue at the agency’s next regular board meeting in June.
An IAEA spokesman declined to comment.
In a September 2002 brochure on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear security, the IAEA explained the protocol.
“With such limited reporting requirements, (protocol) states are assured that the effort spent on fulfilling the requirements of a safeguards agreement is kept to a minimum,” the IAEA said.
Parties to the protocol include the United Arab Emirates, according to a list included in the IAEA report.
Dubai was the headquarters and shipping centre of a global nuclear black market linked to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, diplomats close to the IAEA have said.
One state interested in signing the protocol is Saudi Arabia, diplomats on the IAEA board told Reuters. However, they said the IAEA board would almost certainly refuse to approve the Saudi request.
Pakistan had denied media reports that Khan had sold Saudi Arabia nuclear technology useable in atomic weapons. reuters