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International Atomic Energy Agency – Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Energy

by, Gustavo Costa de Pina on 2 july, 2013

Apart from a historical analysis of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the aim of this work is to try to understand its relevance and form of action today. Thus, in order to achieve this goal, historical analysis will be reduced to a minimum, and the focus will be concentrated on the analysis of its basic structure, the recent events, as well as in atomic energy itself. Nuclear power is today, as always, a complicated issue and a source of debate..
The first draft of the agency dates to 1953, driven primarily by the U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, with origins in his speech “Atoms for Peace” directed to the UN General Assembly. In this speech, the President of the United States of America, has highlighted the need for the creation of an international body to regulate and promote the peaceful use of atomic energy.

International Atomic Energy Agency

The IAEA appears as an autonomous organization within the UN on July 29, 1957, through the completion of its constituent treaty – the status of the IAEA. This organization responds to the international need for the creation of an international atomic energy regulator. The IAEA arises with the objectives of promoting the use of this energy for peaceful purposes, as well as to discourage its use for violent ends. Currently, the agency has a total of 159 member states.
During its history only two states have abandoned the organization. Cambodia joined the organization in 1958 and retired in 2003, having returned to take part in 2009. North Korea, on the other hand, had membership status from 1974 to 1994, withdrawing after considering that the agreed safeguards were not being met and consequently suspended the technical cooperation.
The organization structure is tripartite, with three main organs: a secretariat, a board of governors, and, a general meeting or general conference.

Board of Governors
It is one of the two political bodies of the IAEA. It is composed of twenty-two member states elected by the General Conference and another ten appointed by the previous Board. Member States elected by the Assembly have a biannual mandate being elected every year eleven states. The members appointed by the Board have an annual mandate and are named among the most advanced states in nuclear technology, as well as the most advanced countries from regions that are not represented in the top ten. This body is responsible for most of the policies of the Agency and meets five times a year.

General Conference
The General Conference is the other political organ of the IAEA. It consists of representatives from each of the 151 member states. The GE works in a system similar to the UN General Assembly, with a system of one vote per state beeing its primary function to act as a forum for debate. It meets annually, usually in September to treat and approve measures and budgets prepared by the Board of Governors. The director general, as well as the member states, may also schedule issues to discuss at the conference. Voting on the budget, amendments to the Statute and suspend privileges to states require two-thirds favorable, the remaining matters require only a simple majority, except if it is previously designated a minimum of two thirds. At each annual meeting it is elected a president, only valid for the session, a measure design to facilitate the procedures. The General Conference has also the power to pass the name given by the board to General Director.

Similar to the UN secretariat, the secretariat of the IAEA does not have a separate article in the Statute to define exactly what their tasks and capabilities are. We can however tell its raison d’être by their own organic position within the agency. It is headed by the Director General and is composed of about 2300 professionals from various disciplines and nationalities ranging of more than 100 of its member states. This body is responsible for carrying out the specific activities of the organization

The Secretariat is divided into six departments:

  1. Management – This is the department that deals with all issues related to the actual inner workings of the agency as a body, issues such as human resources, treasury services, document management and information.
  2. Safeguards – This department is a system that includes various technical measures used to regulate and verify the nuclear activities of the Member States. It is a special department which is regarded as the supervisory body within the agency. Guarantees preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ensures that the states fulfill their security obligations. This department has a tripartite internal design regarding technical measures. The first group is composed by traditional measures, with respect to the activities of checking the premises where the existing state declared the presence of nuclear material. Secondly we have the strengthening measures, related to the measures to be implemented under the legal authority of safeguard agreements and additional protocols. When properly implemented, these measures intend to draw conclusions about the accuracy of the declared material and the absence of undeclared materials and activities by the state. Thirdly we have the so-called integrated safeguards that refer to an optimum combination of safeguards and additional protocols available to the agency to achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiency within available resources on the ground.
  3. Nuclear Energy – The purpose of this department is to support the safe and efficient use of nuclear energy by creating new programs and using the existing building capacity and knowledge in the development of this energy, according to all rules of the IAEA and with a view to sustainable development.
  4. Nuclear Science and Applications – This is the department with a more diverse range of action since it operates in areas that go through agriculture and food, health, environment, water resources and industrial production. This department works closely with experts from member states, developing nuclear technology, and their respective applications in each of the areas, in order to meet the needs of developing states. With such support, they have access to knowledge in the nuclear area than they would be within reach without it.
  5. Nuclear Safety – This department aims to human and environmental safety in relation to nuclear energy and its effects in relation to their abuse as well as any kind of accidental incidents that might occur. It tries to build a strong, sustainable and global nuclear safety image through a framework security and prevention programs.
  6. Technical Cooperation – This department aids the states using nuclear techniques and covers several key areas of expertise. It acts like kind of fund of “know-how” and includes workshops, expert assistance, scientific visits, exchanges with other states, access to conferences and seminars and even equipment and supplies. The areas of expertise range from needs assessment to legislative assistance, among others.

IAEA’s Pillars

The IAEA is based on three main pillars, covering all its activities – peaceful use (science and technology), verification and safeguards and nuclear safety.
1) The first pillar refers to the use of nuclear energy with non-military purposes, and aims to encourage research and development in the states as well as support for them. “The International Atomic Energy Agency assists its Member States, in the context of social and economic goals, in planning for and using nuclear science and technology for various peaceful purposes, including the generation of electricity, and Facilitates the transfer of such technology and knowledge in Developing a sustainable mannered to Member States. ” (1)
2) The second pillar concerns the responsibility of the agency to the supervision of the information received from the States about their nuclear activities. “The International Atomic Energy Agency verifies through its inspection system which states comply with Their Commitments, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other non-proliferation agreements, to use nuclear materials and facilities only for peaceful purposes” (2) These first two pillars are easily identifiable if we look at Article 2 of the Statute.
3) The third pillar refers to nuclear safety, to ensure the safety of all nuclear facilities to prevent the occurrence of potentially dangerous situations for human life or the environment. “The International Atomic Energy Agency develops nuclear safety standards and, based on these standards, Promotes the achievement and maintenance of high levels of safety in applications of nuclear energy, as well as the protection of human health and the environment against ionizing radiation.” (3) This pillar, apparently of vital importance in the organization, represents only a small part of the agency’s budget, and has been the subject of some recent controversy due to the accident of the Fukushima plant.


“Weapons that kill large numbers of human beings indiscriminately have no moral or lawful justification, regardless of who is holding them. The world will be best able to keep such weapons out of the hands of terrorists only when those special weapons and materials are in the hands of no one. “(4)

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 remains the legal basis for the system of disarmament and non-proliferation, under the auspices of the IAEA. Five states were recognized nuclear (as defined in the Treaty powers that detonated a nuclear explosion before January 1, 1967) (5) in the treaty, the same five that have the status of permanent members of the Security Council – Russia, USA, China , France and the UK (in order of decreasing amount of nuclear arsenal). These states have pledged to gradually reduce this arsenal, while the remaining signatories pledged not to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for access to nuclear technology for peaceful use.

However this treaty covered less dimensions than expected. First, the commitment to disarmament of the great powers is not verifiable and stipulated temporally, and there was only a reduction in some cases, far from the joint commitment to gradual disarmament to disposal. On the other hand, the non-signatory states are not covered by the agreement and have been able to develop their nuclear programs without impediments, notably India, Pakistan and Israel, creating a scenery with increased potential risk of military conflict with nuclear weapons. Another negative dimension is the lack of mechanisms that oblige signatory states to fulfill their obligations and there are no sanctions for non-compliance.

The pressure for nuclear disarmament has not been ignored, however, and there is a group of states that has made great efforts in building pressure to states with nuclear weapons. A group of seven countries – Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, New Zealand, Mexico and Sweden – formed the “New Schedule” in 1998, in order to ensure that disarmament is not an issue to put aside and resuming the works for a future free from nuclear weapons. This program is followed through speeches, forums, committees or resolutions, with the aim of showing that most states are not satisfied with the current scenario and want the nuclear disarmament. However this is not an easy job, especially with the great powers. Despite the difficulties, some important steps have been achieved and the movement build a significant influence in the General Conference; most resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly have been favorable; in 2004 it obtained the support of major NATO states, such as Germany and Canada during the aproval of the Resolution 1540 which regulates domestic production and exports of materials that can be used to produce weapons of mass destruction.

“Striving for nuclear disarmament is not an idealistic march towards an unachievable utopia. Just last month, seven prominent policy makers, the foreign ministers of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden jointly spoke, saying, ‘Today, we are more than ever convinced that nuclear disarmament is imperative for international peace and security ‘. They added, “Nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament are two sides of the same-coin, and both must be energetically pursued. ‘ I could not agree more. It is this type of leadership that is urgently needed. ” (6)

Nuclear Energy: A sustainable alternative

“It will be for the world difficult to achieve the twin goals of ensuring sustainable energy supplies and curbing greenhouse gases without nuclear power” (7)

At a time when the debate about the sustainability of the environment is greater than ever, it is necessary to include nuclear power in the equation. With climate change on the agenda, are already known to the general public the causes that are causing the phenomenon and its effects – the greenhouse effect, ozone layer reduction etc. However the actual effects on people’s lives, given their importance, are still a subject little explored and debated, whether by the societies or by the international public opinion. According to the scientific community, it has reached a point of no return, where it is no longer possible to avoid the ongoing climate change. Despite the evidence, there are still voices that classify this phenomenon as a natural process in any way influenced by human activity. The urgency of change collides with the prevailing model of life and their interests, primarily economic, and loses strength. It is therefore necessary to start now to predict all possible scenarios and consequences, as well as solutions.
The use of nuclear power has been seen as a viable alternative to fossil fuels to produce energy on a large scale, however, from the standpoint of environmental and insurance, it is not completely clean source of energy, since it can generate negative consequences – such as accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima – and there is also the problem of the impossibility to eliminate the waste resulting from nuclear energy production. International consensus has been that the decision to use this power belongs to the states.
The IAEA had, in 2012 a budget of approximately 333 million euros (8) distributed by their various activities, as seen in the resolution. However there is not another agency that specializes itself in the research and development of renewable forms of energy production, showing that most efforts towards energetic sustainability are still insufficient.


1) The IAEA Mission Statement;

2) The IAEA Mission Statement;

3) The IAEA Mission Statement;

4) Jayanatha Dhanapala, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, 2002;

5) Cirincione, Joseph, Wolfsthal, Jon, Rajkumar, Miriam, Deadly Arsenals, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical threat, Carnegie Endowment for Internacional Peace, Washington D.C., 2005;

6) Mohamed ElBaradei, ex- Diretor geral da AIEA;

7) Yukiya Amano, Diretor geral AIEA;

8) Regular Budget appropriations for 2012, GC(55)/RES/5 September 2011, disponível online em: http://www.iaea.org/About/Policy/GC/GC55/GC55Resolutions/English/gc55res-5_en.pdf

Cirincione, Joseph; Wolfsthal, Jon; Rajkumar, Miriam. Deadly Arsenals, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical threat, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC, 2005
Dodds, Felix; Pippard, Tim Human and Environmental Security – An Agenda for Change, Earthscan, London, 2005
Findlay, Trevor. Nuclear Energy and Global Governance, Routledge global security studies, 2010
Ribeiro, Manuel de Almeida; Ferro, Monica. The UN organization, Almedina, Coimbra, 2004
Elliot, David, “Nuclear Meltdown”, available online at http://www.e-ir.info/2011/03/14/nuclear-meltdown/, last accessed May 24, 2013
Elliot, David, “Nuclear waste- no place to go?”, Available online at http://environmentalresearchweb.org/blog/renew-your-energy/, last accessed May 24, 2013
Kingston, Jeff, “Japan’s Nuclear Future”, available online at http://www.eir.info/2012/04/09/japans-nuclear-future/, last accessed May 26, 2013
The Guardian, “Weaknesses that remain in developing new nuclearWeaknesses that remain in developing new nuclear”, The Guardian, available online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/20/weaknesses-developing-new-nuclear, last accessed May 24, 2013
International Atomic Energy Agency, available online at http://www.iaea.org/, last accessed May 26, 2013




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