Safeguards, non-proliferation and physical protection


Published 01.07.2014, updated 31.12.2018 12:04

Keywords: Nuclear safety, Safeguards

The term «safeguards» means control with nuclear material. Nuclear material could be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Nuclear materials include uranium (enriched, natural and depleted), plutonium, and thorium. The management and control of nuclear materials entails maintaining an overview of the amounts and specific location of the different kinds of material to prevent theft or lost control. Physical protection is an important precaution here.

Safeguards, non-proliferation and physical protection

Safeguards, non-proliferation and physical protection


Nuclear material for use in the manufacture of nuclear weapons was first produced in the 1940s. The first were the United States and Great Britain, to be later followed by Russia, France and China. There was great secrecy surrounding these activities during the 1940s, but by the 1950s, this was gradually changing. In 1953, President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his famous «Atoms for Peace» speech at the United Nations in New York. This would later lead to the establishment of the International Atomic Energy Authority.

The signing of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 expanded IAEA supervision of nuclear materials to all member countries in the NPT, with the exception of the five nuclear weapon states (NWS). Although nuclear materials were also being tracked and monitored by the IAEA prior to the NPT, this was primarily carried by the major suppliers of such material, first and foremost the United States. It may be mentioned as a curiosity that the IAEA held its very first safeguards inspection at the zero power reactor NORA at Kjeller. Indeed, Norway was the first country in the world after the five NWS and Canada to have a research reactor in operation.

Today all countries that are signatories to the Non Proliferation Treaty are subject to IAEA safeguards, with the exception of the five NWS mentioned above. All of the signatory countries have pledged themselves to prevent the spread of nuclear materials and to disarm their existing nuclear weapons arsenals (applies to the NWS), while retaining the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. However, there are still substantial amounts of nuclear material that are not subject to safeguards, primarily in the NWS. Only a small number of nuclear facilities in the NWS have been placed under IAEA safeguards, and this is on a voluntary basis. Furthermore, the three nations outside the framework of the NPT, Israel, India and Pakistan, also possess large amounts of nuclear material that is not safeguarded. However, it should also be mentioned that there are certain civil nuclear facilities in these countries that have been placed under IAEA safeguards.

Norway’s obligations

Under the terms of the NPT (5 March 1970), Norway has committed itself to have control with the amount of nuclear material present in the country, and to know where it is located at all times. Norway’s obligations are more clearly specified in the agreement between Norway and the IAEA of 1 March 1972. The Additional Protocol of 16 May 2000 provides the IAEA with better ways of controlling Norwegian compliance with its obligations under the terms of the NPT, including unannounced inspections. ”Integrated safeguards” is attained when the combination of the traditional safeguards regime and the Additional Protocol is such that both the economic costs and effective supervision of a country’s nuclear holdings are optimal. Norway is one of the few countries in the world that has implemented this regime fully.

Most of the nuclear material in Norway is located at the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) at Kjeller and in Halden. There are also some very small amounts of nuclear material in other parts of the country, for the most part consisting of depleted uranium being used for shielding. IFE has two research reactors, JEEP II (2 MW) and HBWR (25 MW). The supervision of nuclear material includes inspections and accounting of uranium in the production of fresh fuel assemblies, fuel assemblies in the reactor, spent nuclear fuel stored at the facilities, and small pieces of fuel for examinations.

As the responsible agency in charge of safeguards in Norway, the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA) conducts several inspections a year at IFE. These inspections, along with the supporting documentation whenever nuclear materials in Norway are transported anywhere, form the basis for NRPA’s reports to the IAEA. DSA makes regular reports to the IAEA, both when nuclear materials are transported between different defined locations in Norway, and in compliance with Norway’s commitments with respect to the Additional Protocol. Furthermore, in addition to the main annual inspection, the IAEA also makes 2-3 unannounced inspections to Norwegian facilities, and these may include complementary access. Procedures at the inspections could be inventory taking of nuclear materials, visual inspections, taking samples, verification of empty positions in reactors or storage areas, changing seals etc.

Physical protection

The second pillar in controlling the spread of nuclear materials is physical protection of the material itself and of the facilities in which it is kept. In technical terms, physical protection consists of access control, monitoring, alarm systems and security guards. The Convention of the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Facilities is the international treaty covering these matters, and in July 2005, the treaty was expanded to include all kinds of facilities and uses, and the storage and transport of nuclear materials. The convention implicitly assumes that the parties will follow up on the recommendations that the IAEA publishes in its literature. This is implemented in Norway through specific regulations issued in 1984.

Nuclear materials

Material that can be directly utilised in the manufacture of nuclear weapons:

  • Highly enriched uranium containing more than 20 % uranium-235
  • Plutonium containing less than 80 % plutonium-238, that is, as high amount of plutonium-239 as possible

MOX (Mixed oxide fuel) and the plutonium in spent reactor fuel fall under this category.

Materials that can be indirectly used in nuclear weapons:

  • Low enriched uranium (LEU) containing less than 20 % uranium-235
  • Natural uranium containing 0.7 % uranium-235
  • Depleted uranium containing 0.2 % uranium-235
  • Thorium

These materials must be processed further in order to produce weapons grade material.