By Tariq Rauf*

VIENNA, 7 March 2023 (IDN) — Coming up to the eighteen-month mark following the announcement of the AUKUS agreement on the supply of nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continues to struggle to deal with the challenge put up by naval nuclear propulsion to the implementation, efficacy and credibility of the Agency’s nuclear safeguards (verification) system.

Nearly two months after the 15 September 2021 announcement of the launch of AUKUS, Kurt Campbell, then-US Assistant Secretary of State responsible for the somewhat fictional geostrategic concept of the “Indo-Pacific”, was quoted as saying that AUKUS would bring about “almost a melding of our services” referring to the projected new collaboration of the nuclear navies of the UK and US with the Australian Navy.

In an unwitting hark back to the ill-fated US proposal in the 1960s of a “Multilateral Force” (MLF) that envisaged multi-national (NATO) crewed nuclear-armed ships and submarines, Campbell talked about, “We will have British sailors serving on our naval vessels, Australians and the like on more of our forward-deployed vessels in Australia”. To be clear, unlike the MLF, AUKUS at present does not envisage Australian nuclear-powered submarines to be deployed with nuclear weapons—they would carry sea-launched conventionally-armed cruise missiles.

Following up on Kurt Campbell’s comments, former US undersecretary for defence for policy, Jim Miller, stated that the US will within eighteen months “basically design an architecture about how these three countries will work more proactively on defence …[and will] do whatever possible to provide the Royal Australian Navy with options to build nuclear submarines as rapidly as possible”.

The November 2021 Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement provides for the UK and the US to transfer naval nuclear propulsion information to Australia for determining the optimal pathway to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine capability to the Australian Navy.

Well, the deadline of 18 months is fast approaching—21 March 2023. But as yet, at least in the public domain, there is no official information on the “options” for the Australian Navy and how the IAEA safeguards issues would be addressed. Reportedly, nor has the IAEA been informed about any specific plans or options in this regard.

Australia, in a document entitled, “Nuclear Stewardship and Non-Proliferation: Responsible Nuclear Stewardship Is Fundamental To Australia Operating And Sustaining Nuclear-Powered Submarines”, states inter alia that “Australia is committed to upholding the highest possible standards for safeguards, transparency and verification, to ensure the non-proliferation of nuclear material” but no details are provided.

Australia has commissioned a Defence Strategic Review that submitted a classified report on 14 February 2023 and the Nuclear-Powered Submarine Task Force (NPSTF) is slated to submit its report this month – March 2023. Hopefully this NPSTF report can be submitted to the IAEA Board of Governors meeting taking place from 6-10 March 2023, under agenda item “AUKUS” or under “Any other business”?

If the Australian Navy deploys a fleet of nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines and there is no satisfactory solution to the problem of safeguards (or monitoring or verification) of weapon-grade highly-enriched uranium fuel for naval nuclear propulsion in non-nuclear-weapon States (such as Australia), then we might well be facing a situation of Run Silent! Run Deep! Sink IAEA Safeguards!

To recall, the possible options for Australia are to acquire either the UK’s Astute-class SSNs or the US’ Virginia-class SSNs. Both run on weapon-grade (97%+) highly-enriched uranium fuel for the naval nuclear propulsion systems (reactors). But neither the UK nor the US has spare capacity to build SSNs for Australia as their submarine construction shipyards are fully committed for the next couple of decades to manufacture SSNs for their respective navies. Rather strangely there is talk that, given the long lead time of decades before Australia would be able to get its SSNs, Australia could seek to acquire the next generation SSNs—the UK’s SSNR (Submersible Ship Nuclear, Replacement) reportedly capable of carrying hypersonic missiles, or the US’ SSN(X). Regardless, whichever of the two boat classes Australia picks, the safeguards problems would remain the same as described below.

Both the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Weapons (NPT) and its related IAEA comprehensive safeguards (INFCIRC/153 Corr.) are more than five decades old. What might have been accepted or tolerated, or slipped through between the cracks, on non-proscribed military uses of nuclear material and technology in 1968 and 1972 need not necessarily be accepted without question today! IAEA safeguards have been strengthened over past decades and loopholes closed, hence there are ample reasons to review and to attempt to rectify the serious flaw in both the NPT and comprehensive safeguards regarding the exemption from safeguards on naval nuclear propulsion.

Before proceeding further, I should like to note for the record that I have been dealing with the IAEA safeguards aspects of naval nuclear propulsion since 1987 and picked up again on the matter in September 2021 on the announcement of AUKUS. The various assessments published by me (inter alia here, here, here, and here) are exclusively my own views, not influenced by any States nor other parties; and are meant to promote further informed discussion on and understanding of the complex issues concerning the “loophole” or “grey area” in comprehensive safeguards agreements (IAEA INFCIRC/153 Corr., paragraph 14) that relates to the “Non-Application of Safeguards to Nuclear Material to be Used in Non-Peaceful Activities”.

Also, I would recommend reference to Conference on Disarmament document CD/1719 (9 October 2003) on the proceedings of a meeting organised on 26 September 2003, by the delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on the topic of the non-weapon-use of fissile material: naval propulsion – presentations by Marvin Miller (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and I (in my personal capacity). My presentation addressed inter alia problems arising from the use of fissile material as fuel for submarines in relation to non-proliferation implications; especially the lack of safeguards in this respect and that if a future Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty (FMCT) would not cover naval propulsion, an important gap in the system of safeguards would remain.

IAEA Statements

The IAEA Director General in his statement of 6 March 2023 at the Board of Governors meeting, on the matter of the nuclear-powered submarine acquisition programmes of Australia and Brazil, correctly forewarned that, “For the Agency, the non-proliferation aspects and the legal obligations of all concerned are central. In both cases, the Agency will continue to have its verification and non-proliferation mandate as its guiding principle. The Agency will conduct its work on these matters in an independent, impartial, transparent and professional manner. I will keep the Board informed of future developments”.

In his previous statement of 16 November 2022, the Director General also stated that “In both cases, the Agency will have its verification and non-proliferation mandate as its guiding principle”. In the earlier statement of 26 September 2022, the Director General was clear in asserting that, “The world of nuclear proliferation and safeguards is evolving. With regards to naval nuclear propulsion, the IAEA must provide the necessary and indispensable technical answers to this development, which is foreseen in the existing legal framework”.

On 9 September 2022, the IAEA Director General issued a report on “IAEA safeguards in relation to AUKUS”. The report notes that, “The Agency’s aim is to ensure that the safeguards measures and approach to be used in the context of naval nuclear propulsion under AUKUS will enable the Agency to attain the technical objectives established for Australia. The Agency’s capability to develop suitable verification measures and approach in the context of naval nuclear propulsion under AUKUS is enhanced by Australia having in force and implementing the AP [Additional Protocol]”.

The IAEA Director General thus is clear in his views and could in this context take the initiative, for which he has full authority, to convene open-ended technical consultations on the interpretation and implementation of safeguards on naval nuclear propulsion in States with comprehensive safeguards agreements in force. This is further elaborated in later sections in this opus.

It should be noted that IAEA Member States still are bereft of any authoritative guidance from the highly competent IAEA Department of Safeguards (Division of Concepts and Planning) on possible safeguards approaches and technical objectives for naval nuclear propulsion, even though 18 months have elapsed since the matter was first broached with the launch of AUKUS and the announcement of Brazil’s nuclear submarine programme.

Hopes were high that the discussion on naval nuclear propulsion at the 2022 IAEA Safeguards Symposium would examine the problem of safeguards and naval nuclear propulsion in some detail; however such hopes ended in vain as the discussion on this matter lacked the rigour, content and professionalism that marked many of the other excellent symposium sessions. The discussion on the same matter at another major international conference unfortunately fared even worse.

Therefore, there is dire need that this matter is discussed as soon as possible under Agency auspices in open-ended consultations or through technical briefings and discussions. The continuing opposition of the AUKUS partners, as well as of their dependent States, to such consultations and technical discussions is unacceptable and reflects disrespect and disregard of the Agency’s authority and essential role on safeguards implementation as well as of Member States’ concerns on this matter. Such consultations and discussions on safeguards approaches and technical objectives could have been, and certainly can be, initiated even in the absence of specific proposals on the types of nuclear-powered submarines under consideration for acquisition because the generic and underlying safeguards considerations are independent of the models of submarines.

Referring again to the Department of Safeguards, in October 2022 it published the latest edition of the IAEA Safeguards Glossary. The Foreword of the 2022 edition of the Glossary, inter alia, notes that, “The IAEA published the first IAEA Safeguards Glossary (IAEA/SG/INF/1) in 1980, with the aim of facilitating understanding of the specialized safeguards terminology within the international community … The 2022 Edition of the IAEA Safeguards Glossary reflects these developments, as well as the natural evolution and elaboration of terminology acquired over twenty additional years of experience in safeguards implementation … The IAEA Safeguards Glossary does not represent a comprehensive collection of all terms used in IAEA safeguards but rather collects those terms that are unique to IAEA safeguards or that may be used in other domains but have a specific meaning or application relevant to IAEA safeguards ... The IAEA Safeguards Glossary has no legal status and is not intended to serve as a basis for adjudicating on problems of definition such as might arise during the negotiation or in the interpretation of safeguards agreements or protocols thereto” [emphasis added].

Regardless of the codicils noted above, in the 2022 edition the entry 2.15. Non-application of safeguards to nuclear material to be used in non‑peaceful activities (p.23), notes that, “Any arrangement pursuant to para. 14 of [INFCIRC/153 Corr.] will be reported to the IAEA Board of Governors” [emphasis added]. This is an unexplained change from the entry in the 2001 edition of the Glossary, 2.14. Non-application of IAEA safeguards (pp.17-18) that states that “Any such arrangement would be submitted to the IAEA Board of Governors for prior approval” [emphasis added].

Why the Department of Safeguards has made this significant change, i.e. merely “reporting” to the Board rather than “submitting to the Board for prior approval”, has not been explained nor justified? IAEA Member States could raise this matter at the Board of Governors to seek clarification from the Secretariat.

NPT and Naval Nuclear Propulsion

The matter of IAEA safeguards and naval nuclear propulsion was discussed at some length at the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), held at United Nations headquarters in New York on 1-26 August 2022. The conference was unable to agree on a final document and thus came to an inconclusive end. The matter of naval nuclear propulsion was considered in Main Committee II (non-proliferation and safeguards). The draft final document of the Review Conference went through three draft versions, but the final version was considerably weakened as noted below:

NPT/CONF.2020/CRP.1 (22 August 2022) (paragraph. 36): The Conference notes that the use of nuclear material in non-proscribed military activities provided for under comprehensive safeguards agreements, in particular with respect to the topic of naval nuclear propulsion, has generated interest among States parties to the Treaty regarding, inter alia, arrangements to ensure that such nuclear material will not be used for the production of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. In this regard, the Conference notes the importance of the IAEA’s consideration, in consultation with the States concerned, of arrangements related to naval nuclear propulsion and for continuing dialogue and transparency in accordance with the rules of the relevant bodies.

NPT/CONF.2020/CRP.1/Rev.1 (25 August 2022) (paragraph 36): The Conference notes that the use of nuclear material in non-proscribed military activities provided for under comprehensive safeguards agreements, in particular with respect to the topic of naval nuclear propulsion, has generated interest among States parties to the Treaty regarding, inter alia, verification arrangements to ensure that such nuclear material will not be diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. In this regard, the Conference recognizes that the States concerned should continue to engage with the IAEA on the issue, in line with the relevant safeguards agreements, and that the IAEA Director General should report relevant developments to the wider IAEA membership in accordance with established practices of the IAEA’s policy-making organs.

NPT/CONF.2020/CRP.1/Rev.2 (25 August 2022) (paragraph 36): The Conference notes that the topic of naval nuclear propulsion is of interest to the States Parties to the Treaty. The Conference also notes the importance of transparent and open dialogue on this topic. The Conference further notes that Non-Nuclear-Weapon States that pursue naval nuclear propulsion should engage with the IAEA in an open and transparent manner [emphasis added].

IAEA Board of Governors

The reason for citing the draft recommendations of the NPT Review Conference is to show that the final version called for a “transparent and open dialogue” on this matter at the IAEA Board of Governors. Reportedly the States that negotiated the text on naval nuclear propulsion at the NPT review conference included Australia, Brazil, China, the UK and the US.

Reportedly, other than China which has submitted a barrage of INFCIRCs on AUKUS nuclear submarines, none of the other States have followed through on this draft recommendation at meetings of the IAEA Board of Governors (September and December 2022) and General Conference (September 2022). Rather they have continued with obfuscation of the matter and opposed any technical discussions either in open-ended consultations or in a special committee of the Board.

At present as already indicated, in addition to Australia, Brazil too has informed the Agency about its indigenous naval nuclear propulsion programme – see my earlier article, Nuclear Submarines and the Non-Proliferation Treaty: Brazil Gets a Jump on Australia?

Thus, the IAEA is grappling with naval nuclear propulsion at two levels: (i) importation of naval nuclear propulsion technology (reactors) and naval nuclear fuel, or complete assembled operational nuclear-powered submarines, in the case of Australia; and (ii) indigenous development of naval nuclear propulsion fuel cycle (fuel and reactors) by Brazil.

Notwithstanding the differences in approach between Australia and Brazil on acquisition of naval nuclear propulsion technology, the critical safeguards concerns, objectives and procedures are essentially the same.

The Agency has already indicated that uranium enrichment technology for naval nuclear propulsion cannot be exempted from safeguards as the technology per se cannot be considered as a “non-peaceful activity” or a “non-proscribed military activity” as envisaged under paragraph 14 of the comprehensive safeguards agreement (INFCIRC/153 Corr.).

On 20 August 1987, the IAEA in response to my enquiry stated that, “processes such as enrichment or reprocessing to produce materials for use in such an activity would not themselves be considered as non-proscribed military uses and would therefore be subject to safeguards in the NNWS [non-nuclear-weapon State] concerned” (reproduced from Aurora Papers 8).

Hence, in Brazil uranium enrichment for naval nuclear propulsion would be subject to safeguards under IAEA safeguards pursuant to the 1991 Agreement between the Republic of Argentina, the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards, Quadripartite Agreement, reproduced in IAEA INFCIRC/435 which also serves since 30 July 1999 as Brazil’s safeguards agreement under the NPT (IAEA INFCIRC/435/Mod.3 dated 2 March 2000).

As for Australia, the IAEA report as referred above notes that Australia will not pursue uranium enrichment or reprocessing for naval nuclear propulsion; has no plans to undertake nuclear fuel fabrication as part of this effort; and would be provided with complete, welded power units for nuclear-powered submarines.

The Problem

As I have previously argued, the problem the IAEA is facing concerns what has been referred to above, i.e., the exemption from safeguards of naval nuclear propulsion reactors and nuclear fuel. Not only is there not any definition or interpretation of the INFCIRC/153 Corr. paragraph 14 exemptions, nor of what is meant by “non-peaceful” and “non-proscribed” military activities, and there is no or scant practical understanding of, or procedures to, implement paragraph 14 provisions.

Referring again to the IAEA response on 20 August to my enquiry that, “To the Secretariat’s knowledge there is no formal definition of "non-proscribed military activity”. We understand that at the time of preparing INFCIRC/153 naval propulsion was considered as the most likely use … [and that the drafters of INFCIRC/153] favoured a narrow construction of the term "non-proscribed military activity", (reproduced from Aurora Papers 8).

Furthermore, generic and specific safeguards approaches and technical objectives regarding naval nuclear propulsion still need to be formulated. One need not have to wait for the AUKUS partners or for Brazil to submit technical proposals to the Agency; the IAEA Safeguards Department bears the responsibility to develop the required safeguards approaches and technical objectives and accordingly inform the Board and Member States for their comments and inputs. Once specific proposals for nuclear-powered submarine acquisition are submitted to the Agency from Australia and Brazil, the Safeguards Department then can “tailor” the safeguards approaches and technical objectives to the respective cases. “Elementary my dear Watson”, as Sherlock Holmes would say! And, so should say the IAEA Department of Safeguards!

Precedents for Safeguards Evolution

The standard practice at the IAEA regarding the evolution of safeguards and addressing weaknesses and shortcomings in the Agency’s safeguards system has been to engage with Member States in an open and transparent manner through open-ended consultations or special committees of the Board of Governors. But this modality mysteriously is not being followed for addressing the challenges of naval nuclear propulsion, and the States directly involved are rebuffing any and all proposals for open and transparent technical consultations.

Thus, for any States to take it upon themselves to interpret and to define possible paragraph 14 exemptions, with or without the IAEA Secretariat’s involvement, cannot command confidence without adequate consultations involving interested Member States and international experts. All IAEA Member States are equal under the Agency’s Statute, and all States with INFCIRC/153 (Corr.) type safeguards agreements in force have an equal stake in how the structure and content of comprehensive safeguards agreements are concluded and implemented even taking into account the differing levels and extent of their respective nuclear fuel cycles and activities.

Drafting and subsequent changes and amendments, interpretations and practices of Agency safeguards agreements traditionally have been considered in consultations involving all interested IAEA Member States in accordance with the Agency’s Statute. Such consultations involving all interested Agency Member States were carried out for the development of INFCIRC/66, INFCIRC/153 (Corr.) and INFCIRC/540 (Additional Protocol) safeguards measures and for the rescission of and modifications to Small Quantities Protocols (SQPs) for States with comprehensive safeguards agreements, before they were brought before the Board for approval. At the 2005 IAEA General Conference, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei stated that, “Since February [2005], the Secretariat has been consulting with Member States on this issue [SQPs], with a view to identifying possible remedies”.

To further reinforce this point, it should be recalled that in 2005 the IAEA Board established a special committee (Committee 25) to consider further strengthening measures for safeguards (as proposed by the US). The Director General’s report to the IAEA General Conference in 2006 stated that, “In June 2005, the Board of Governors established the Advisory Committee on Safeguards and Verification within the Framework of the IAEA Statute, otherwise known as Committee 25. Committee 25 was established, with an initial two-year mandate, to consider ways and means to strengthen the safeguards system and to make relevant recommendations to the Board”.

In the annual Resolution on safeguards adopted on 22 September 2006, the General Conference in the resolution’s operational paragraphs:

8. Acknowledges the work of the Advisory Committee on Safeguards and Verification within the Framework of the Agency’s Statute in accordance with the Board’s decision in June 2005, in whose work all Member States may participate, to consider ways and means to strengthen the safeguards system, and to report thereon, with recommendations, to the Board, and appreciates the Secretariat’s efforts in supporting that work;

  1. Attaches great importance to the Committee’s making every effort to take any decisions or make any recommendations by consensus within the Agency’s statutory responsibilities”.

Thus, it is abundantly clear that it has been the IAEA’s established practice to consult with Member States and to seek their involvement and approval for any and all substantive matters concerning the Agency’s safeguards system, as regards amendments, changes or interpretations. Such good practice enables buy-in from all Agency Member States and leads to uniform acceptance of procedures and obligations, and thus provides a common agreed foundation for the Board to approve individual safeguards agreements as well as changes or interpretations drawn up on the basis of the agreed standardized texts.

Thus, past practice clearly establishes that no Agency Member State or group of such States can unilaterally take up discussing significant aspects of safeguards implementation, with or without Secretariat involvement that will lead to critical alterations or limitations that have implications for the Agency’s safeguards system.

Hence, the point here is that implementation of paragraph 14 derived safeguards exemptions necessarily must first be discussed in consultations or negotiations involving all interested Agency Member States to arrive at common understandings that can be put before the Board for its consideration and approval. Neither Australia or AUKUS, nor Brazil, is being singled out; the matter is bigger and broader than them and concerns all Agency Member States.

How in practice this will be implemented remains to be described? Another open question is whether the records maintained by ABACC on the total quantity and composition of nuclear material used in Brazil’s nuclear naval propulsion programme will be made available to the IAEA? And, how sensitive technological and operational parameters related to the nuclear-powered submarine are defined and further by whom?

Unprecedented Challenge of Naval Nuclear Propulsion

This discussion clearly shows that the IAEA’s nuclear verification/safeguards system is facing an unprecedented challenge in dealing with the naval nuclear propulsion programmes of Australia and Brazil. Exempting nuclear material and nuclear reactors for naval use from safeguards will result in creating within the NPT/IAEA regime new arrangements under which a State can operate two parallel nuclear programmes, one under and one outside IAEA safeguards.

This would weaken the uniformity of the structure and implementation of comprehensive Agency safeguards in NPT non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS).

Both Australia and Brazil in exercising relevant provisions for safeguards exemptions would be creating a big gap as regards significant quantities of enriched uranium naval nuclear propulsion use – 200 to 250 kg of U-235 enriched to 97.3%, the rest of the core being U-238 per boat for a total to 1.6 to 2.0 metric tonnes that is 1600 to 2000 kg in the case of UK or US nuclear-powered submarines for Australia. The quantities in Brazil’s naval nuclear fuel cycle cannot be estimated given lack of information. Recall, that for safeguards purposes, the IAEA calculates a Significant Quantity (SQ) as 25kg of HEU even though with modern designs a nuclear warhead can be fabricated with as little as 5 kg.

Another important consideration is that the Agency’s Statute prohibits it being involved to “further any military purpose”. Now, it could be argued that in exempting significant quantities of enriched uranium naval fuel from comprehensive safeguards for a State’s navy, the Agency could be furthering a military purpose – that of facilitating military operations by nuclear-powered naval ships or submarines?

Thus, there appears to be an inherent tension or contradiction between the Agency’s Statutory obligations and the provisions of IAEA/ABACC comprehensive safeguards agreements. The oral records (summaries) of the negotiations on INFCIRC/153/Corr. show that the drafters and negotiators of the text were either blissfully unaware of tensions with the Statute, or deliberately obtuse, when drafting the provisions of paragraph 14 (INFCIRC/153/Corr.).

Should Australia or Brazil, or any other NPT NNWS, be able to exercise exemptions from NPT/IAEA/ABACC comprehensive safeguards without prior understanding of, and agreement on, the modalities involved (safeguards approaches and technical objectives) and prior approval of the Agency’s Board of Governors beggars belief.

Naval Nuclear Fuel Transparency

A competent study two decades back proposed some components for naval nuclear fuel transparency measures that could include (as quoted from the study and modified):

  • declarations of total HEU quantities dedicated to naval nuclear propulsion (including estimates of future needs);
  • attribute verification with information barrier (AVIB) for naval nuclear fuel bundles;
  • voluntary, non-intrusive verification on designated parts of the naval nuclear fuel cycle;
  • description of all facilities used for producing naval nuclear fuel, including production records and material balances for each facility;
  • information on the status of each naval nuclear fuel batch (whether fresh fuel/spent fuel, in storage, or in operating reactors, and its final disposition) and location of the material;
  • accounting of any fissile material removed from the naval inventory, such as: (i) material consumed during operation; (ii) material transferred to the national surplus stockpile and/or down-blended to LEU (low-enriched uranium) and/or sent to spent fuel storage; (iii) material sent for reprocessing; and, (iv) declarations of any naval nuclear fuel placed under bilateral or international safeguards (or monitoring or verification).

Declarations to the Agency on the status of the nuclear fuel batches, estimates of future nuclear fuel needs and the accounting of nuclear material removed from the naval nuclear fuel cycle could be made regularly, perhaps on a semi-annual basis.

The NPT and Nuclear-powered Submarines

The INFCIRC/153 (Corr.) provisions for exemption from safeguards of naval nuclear propulsion are undesirable and defeat the objectives and purposes of IAEA safeguards. This, as already indicated, adds yet another layer of discrimination to that between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States, and among non-nuclear-weapon States, by creating a new category of NNWS with significant quantities of (weapon-grade) nuclear material out of NPT or comprehensive safeguards.

My recommendations to the States participating in the NPT Preparatory Committee session in Vienna later this year are as follows:

  1. That the IAEA Board of Governors establish an open-ended working group, or set up a technical consultations framework, to examine in detail the issues in particular, inter alia, definitions of: non-peaceful activities; non-proscribed military activity; period of non-application of safeguards; arrangement for non-application of safeguards; temporal and procedural provisions; reporting arrangements; classified knowledge of the military activity; the use of the nuclear material therein as used in paragraph 14 (INFCIRC/153/Corr.). And definitions of: special procedures; non-proscribed nuclear activity, the period or circumstances during which the special procedures shall be applied; reporting arrangements; classified knowledge of such activity or relate to the use of the nuclear material therein, as used in paragraph 13 (INFCIRC/435) Quadripartite Agreement. There are several precedents of the IAEA Board previously having established open-ended working groups on safeguards implementation matters such as on “93+2” strengthened safeguards, additional protocol, SQPs, and the Advisory Committee on Safeguards and Verification (Committee 25) in June 2005.
  2. That the IAEA Department of Safeguards develop generic safeguards approaches and technical objectives for naval nuclear propulsion in States with comprehensive safeguards agreements in force, and present these to IAEA Member States and relevant international experts for review, prior to engaging in any implementation of paragraph 14 exemptions from safeguards.
  3. Now is the time for NPT States parties to grasp the nettle on naval nuclear propulsion and to resolve to further strengthen the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of the IAEA safeguards system; not to weaken it and not let nuclear-powered submarines Run Silent, Run Deep, and Sink IAEA Safeguards!


This discussion has showed that the only practical and rational way forward is for the IAEA Board of Governors and interested Member States through open-ended working group consultations to arrive at a clear and common understandings on how safeguards can and should apply to naval nuclear propulsion programmes in non-nuclear weapon States with comprehensive agreements in force. This is a logical opportunity for further exercise of leadership and initiative by the current Director General, who has in his nearly 30 months in office, has not been shy in successfully leading several bold initiatives.

*Tariq Rauf was formerly Alternate Head of NPT Delegation and Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency and previously advised Canada’s parliamentary committees on national defence and foreign affairs. In 1987-1990, he was closely involved with analyzing the implications of Canada’s plans to acquire a fleet of 10-12 nuclear-powered submarines, in particular the matters of IAEA safeguards and the NPT; in this regard he briefed Canada’s parliamentary committees on national defence and foreign affairs and communicated with the IAEA for the preparation of the co-authored Aurora Papers 8, Opening Pandora’s Box? Nuclear-Powered Submarines and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, published in February 1988 by the-then Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament (CCACD). On 26 September 2003, he briefed the Conference on Disarmament on the matter at an “FMCT Exercise” (CD/1719). Personal views are expressed here. In January 2022, he published, Crashing Nuclear Submarines Through IAEA Safeguards (other publications on this matter can be found here, here, here, and here). [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image: Left: US Navy Virginia-class SSN, courtesy of General Dynamics Electric Boat Public Affairs, Creative Commons Licence 040730-N-1234E-002); Right: Royal Navy Astute-class SSN, courtesy Royal Navy MoD; Center: The Lost IAEA Logo, (Alex Wellerstein, "The lost IAEA logo", Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog).