Dissing the IAEA

The International Atomic Energy Agency – under Director General Mohamed ElBaradei – has been the bane of the neo-crazies, having given the lie to neo-crazy charges that Iraq had nukes. To obviate a similar embarrassment over Iran, the neo-crazies charge that the IAEA is improperly engaged in "investigating and enforcing nuclear non-proliferation accords," activities that should be left to the UN Security Council.

As Undersecretary Bolton recently put it. “This goes to a fairly fundamental question here: whether the IAEA’s Board recognizes that it is not the responsible agency for the conduct of the affairs involving international peace and security, but that the Security Council is, ”

The neo-crazies contend that the IAEA’s principal responsibility is to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy. True, originally. But in 1968 the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons gave the IAEA a very important additional mission:

"Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes to accept Safeguards – as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency in accordance with the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Agency’s Safeguards system for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfillment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty, with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

Well, the neo-crazies retort, even the NPT doesn’t authorize the IAEA Safeguards regime to do all the things they’ve been doing with respect to Iran and Iraq.

Perhaps the neo-crazies are confusing the IAEA-NPT Safeguards regime with the IAEA Action Team on Iraq.

When the Security Council discovered in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War that Iraq had been attempting – in violation of the NPT – to enrich uranium for use in nukes, the IAEA Action Team – which reported directly to the Security Council – was asked to develop and execute a plan "for the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless as appropriate of all nuclear-weapons-usable material or any subsystems or components or any research, development, support or manufacturing facilities related to the above."

In the case of Iraq, the Security Council didn’t need the IAEA Board to discover that an NPT violation had occurred. The Council’s agent, the IAEA Action Team on Iraq, discovered it for them.

Well, in desperation, the neo-crazies mutter something to the effect that the IAEA should just refer all weapons-related controversies to the Security Council.

If they mean that the IAEA Board of Governors should refer all NPT violations to the Security Council, that’s exactly what the Board does. But how does the Board conclude that there has been an NPT violation to report?

Well, obviously, the Board depends upon the director general and his Safeguards regime inspectors to tell them.

You see, not every failure to subject materials or activities that ought to be subjected to a Safeguards agreement is a violation of the NPT. And not everything that the neo-crazies think ought to be made subject to a Safeguards Agreement actually is.

For example, the NPT prohibits the export by a NPT signatory of “equipment or material especially designed for the processing, use or production of nuclear material to any non-nuclear-weapon State for peaceful purposes,” unless that material is made subject to the importer’s Safeguards Agreement.

But under Iran’s Safeguards Agreement, Iran was not required – as the importing country – to declare its purchase of nuclear fuel cycle related equipment. Hence Iran’s acquisition – even though clandestine – of foreign centrifuge components to equip the huge uranium enrichment facility under construction at Natanz, did not contravene its Safeguards Agreement, much less constitute a NPT violation.

Furthermore, Iran is not required to "declare" even now the construction of the facility at Natanz until 180 days before actually introducing Safeguarded materials into the gas-centrifuges installed there.

Although not required to do so, the Iranians have allowed ElBaradei and his inspectors to go virtually anywhere they wanted to go – or anywhere the neo-crazies urged them to go – and take any environmental samples they wanted to take.

Result? Baradei’s final report this month to the IAEA Board of Governors is expected to say that – except for a failure to report certain long-ago research activities – Iran is in substantive compliance with its existing Safeguards Agreement and that he has found no evidence of any activity that would constitute a NPT violation.

So, obviously, the Board will have no cause to refer anything to the Security Council. That will drive Bolton bonkers.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.