Magazine Article

IAEA – A Technical Organization With a Political Body

| December 2016

Written for the 50th Anniversary of the Finnish Nuclear Society: My reflections from close to thirty years of service at the International Atomic Energy Agency. The following is summarized from the attached longer article.

The IAEA is tasked to share information in an open and detailed manner. The duty of the Secretariat when it comes to the implementation of safeguards is to provide to its Board of Governors and member states facts and detail its independent findings from the ground to support political decision-making.

This is, in my view, perhaps the most important lesson learned from IAEA investigations in Iraq, North Korea, South Africa, Iran, Libya and Syria, which I participated in as an inspector.

While those events and its on-site inspection work have gained public visibility and recognition, verification and monitoring work at the IAEA is so much more. These include: the development of safeguards implementation criteria to guide inspection work; introducing technologies such as environmental sampling to the inspection toolkit with its first true test in North Korea; the development of near real-accountancy to large plutonium handling facilities in Japan; and changing the safeguards analytical culture to assess nuclear programs of a state as a whole. These are just a few examples of the non-visible but fundamental assets in contributing to the overall success of the IAEA verification regime.

The IAEA is committed in its undertakings. At the same time, we know that there is no perfect verification system. The Secretariat has to explain the deficiencies and uncertainties and work to remove or mitigate them.

In order to fulfill these tasks, the IAEA Secretariat needs to work independently and present facts in an open and sufficiently detailed manner to the decision makers, i.e. its Board of Governors and member states.

In this regard, when we look at the Safeguards Implementation Reports (SIRs) and quarterly reports on Iran, reporting details have been reduced and taken a step in the wrong direction. It goes without saying that statistical information on the costs of safeguards is needed and important, and is meticulously reported on. But it is equally if not more important from the point of the view of the credibility and independence of the verification regime to be equally precise and detailed in its technical reporting particularly in cases like Iran that do not have a clean bill of health, to explain the basis of the safeguards findings and the confidence level of conclusions drawn. The inspectors are the arms, eyes, and brains of the Secretariat – and serve as the Agency’s most valuable resource. They are ready to undertake what the member states demand of them and what is required to do their job.

The IAEA is now approaching its 60th anniversary, an important milestone. This is an opportune moment to look to the past and analyze it. It is also important to look forward, assess the challenges ahead without prejudgment, identify strengths and weaknesses, and work to minimize the latter.

Nuclear safety, safeguards, and security are separate yet reinforcing triplets. The future of the global nuclear order will depend on developing all three building blocks, tapping synergies between them to avoid silos and gaps, and over the longer term advance an international supervisory system to ensure that nuclear energy is safe, secure and serves peaceful purposes.

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For Academic Citation: Heinonen, Olli. “IAEA – A Technical Organization With a Political Body.” , December 2016.

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