- What does the Peace Prize mean for international efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons?
- How does the IAEA work?
- What challenges does the organization face?
- Why was the award criticized, including by parts of the peace movement?
2: Nuclear watchdog
To prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency controls more than 900 civilian nuclear power plants in 71 countries. IAEA inspectors travel around and check – also in Norway – to ensure that there are no secret nuclear activities or nuclear weapons programs. At the same time, the agency’s task is to promote the civilian use of nuclear power and related technology. In other words, this is a difficult double role for the IAEA.
Through its work, the IAEA supports diplomacy and political solutions to global proliferation challenges. The IAEA has done, and is doing, a lot to develop its control capabilities. Credibility is important. Accuracy, competence and impartiality are key words for the work of investigating and confirming the accuracy of what the countries have reported. As an international “nuclear watchdog”, the organization operates in a highly politicized context with many and, often, partially conflicting interests. As early as 1998, the IAEA ruled that the Iraqi nuclear weapons program was safe. Today, the organization faces new challenges, especially in Iran and North Korea – if inspectors are re-admitted to the latter countries (see below). The work on nuclear disarmament must also be intensified.
The Peace Prize is a recognition of the work of the IAEA, and a recognition that nuclear threats persist and that such global threats can best be addressed through mutual, binding cooperation between the countries of the world. More generally, the Peace Prize is thus an important and polite signal of what mechanisms should prevail in the fight against nuclear non-proliferation.
3: IAEA control work
As an inspector on behalf of the world community, the IAEA controls nuclear activities in virtually all countries of the world, with the exception of the nuclear powers and the states outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). According to internetsailors.com, nuclear weapons are temporarily allowed in five countries – the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom. Nuclear weapons are “not illegal” in India, Pakistan, Israel, all of which are unofficial nuclear powers that have never signed the NPT. In all other countries, nuclear weapons are banned.
Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the nuclear-weapon states are obliged to work for full nuclear disarmament and detente. A number of countries now feel that while they have fulfilled their contractual obligations not to acquire nuclear weapons, disarmament is too slow. This has helped increase the pressure on the NPT.
Agreements between the IAEA and the individual member states determine and specify mutual obligations, and they ensure the IAEA’s people the necessary access to relevant facilities and relevant information. The IAEA controls plutonium in spent fuel, separated plutonium, low- and high-enriched uranium, as well as depleted uranium and thorium. The control is called “safeguards” . Since the introduction of IAEA safeguards in 1970, no significant amounts of fissile material under control have gone astray.
Common IAEA work tools include video surveillance of nuclear facilities and depots, sealing and marking of nuclear material, various forms of sampling and inspection of production logs. In addition, satellite images and environmental monitoring are increasingly used. The control of civilian nuclear facilities takes place in countries that do not have nuclear weapons. The nuclear powers of the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom are therefore in principle (temporarily) exempt. However, all five countries have voluntary safeguard agreements.
The IAEA now controls, among other things, fissile material left over in Russia and the United States (cf. reductions after the end of the Cold War). This is important work, also to ensure effective nuclear disarmament. A lot has therefore been invested in the collaboration. But for political reasons, the nuclear states have so far only given the IAEA control over very limited amounts of fissile weapons.
For other countries, control is now strengthened via an additional protocol (additional agreement) to the original safeguard agreements. These enable the IAEA to go further; the information base becomes broader and the information better. Thus, supervision and control can also become more focused. The right to inspections to uncover possible secret weapons programs is also being expanded. This is in place. More than a decade after the end of the Cold War, the need for a strong, independent nuclear control body is greater than ever.