IRSN, Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire

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Enhancing Nuclear Safety


2- Milestones in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons

The fundamental basis of non-proliferation was the coming into force of the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on 5 March 1970. The main objective of this treaty was "to prevent nuclear energy being diverted from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear devices." This treaty recognizes the special status of states possessing nuclear weapons. France signed up to the NPT on 8 March 1992.

Verifying that states party to the NPT fulfil their obligations is entrusted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), under the "safeguards agreements", the model for which is based on information circular 153 of the IAEA established in 1971 (Infcirc 153). These agreements are intended to ensure verification by the IAEA that the nuclear materials declared by states and placed under the system of IAEA safeguards are not diverted towards nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

In Europe, in 1957, the treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) provided in Chapter 7 for the establishment of a security check, designed to verify compliance by users with their declared use: "to ensure… that the ores, raw materials and special fissile materials are not diverted from the uses to which their users have reported them to be intended." The provisions of these safeguards (declarations) were formalized in a EURATOM regulation in 1976, which was amended in 2005.

The similarity between the safeguarding role of EURATOM and the IAEA safeguards led these organizations to coordinate their activities in states covered by the EURATOM Treaty.

The Euratom Technical Committee is responsible for implementation of inspections of nuclear material held in France by the European Commission and coordinates the implementation of the France-Euratom-IAEA accords (ensuring the consistency of the French position, negotiating the terms of inspection, analysing the impact on strategic defence interests and so on). It relies on the IRSN for the management of declarations that must be made to the regulatory bodies for the support of international inspections (IAEA or EURATOM) and the collection of technical advice to define the French position.

In 1980 France passed a law regarding the protection and inspection of nuclear materials located anywhere in the country. The Ministry of Energy (HFDS: Senior Defence and Security Official) is responsible for monitoring the proper implementation of this in civil nuclear facilities. It relies on the IRSN to assess the measures for the monitoring, accounting and protection of nuclear materials proposed by the operators. The IRSN carries out, at the request of the HFDS, inspections at facilities and during transport to verify compliance with the measures implemented by the legislation.

Additional protocol to the safeguards agreements

In the late 20th century, four particularly worrying events have led the international community to seek to strengthen mechanisms preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, both nuclear and chemical.

1. In 1991, the Gulf War and the defeat of Iraq led to the discovery in that country of the existence of a secret programme to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

2. In the same year, the break-up of the Soviet Union was accompanied by increased risks of diversion and smuggling of nuclear materials from countries in Central Europe and the CIS, particularly because of the economic chaos in these countries.

3. In 1992, following the signing by North Korea of a "safeguards agreement" with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), abnormalities were found in a pilot plant for reprocessing nuclear fuel, leading the IAEA to suggest that nuclear material had been withheld from its inspection. In addition, satellite images had shown the existence of nuclear facilities to which international inspectors were denied access by North Korea. These elements, which led to severe diplomatic tension, represented a clear indication that North Korea was not meeting its commitments under its accession in 1985 to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

4. In 1998, two non-signatories of the NPT, India and Pakistan, carried out military tests of nuclear explosive devices.

In the nuclear field, these events led a group of international experts [1] to recommend that the IAEA be given new powers to detect clandestine activities. In 1993, the Agency launched a programme for "strengthening the safeguards ("93 +2"), which led to the establishment in 1997 of an "additional protocol" to the safeguards agreements (Circular INFCIRC/540), specifically to enable the detection of such illegal facilities.

Among the new measures, the IAEA required that:

  • States provide information on all their nuclear activities (including those that do not involve nuclear materials)
  • IAEA inspectors have greater access to facilities, including those which do not possess nuclear materials
  • IAEA teams are allowed to take environmental samples in order to detect any possible traces of undeclared activities.

The Additional Protocol was ratified by France on 30 April 30 2004. In order to enable France to meet these obligations, the IRSN has been commissioned by the Euratom Technical Committee to implement the system for development of French declarations (information from operators, development of forms and manuals specifically for declaration purposes, development of data processing tools) and to collect the audits carried out by the IAEA ("complementary access"). This system has been in operation since 2004 and has enabled France to forward all such reports to the IAEA in accordance with the required deadlines. The IRSN actively participated in drafting the bill to implement the Additional Protocol.

Meanwhile, to help the former Soviet Union and central Europe to control the risks of theft, trafficking and diversion of nuclear materials on their territories, the European Union, the United States and the IAEA have acted in collaboration with the countries concerned and provided assistance in the form of direct financing and help with training.

1-  “Standing advisory group on safeguards implementation” (SAGSI): a group of 15 international experts, which meets 3 to 4 times per year to advise the Director General of IAEA on developments in the safeguards system.

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