International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

views updated May 29 2018

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Established in 1957, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an independent intergovernmental organization tasked by the United Nations to monitor nuclear technology related matters. In 1979 the U.N. assigned the IAEA the task of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) monitoring and for developing nuclear safeguards. In addition to monitoring activities, IAEA attempts to facilitate the safe and peaceful use of nuclear power for the generation of electricity and to assist health agencies in developing standards that protect against detrimental ionizing radiation. IAEA scientists and engineers offer specific advice regarding the safe operation of nuclear power stations and the disposal of radioactive waste.

With a staff of nearly 3000, including more than 600 field inspectors, IAEA currently serves 134 member states and maintains its headquarters in Vienna, Austria. As of May 2003, Mohamed El Baradei was serving as director-general of IAEA.

Nuclear detection technologies (many developed by the United States national laboratory system) allow IAEA inspectors to attempt to enhance security of nuclear materials and to deter the unintentional transfer of nuclear materials and nuclear technology to terrorists or nations seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Limitations of the IAEA. The IAEA has no enforcement authority and compliance with IAEA inspections is voluntary; enforcement actions must be mandated by the United Nations Security Council.

Scientists also criticize the fact that IAEA leadership is composed of former civil servants or diplomats rather than scientists. Despite an expert staff of scientists, political forces have sometimes thwarted IAEA inspectors. The IAEA has suffered notable failures, including the discovery of Iraqi nuclear weapons development facilities in the early 1990s after declarations by the then IAEA chief, Hans Blix, that Iraq had no viable nuclear weapons program.

IAEA monitors selected industrial processes, namely enrichment plants, fuel-fabrication facilities, and reprocessing facilities; but military nuclear materials are not tracked by the IAEA. Accordingly, the civil inventories of the largest nuclear-power states (i.e., the United States, United Kingdom, China, France, and Russia) are not subject to IAEA safeguards. Approximately 24 tons of weapon-grade plutonium and uraniumless than 1% of the world stockis safeguarded by IAEA. Although a small percentage, this material is critical because it could produce hundreds of nuclear weapons. Moreover, intelligence experts consider the IAEA monitored sites to be among those sites most vulnerable to potential diversion of nuclear materials.

IAEA actions. Following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union (now Ukraine) IAEA inspectors and technical teams helped stabilize the damaged reactor. IAEA continued its role at Chernobyl to include the ongoing decommissioning of the facility.

IAEA inspectors took a lead role in controversial inspections programs in Iraq, North Korea, and Iran.

In 1991, IAEA's Iraq Action Team began inspecting suspect sites in Iraq under U.N. Security Council mandate. IAEA's mandate in Iraq was two-fold: uncover and dismantle Iraq's clandestine nuclear program, and manage an ongoing monitoring and verification plan (OMV). Prior to the invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led Coalition forces in March 2003, El Baradei, reported to the U.N. that Iraq had apparently been unable to successfully reconstitute its nuclear weapons program following its destruction and dismantling in the early 1990s.

IAEA inspectors have been consistently frustrated in their attempts to deal with North Korea. In 1999, IAEA officials reported to the United Nations Security Council that "critical parts" of the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon had been unaccounted for since 1994. Missing parts included those needed to control nuclear reactions and/or those that would be needed to construct another nuclear reactor. Special requests for inspections continued to be rejected by North Korea and in April 1993, the IAEA reissued its early 1990s ruling that North Korea was in "non-compliance" with its agreements regarding nuclear inspection and safeguards. IAEA inspectors further concluded that their limited inspections could not provide "meaningful assurance" that North Korea was using its nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes (e.g., only for energy generation or authorized research).

Concerned that Iran was attempting to accelerate its nuclear programs in such a way as to facilitate nuclear weapon development, in late 2002, IAEA inspectors requested additional access to inspect Iranian facilities. IAEA requests were initially denied. In February 2003, however, IAEA inspectors, including IAEA chief inspector Mohamed El Baradei were permitted to visit several new nuclear sites in Iran.

Since 1993, the IAEA has reported more than 400 cases of trafficking in nuclear materials. While 18 cases involved plutonium or weapons-grade uranium, most cases involved low-level medical and industrial radioactive waste, the kind used in dirty bombs.



IAEA News Update on IAEA and North Korea. IAEA. <> (March 10, 2003).

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 2003. <> (April 2, 2003).

Lu, Ming-Shih. "The IAEA Strengthened International Safeguards System." Brookhaven National Laboratory. 1998. <> (April 2, 2003).


Iranian Nuclear Programs
Iraq War: Prelude to War (The International Debate Over the Use and Effectiveness of Weapons Inspections)
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Nonproliferation and National Security, United States
North Korean Nuclear Weapons Programs
Nuclear Power Plants, Security
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), United States
Russian Nuclear Materials, Security Issues
Weapon-Grade Plutonium and Uranium, Tracking

International Atomic Energy Agency

views updated May 14 2018

International Atomic Energy Agency

The first decade of research on nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors was characterized by extreme secrecy, and the few nations that had the technology carefully guarded their information. In 1954, however, that philosophy changed, and the United States, in particular, became eager to help other nations use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. A program called "Atoms for Peace" brought foreign students to the United States for the study of nuclear sciences and provided enriched uranium to countries wanting to build their own reactors, encouraging interest in nuclear energy throughout much of the world.

But this program created a problem. It increased the potential diversion of nuclear information and nuclear materials for the construction of weapons, and the threat of nuclear proliferation grew. The United Nations created the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957 to address this problem. The agency had two primary objectives: to encourage and assist with the development of peaceful applications of nuclear power throughout the world and to prevent the diversion of nuclear materials to weapons research and development.

The first decade of IAEA's existence was not marked by much success. In fact, the United States was so dissatisfied with the agency's work that it began signing bilateral nonproliferation treaties with a number of countries. Finally, the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty more clearly designated the IAEA's responsibilities for the monitoring of nuclear material.

Today the agency is an active division of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and its headquarters are in Vienna. The IAEA operates with a staff of more than 800 professional workers, about 1,200 general service workers, and a budget of about $150 million. To accomplish its goal of extending and improving the peaceful use of nuclear energy, IAEA conducts regional and national workshops, seminars, training courses, and committee meetings. It publishes guidebooks and manuals on related topics and maintains the International Nuclear Information System, a bibliographic database on nuclear literature that includes more than 1.2 million records. The database is made available on magnetic tape to its 42-member states.

The IAEA also carries out a rigorous program of inspection. In 1987, for example, it made 2,133 inspections at 631 nuclear installations in 52 non-nuclear weapon nations and four nuclear weapon nations. In a typical year, IAEA activities include conducting safety reviews in a number of different countries, assisting in dealing with accidents at nuclear power plants , providing advice to nations interested in building their own nuclear facilities, advising countries on methods for dealing with radioactive wastes, teaching nations how to use radiation to preserve foods, helping universities introduce nuclear science into their curricula, and sponsoring research on the broader applications of nuclear science.

[David E. Newton ]



International Atomic Energy Agency, P.O. Box 100, Wagramer Strasse 5, Vienna, Austria A-1400 (413) 2600-0, Fax: (413) 2600-7, Email: [email protected]

International Atomic Energy Agency

views updated May 23 2018

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Intergovernmental agency of the United Nations (UN). It was founded in 1956 to promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to establish international control of nuclear weapons. The organization's headquarters are in Vienna, Austria.

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International Atomic Energy Agency