“No system of safeguards that can be devised will of itself provide an effective guarantee against the production of atomic weapons by a nation bent on aggression.” — Harry S Truman. The quote above echoes apprehensions expressed by many disarmament advocates since the dawn of the atomic age that inadequate application of nuclear safeguards remains unable to stop nuclear weapons proliferation or the motivation to build them. Time has proved that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards could not stop North Korea and other countries from developing nuclear weapons. There are nine countries that possess nuclear weapons today. The widespread use of fissile material constitutes grave proliferation risks. The dangers of diversion or theft of fissile materials are very high at three different stages of the nuclear fuel cycle: uranium enrichment process, reprocessing of spent nuclear fuels and mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) fabrication in reactor fuel assemblies. MOX plants pose added security risks because of the presence of separated plutonium oxide that can be used to build weapons. It is argued that the IAEA’s safeguards can detect any clandestine removal of a ‘significant quantity’ (SQ) of fissile material and prevent its use for nuclear explosive devices. Depending on the type of nuclear materials, the IAEA guidelines adjust the amount that qualifies as an SQ. A number of techniques — detectors, surveillance cameras and environmental samples — are used to obtain information about nuclear materials or undeclared operations of the facilities. However, more than five and a half decades after its establishment, the IAEA has not been able to fulfil its responsibilities even at existing nuclear fuel-cycle facilities effectively. IAEA officials have also acknowledged that they cannot meet the goal of above 90 percent probability of detecting the diversion of fissile materials. So the IAEA has lowered the detection standards, aka the Accountancy Verification Goal (AVG), which can easily be satisfied by current safeguards.
Daily Times 28th Dec 2016 read more »