The initial program of the IAEA, unanimously adopted by the 1957 General Conference, emphasized activities that could be undertaken while the IAEA's experience and resources were still relatively limited. High priority was given "to those activities which will give the maximum possible benefit from the peaceful applications of atomic energy in improving the conditions and raising the standard of living of the peoples in the underdeveloped areas."
In the light of these considerations, two of the IAEA's major objectives are to help member states prepare for the eventual use of nuclear power and to encourage them in the wider use of radioisotopes. Although it cannot undertake actual programs of development for its members, it can assist them in initiating and carrying out such programs. By the 1990s IAEA was active in assisting its developing members in an impressive number of fields:
Basic human needs
nuclear centers and laboratories
The IAEA has been providing technical assistance to developing member countries since 1959, in the form of expert services, equipment, and training, with the objective of facilitating technology transfer in various fields related to nuclear energy. The major fields in which assistance is provided are nuclear safety, the application of isotopes and radiation in agriculture, and nuclear engineering and technology. Other important areas for assistance are general atomic energy development, nuclear physics and chemistry, prospecting for and mining and processing of nuclear materials, and the application of isotopes and radiation in industry and hydrology, in medicine, and in biology.
Financial support for the IAEA's technical cooperation programs comes mainly from its own voluntary technical assistance and cooperation fund; other sources are extrabudgetary donations and contributions in kind from member states and UNDP. In 2001, technical disbursements increased to US $73.5 million from US $59.1 million in 2000. Forty-one percent of the disbursements went to equipment, and 59% provided training, expert services, subcontracts, miscellaneous services, and fellowships.
Under the IAEA statute, any member desiring to set up an atomic energy project for peaceful purposes "may request the assistance of the Agency in securing special fissionable and other materials."
The IAEA acts, on request, as an intermediary in arranging the supply of reactor fuel and specialized equipment from one member state to another. Argentina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, and Uruguay, among other countries, have been beneficiaries of such arrangements. Small quantities of special fissionable materials have also been supplied to a number of countries for research purposes.
The IAEA's training program has retained its importance, not only because the need for trained staff is pressing but also because less elaborate preparations are required for assistance of this kind than for technical assistance operations involving the provision of expert services and demonstration equipment.
To meet the shortage of scientific and technical workers, the IAEA has initiated a fivefold program:
In 1998 IAEA conducted 14 interregional and 146 regional training courses in 58 countries; more than 2,000 people participated in these courses. The total program cost for the year was US $9.3 million.
While its assistance programs are directed primarily to the needs of economically developing areas, the IAEA's program of conferences and exchange of information is designed to benefit all of its members—even the most technically advanced.
The International Nuclear Information System (INIS), set up by the agency in 1970, provides worldwide coverage of the literature dealing with all aspects of peaceful uses of atomic energy and is the first fully decentralized computer-based information system. Countries and organizations participating in the INIS collect and process all the relevant literature within their geographic areas and send it to the IAEA. In Vienna, the information is checked, merged, and further processed, and the resulting output is distributed to individuals and organizations around the world. The major products of the system are the magnetic tape service, the INIS Atomindex, and the direct availability of the INIS data base on-line from the IAEA computer in Vienna. The magnetic tapes and the on-line service, available to member states and participating organizations only, contain bibliographic descriptions, subject indexing, and abstracts and are utilized for current selective dissemination of information and retrospective searching. The INIS Atomindex, an international nuclear abstract journal, is published twice a month and is available to the public on a sub-scription basis. An additional service is the provision on microfiche of texts of all nonconventional literature submitted to the system. In 2002, INIS membership included over 100 countries and some 20 international organizations; it reported on over 2,300,000 documents. Beginning in 1992 the INIS data base was made available to INIS member states on CD-ROM disks.
The IAEA also cooperates with FAO in the provision of a similar information system for agriculture, known as AGRIS.
A second important information service of the IAEA concerns nuclear data—numerical and associated information on neutron cross-sections, related fission, capture, and scattering parameters of neutron-induced reactions, as well as other nuclear physical constants. The IAEA maintains an efficient system for collection of these data and, together with three other regional centers, in France, the Russian Federation, and the US, issues CINDA , an index to the literature on microscopic neutron data. It also compiles WRENDA, the world request list for nuclear-data measurements needed both for the development of fission and fusion reactors and for nuclear-material safeguards.
The IAEA plays a leading role in promoting the dissemination of scientific and technical information by organizing each year 15 to 20 conferences, symposia, and seminars and a large number of smaller technical meetings. The IAEA has organized major international meetings dealing with specific aspects of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. For example, some important 2000 meetings included: International Conference on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management (Córdoba, Spain); International Symposium on the Uranium Production Cycle and the Environment, (Vienna); 18th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference (Sorrento, Italy); International Symposium on Nuclear Techniques in Integrated Plant Nutrient, Water, and Soil Management (Vienna); International Symposium on Radiation Technology in Emerging Industrial Applications (Beijing); International Conference of National Regulatory Authorities with Competence in the Safety of Radiation Sources and the Security of Radioactive Materials (Buenos Aires); Seminar on Nuclear Science and Technology for Diplomats (Vienna); Seminar on Nuclear Law; and Latin America International Seminar on Implementation of Systems to Prevent and Detect Unauthorized Uses of Nuclear and Radioactive Materials (Vienna).
The International Center for Theoretical Physics, in Trieste, set up by the IAEA in 1964, brings together specialists from developing and developed countries to carry out research and to enable scientists from developing countries to keep abreast of progress without having to leave their own countries permanently or for long periods. Fellowships are awarded to candidates from developing countries for training and research, and an international forum is provided for personal contacts. Associate memberships are awarded by election to enable distinguished physicists to spend one to three months every year at the center. Senior and junior positions are offered by invitation, and a federation scheme is designed to forge a partnership with institutions in developing countries. Assistance has been given by Italy and by the university and city of Trieste. Further aid has come from the Ford Foundation and from UNESCO, which in 1970 undertook joint management of the center.
The IAEA has three laboratories: a small one at its headquarters in Vienna, the main laboratory at Seibersdorf (20 miles from Vienna), and one at Monaco for research on the effects of radioactivity in the sea. The laboratories undertake work in agriculture, hydrology, medicine, physics, chemistry, low-level radioactivity, and environment.
A research contract program has been established with various institutions in member states. The subjects include nuclear power and reactors; physics and chemistry; radioisotope and radiation applications in agriculture, food technology, industry, and medicine; water resources development; protection of humans against ionizing radiation; radiation biology; medical and biological radiation dosimetry; health physics and radiation protection; environ-mental contamination; and waste treatment and disposal.
To keep abreast of scientific developments, members of the IAEA's scientific staff visit institutions in member states and conduct various studies. The IAEA has made a survey of research trends in the sterilization of food and drugs by ionizing radiation, a problem of considerable interest to both developed and developing countries.
Nuclear power is already an important source of electrical generation, particularly in industrialized countries, and technically and economically ripe for an even larger application worldwide. As of June 2002, there were 438 nuclear power plants in operation worldwide and 37 additional plants under construction.
In response to the interest of developing countries in nuclear power, the IAEA has played an increasing role in objective nuclear-power planning studies for individual member states. Energy planning methodologies have been developed and made available. The IAEA has cooperated with interested member states in applying these methodologies to specific country cases and in assessing the economic role of nuclear power in meeting increasing requirements for electricity. IAEA efforts to help strengthen infrastructures for the planning, implementation, and operation of nuclear-power projects take the form of inter-regional and national training courses; technical assistance projects, often in cooperation with the World Bank; advisory missions to interested countries; and the publication of guidebooks.
The IAEA started to collect operating experience data from nuclear-power plants in the late 1960s and has now established a Power Reactor Information System (PRIS), which monitors the performance of the nuclear-power plants in operation in the world. In addition to performance indices and data on energy production, the system contains information about full and partial plant outages affecting plant operation and about power-reactor operating experience in the world. Periodic publications by the IAEA make this information available to planners and operators in member states. In 1995, a new version, called PRIS-PC, was made available online for direct access through the public telephone network. Internet access became available at the end of 1996.
As an increasing number of countries are interested in the use of nuclear plants for heat-only production and cogeneration (for example, desalination combined with electricity generation), the IAEA periodically reviews progress in this area. In addition, scientific meetings on nuclear power are organized to discuss such matters as economic competitiveness of nuclear power, integration of nuclear-power plants in electric grids, operating experience, introduction of small and medium power reactors, development of fast-breeder and high-temperature reactors, and fusion technology.
In 2000, in response to the IAEA member states' requests under two resolutions at that year's General Conference, the IAEA initiated "International Projects on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO)." The project complements the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Generation IV International Forum (GIF), in its focus on future nuclear technologies. The activities of INPRO focus on developing long-term user requirements for future nuclear technologies from the point of view of safety, nonproliferation, environment, nuclear wastes, and economic competitiveness. The IAEA is planning to hold an International Conference on Innovative Nuclear Technologies in 2003. The IAEA will also invite the DOE to participate in this conference.
Although each state is responsible for nuclear safety with regard to nuclear activities within its own territory, nuclear safety is a field in which international cooperation can be very helpful, particularly in developing safety standards and providing assistance. The IAEA's activities in the field of nuclear safety include plant siting and design, the transport of radioactive waste, emergency planning and preparedness, and decommissioning. The IAEA also began work on an historic Nuclear Safety Convention in 1991, the text of which was finalized at a major international conference held in Vienna in June 1994. (See Nuclear Law below.)
The IAEA maintains a 24-hour Emergency Response System (ERS) staffed by 30 emergency duty officers. In 1992 the system underwent its second comprehensive exercise to test procedures developed in support of the conventions on early nuclear accidents signed as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl incident (see below). In addition to periodic comprehensive tests, the communication systems used for notifications and requests for assistance are tested at least once a day.
Regulations for the safe transport of nuclear material were developed by the IAEA in 1961. These were followed by Basic Safety Standards for Radiation Protection, which have been extensively revised in accordance with the new system of dose limitation recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The revised safety standards, carried out jointly with the ILO, WHO, and the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD, mark an important milestone in establishing international standards for radiation protection. In 1992 IAEA published the first in a series of radioactive waste management research abstracts.
The IAEA's Nuclear Safety Standards program provides member states with internationally acceptable safety codes and guides on the many aspects of safety associated with nuclear-power plants. The program, which deals with protection against the harmful effects of ionizing radiations, is based on experience in safety practices gained by countries advanced in nuclear technology. Two types of safety documents—codes of practice and safety guides—are being developed in the areas of government organization, siting, design, operation, and quality assurance of nuclear-power plants. For each area there is a code of practice and a number of related safety guides. The codes outline basic objectives and minimum requirements that must be fulfilled to provide an adequate safety level. The safety guides recommend procedures and acceptable technical solutions to implement the requirements and achieve the objectives of the codes.
In recognition of the increasing emphasis on operational safety, the IAEA initiated the Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) program in 1983 to assist regulatory authorities in the review of operating nuclear-power plants. The program provides an opportunity for member states to benefit from outside expertise and experience. An Operational Safety Review Team is composed of about 10 experts, including IAEA staff, to cover subject areas common to all reactor types, and consultants to cover those areas that are reactor-specific. Experts from developing countries have frequently been included. The reviews, which take up to three weeks, help provide an international frame of reference for regulatory and operating personnel and also provide the IAEA with valuable insights in regard to updating its regular and technical assistance programs.
Additional highlights of IAEA safety activities are: work on the management of severe accidents and on emergency response; the man-machine interface; probabilistic safety assessment; and advanced safety technology. There is also a nuclear incident reporting system and an International Nuclear Event Scale Information Service (INES). There is also a program called the Assessment of Safety Significant Events Teams (ASSET), which complements OSART. ASSET missions assess, upon invitation, safety significant events involving nuclear power plants. In recent years, there has been a greater emphasis on evaluation and assistance to improve the safe operation of Eastern European nuclear reactors.
As the number of reactor years of operation increases, the feedback of experience is becoming a valuable means of enhancing safety and reliability. Systematic reporting and evaluation of safety-related events can make it possible to identify necessary plant modifications and develop improved plant procedures. To facilitate the exchange of experience, both the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD and the IAEA have established incident reporting systems to collect and examine details of events submitted by national organizations. National coordinators screen accounts of all events, passing on to the OECD and the IAEA the most important data.
In response to the accident that occurred in the fourth unit of the Chernobyl nuclear-power station in the USSR on 26 April 1986, resulting in loss of life, injuries, and considerable radioactive releases, the IAEA's Board of Governors met to elaborate proposals for expanded international cooperation in nuclear safety and radiological protection. Through a group of experts who convened in July–August 1986, it prepared drafts of two international conventions on nuclear accidents; at a post-accident review meeting convened by the IAEA in late August, about 600 experts from 62 countries and 21 international organizations discussed a comprehensive report presented by the USSR delegation. In September 1986, a special session of the IAEA's General Conference, attended by delegates from 94 countries and 27 national and international organizations, adopted the two draft conventions: the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency. The two conventions were immediately signed by more than 50 countries. By February 2002, the Early Notification Convention had 87 parties. The Accident Assistance Convention had 84 parties as of August 2002. In 1989, the IAEA and many other sister organizations embarked on the International Chernobyl Project, to assess the measures taken to enable people to live safely in areas affected by radioactive contamination. It involved more than 200 experts from 23 countries and marked the beginning of ongoing cooperation between intergovernmental organizations regarding nuclear safety.
Members of the IAEA
(as of April 2002)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Central African Republic
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
Holy See (Vatican)
Korea, Republic of
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Moldova, Republic of
Syrian Arab Republic
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
United Arab Emirates
United Republic of Tanzania
In March 1994, an international expert safety assessment team examined the safety situation at Chernobyl, at the invitation of the Ukrainian government. It concluded that there were numerous safety deficiencies in the two units of the plant that remain operational, noting that the shelter enclosing the destroyed reactor was experiencing deterioration. The IAEA recommended that the government of Ukraine hold a meeting on the situation at the Chernobyl reactor. At that meeting, the Ukrainian government pleaded severe economic hardship and an impending shortage of energy as a reason to delay closing the damaged plant. It asserted that, with international financial assistance, safety conditions at the plant could be improved. The government also asserted that the output of the Chernobyl station was a least-cost alternative for energy supply in the immediate future. In 1994, five new nuclear plants were planned or under construction; as of 2000, two had received sufficient funding to be completed, by 2004 and 2006; construction on the other three had been suspended indefinitely. In 2000, representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) concluded that significant safety improvements had been achieved in the fourteen nuclear power plants in Ukraine since 1994.
In March 2001, the Ukrainian government selected a design for a new shelter to be build around the Chernobyl "sarcophagus." The EBRD agreed to the design, which would allow for the work to begin.
Safe management of radioactive wastes produced in all the stages of the nuclear fuel cycle is essential for the growth of nuclear power. The IAEA has been active since its establishment in all aspects of this field, including the publication of Safety Series and Technical Reports, which give guidelines and recommendations; the holding of seminars, symposia, and conferences; and the arranging of study tours for the benefit of member states. Major areas currently being studied by the IAEA are underground disposal, waste handling and treatment, and environmental aspects of waste disposal.
Safety standards and codes of practice have been prepared on the management of wastes produced by users of radioactive materials; the management of wastes from the mining and milling of uranium and thorium ores; the disposal of wastes in shallow ground, rock cavities, and deep geological formations; and criteria for underground disposal of wastes.
From its inception, the IAEA has been faced with the need for international coordination and harmonization of the principles governing third-party liability in the event of nuclear damage. The absence of special legislation might leave injured victims without redress. Great difficulties might arise if different nations were to incorporate different principles and procedures in their legislation concerning third-party liability.
Some steps toward worldwide harmonization of compensation for damage arising from nuclear operations were taken through the adoption of two international conventions: the Brussels Convention on the Liability of Operators of Nuclear Ships (1962) and the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (1963). These two conventions set the minimum standards concerning the liability of the operator of a nuclear installation or a nuclear ship in the event of accidents occuring during the international transport of nuclear materials.
Another convention was adopted in 1971: the Convention on Civil Liability in the Field of Maritime Carriage of Nuclear Matter, which came into force on 15 July 1975. This convention exonerates shipowners from liability under international maritime law in the case of nuclear damage falling within the purview of the Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy (1960), which came into force in 1968, or the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (1963), which came into force in 1977, whenever the carriage of nuclear material is involved; it thus eliminates what was previously a serious impediment to sea transport of such material. A joint protocol relating to the application of the Vienna Convention and the Paris Conventions entered into force on 27 April 1992.
The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was adopted on 26 October 1979 at a meeting of governmental representatives held at IAEA headquarters. The convention, which came into force on 9 February 1987, is designed to ensure that the prescribed levels of physical protection are applied to potentially hazardous nuclear materials during international transport.
As already noted, two conventions on nuclear accidents were adopted at a special session of the IAEA's General Conference in September 1986, in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in April of that year: the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, which came into force on 27 October 1986; and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, which came into force on 27 February 1987.
In 1991, in recognition of the interdependence of nations in the nuclear fuel cycle, the General Conference supported the idea of an international nuclear safety convention. A draft convention elaborated by legal and technical experts from more than 50 countries was submitted to the General Conference at that time. In June 1994, delegations from 83 member states and four international organizations met in Vienna to consider and adopt the final text of the International Nuclear Safety Convention. The main features of the convention are the establishment of a reporting system on the implementation by contracting states of the obligations of the convention; the assurance of a proper legislative and regulatory framework to govern the safety of nuclear installations; general safety considerations to reinforce the priority of safety; sufficient financial and human resources; quality assurance; radiation protection, and emergency preparedness. The Nuclear Safety Convention came into force on 24 October 1996. The first review meeting was held in April 1999 in Vienna; it was attended by 45 of the 50 states that had by then ratified the convention.
In conjunction with the increasing number of states embarking on nuclear programs, there has also been a growing awareness of the necessity for establishing both a proper legislative framework and specialized regulations for the licensing and control of nuclear installations. The IAEA has provided advisory services to several developing countries in the framing of statutory and regulatory provisions in such areas as the establishment of competent bodies on atomic energy; radiation and environmental protection; transport of radioactive materials; licensing of nuclear installations; nuclear liability; and nuclear merchant ships.
The basic science and technology of nuclear energy are the same for both peaceful and military purposes. Therefore, the IAEA statute requires the agency "to establish and administer safeguards" to ensure that materials, services, equipment, facilities, and information that the IAEA makes available are not used "in such a way as to further any military purpose." Such safeguards may also be applied, "at the request of the parties, to any bilateral or multilateral arrangement, or, at the request of a state, to any of that state's activities in the field of atomic energy."
Under the IAEA safeguards system, which was first developed by the Board of Governors on the basis of these statutory provisions in 1961 and has been continuously revised to cover all major aspects of the fuel cycle, the IAEA exercises its control either over assistance provided directly by it or under its auspices, or over items placed voluntarily under IAEA safeguards by any state or group of states—for instance, over reactors, their fuel, and fuel-reprocessing plants.
A major development greatly affecting the significance of the IAEA's work was the coming into force in 1970 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), under which states without nuclear weapons and party thereto agreed to accept IAEA safeguards on all their peaceful nuclear activities.
The objective of safeguards applied under agreements concluded in connection with the NPT is the timely detection of diversion of significant quantities of nuclear material from peaceful nuclear activities for the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or for purposes unknown, and the deterrence of such diversion by the risk of early detection. This objective is achieved by the independent verification of the findings of the national system of accountancy and control of nuclear materials, which a state without nuclear weapons must establish and maintain under the agreement. IAEA verification is accomplished by material accountancy, containment, and surveillance, including inspections, whose number, intensity, and duration must be kept to the minimum consistent with the effective implementation of safeguards.
The NPT was made permanent in 1995. As of August 2001, it had 187 state parties. With several complementary regional treaties (including the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, also called the Treaty of Tlatelolco; and the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone, or Rarotonga Treaty), the NPT provides the foundations of legally binding non-proliferation commitments by countries around the world.
The (1991) discovery of a clandestine nuclear weapons development program in Iraq after the Gulf War, however, demonstrated the limitations of the IAEA safeguards system to detect possible undeclared nuclear activities. This discovery—along with the emergence of new countries with new security perceptions at the end of the Cold War, and the 1996 report that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was not in compliance with its obligations under the NPT safeguards agreement—was viewed as a call to action by IAEA member states. By mid-1997 a strengthened safeguards system was put in place to provide the international community with early warning about the possible diversion or clandestine production of nuclear materials that could be used for weapons purposes. At that time, the IAEA stated that the strength of the safeguards system depended on three interrelated elements: the extent to which the IAEA is aware of the nature and locations of nuclear and nuclear-related activities; the extent to which IAEA inspectors have physical access to relevant locations for the purpose of providing independent verification of the exclusively peaceful intent of a state's nuclear program; and the will of the international community, through IAEA access to the United Nations Security Council, to take action against States that are not complying with their non-proliferation commitments.
The IAEA also applies safeguards to some of the peaceful nuclear activities in five nuclear-weapon states—China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States—under voluntary offer agreements. India and Pakistan, both nuclear-weapons states as of 1998, are not parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and have not accepted "comprehensive" IAEA safeguards. Nor has Israel, with a well-developed nuclear program and the technological capability to build nuclear explosive devices.
In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the IAEA Board of Governors approved a plan designed to upgrade world-wide protection against acts of terrorism involving nuclear and other radioactive materials, including those that could be used to make "dirty bombs." The Board acknowledged that strong physical protection of nuclear facilities and materials is needed.
In October 2002, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced that it had underway an uranium-enrichment program, in violation of its 1994 "Agreed Framework" with the U.S. On 29 November 2002, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution reaffirming the implementation of IAEA safeguards in the DPRK. The IAEA urged the DPRK not to take any unilateral action that might complicate the IAEA's ability to determine whether the DPRK's inventory of nuclear material subject to safeguards was complete and correct. Subsequently, the DPRK requested that the IAEA remove seals and monitoring cameras on all of its nuclear facilities. An IAEA conference was held in Tokyo from 9–10 December 2002 to address ways and means of bringing about wider adherence to IAEA safeguards. The question of the DPRK's compliance with its nuclear non-proliferation obligations was addressed.
Also addressed at the conference was the status of Iraq's compliance with its obligations under UN Security Council resolution, including Resolution 1441 passed on 8 November 2002. Resolution 1441 demanded that Iraq declare any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs it might possess, and to allow for immediate and unrestricted access of UN (United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission—UNMOVIC) and IAEA weapons inspectors to nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities in the country. The weapons inspections began, with Iraq's compliance, on 27 November.