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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Remarks > 2005

Future Goals and Challenges of the IAEA Nuclear Security Program

Andrew K. Semmel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation
Remarks at the London Conference
London, United Kingdom
March 18, 2005

Good morning. Let me first thank the IAEA and our British hosts for this opportunity to share some thoughts with you about the future of the IAEA’s nuclear security program, its goals and challenges, and how it might adapt to shifting realities in the years ahead.

It would be difficult to overstate the urgency of intensifying our collective efforts to secure nuclear materials worldwide. The graphic images of September 11, 2001, make abundantly clear the willingness of terrorists to inflict unthinkable destruction and pain. Imagine what the consequences would be if terrorists were to acquire and use dangerous nuclear materials to attack any one of us. Improving the quality and scope of nuclear material security must be enhanced if we are to prevent nuclear terrorism. It must be a high priority for all of us.

It was this awareness that prompted initiation of the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Program, the subject of this panel and of my remarks. Immediately after the tragedy of September 11, several Member States approached the Director General about the need to strengthen the Agency’s ability to assist Member States in protecting their nuclear and radioactive materials against the emerging threat of terrorism. The Agency responded with alacrity. At the March 2002 Board of Governors, the Secretariat presented its comprehensive, cross-cutting Nuclear Security Action Plan. The Plan has, since then, served as the foundation for the implementation of all IAEA nuclear security activities.

To facilitate implementation of the Plan, organizational changes were needed. In 2002, the Office of Physical Protection and Material Security was removed from the Department of Safeguards, renamed the Office of Nuclear Security, and relocated to the newly created Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. When this reorganization began, the Office of Physical Protection and Material Security had fewer than ten staff members. Currently, the Office of Nuclear Security has quadrupled to more than forty staff members engaged in full-time or part-time capacities.

Since its inception in 2002, the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Program has provided direct assistance to over seventy-five countries, in the form of assessment missions, training courses, or support for development of national guidelines and regulations. Several non-Member States have also used IAEA standards or guidelines when creating their own security regulations and practices. Much has been accomplished in a short period of time and we appreciate the efforts that have been taken--but there is much more to be done.

While physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities and control of radioactive sources have been an integral part of the IAEA’s mission for many years, they have become an indispensable part of IAEA program objectives since September 11. In response to increased concerns expressed by Member States, the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Program was accelerated and expanded in March 2002 to embrace broader coverage of malicious acts--such as the use of radioactive materials by terrorists. Initially the program was given a three-year life span. We are at the end of that period, and the need to continue the program is well established. It is now appropriate to examine how the program can be improved to best serve the needs of Member States and to help ensure that weak links in the security chain are found and addressed without disrupting peaceful nuclear applications.


We believe that in the three short years of its existence, the program has matured to a point where it is capable of supporting a broad range of basic services to Member States. This has been amply demonstrated, and we should be pleased but not content. Working with other parts of the IAEA, the Office of Nuclear Security deploys assessment teams upon request, identifies subjects most in need of international guidelines or standards, helps to draft them accordingly, and provides a wide variety of training courses to Member States. The Agency has also successfully assisted Member States in obtaining much needed detection and other equipment for use in monitoring national borders. Most of the work undertaken in the past three years has been in response to requests for assistance from Member States.

Now it’s time to look forward. We believe the most immediate and important challenge facing the Nuclear Security Program is to identify and clearly prioritize its goals and activities to address continuing global nuclear security concerns, and complement other activities of the Agency. What direction will the program take in the next three to five years, given the expectation that the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) will be amended this summer, with new obligations to protect nuclear materials? What will be the program’s major achievements, and how will they be accomplished? How will its activities be coordinated and aligned with other multilateral and bilateral efforts to maximize effectiveness? If a Member State avails itself of all of the assistance available to it, will that assistance be internally consistent and coherent, and will it result in a strengthened capability to secure nuclear and radiological facilities from malevolent use or attack?

In order to define program priorities, those involved with the future direction of the Nuclear Security Program must be clear about the fundamental purpose of this program. Is it intended simply to respond to requests for assistance from Member States, or should it also be charged with identifying those situations where the likelihood for nuclear terrorism is greatest? If the Agency pursues the latter, it will need both more analytic capability and closer collaboration with Member States. The scope of the program will have to be recalibrated to take into account the substantial efforts occurring outside the ambit of the IAEA. It should be asked whether the limited resources of the Nuclear Security Program are best allocated to assisting the maximum number of states--or whether its resources should focus more narrowly on cases of particular concern?

The United States believes the correct answer is a mix of the two. The Agency should continue to respond to requests for nuclear security assistance from Member States. At the same time, the IAEA should begin to assess where its limited resources can best be allotted to reduce the risk that nuclear or high-risk radioactive materials could be acquired by terrorists. That core effort should include development of a coherent program of assistance to Member States in implementing their obligations under an amended CPPNM and the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.

As the Nuclear Security Program moves ahead, both donor and recipient states must be satisfied with the program’s work. States which contribute to the Nuclear Security Fund--the NSF--and those which receive NSF assistance will have different perceptions of what constitutes a successful IAEA nuclear security program. These competing views can be constructive, but we believe that harmonizing them is central to the long-term success of the program. My government would like to see the IAEA take on a more formal role in facilitating coordination between donor and recipient states. The IAEA played such a role in assisting states in establishing State Systems of Accountancy and Control (SSAC) of nuclear materials; a similar approach would be useful in helping Member States combat the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Funding for the Nuclear Security Program is vital, but at present Member States have no formal obligation to contribute to the NSF. Without predictable and reliable funding, program managers cannot effectively plan long-term activities. Equally important, they are hampered in their ability to recruit and retain experienced staff. Since most NSF contributions are earmarked by donor states to specific geographic areas or activities, the ability to direct resources to real program needs is further limited. As any manager can appreciate, these conditions can seriously restrict rational planning. We urge all Member States to continue--and increase if possible--their financial, technical, and in-kind support to the Nuclear Security Program, and to do so under flexible terms.

Another program challenge is to better coordinate the Nuclear Security Program with bilateral programs of NSF donor states. Duplications and redundancies should be avoided wherever possible. NSF donors, including the United States, spend millions of dollars a year working with other nations to secure nuclear and radioactive materials around the world. The IAEA is a relatively new player in this arena, and it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that the work of the Nuclear Security Program is coordinated with the major donor states. This may not be easy, but it’s absolutely essential to achieve the most efficient and maximum use of limited resources.

Long-term solutions for sustainability of nuclear security programs must be developed to ensure that the requisite operational and regulatory infrastructure is in place. Recipient states should be able to accept and utilize equipment, provide maintenance, manage upgrades, provide for training, and prosecute violators with success. Meeting these program challenges will help create an enduring nuclear security culture.

Finally, there is a key bureaucratic challenge--there always seems to be bureaucratic challenges. The Nuclear Security Program needs to be more clearly defined and effectively coordinated within the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. The IAEA has struggled to coordinate safety and security in the most effective way since the Office of Nuclear Security was created. We encourage the IAEA to accelerate these efforts and remove redundancies in Member State assistance programs and ensure that the guidance provided to Member States is clear and practicable. We urge IAEA senior management to become more involved in the process of ensuring that the Office of Nuclear Security finds its proper role within the Secretariat. This, we believe, is necessary to effective coordination with other parts of the Agency on nuclear-related matters. The fight against nuclear terrorism will progress forward if there is common purpose within the IAEA and in its relations with Member States.


I have just sketched some major program challenges facing the Nuclear Security Program. Let me suggest, in general terms, some ways that might help address these challenges in the months and years ahead. To identify and prioritize future activities, the IAEA staff and Member States need an annual roadmap to direct where the program should go and how to get it there. Periodic reviews of this roadmap, once developed, would reveal those that are in high demand and those which are not. This could illuminate those IAEA program capabilities not being employed by Member States, and provide valuable insight into ways the Nuclear Security Program could improve its outreach. The creation last year of Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plans is a useful first step. These plans include a schedule of future security work between the IAEA and Member States once IAEA assessment missions are completed. The United States believes the use of these Support Plans can help clarify nuclear security priorities. Used appropriately--and with the incorporation of security findings from all Agency missions--they can be an excellent tool for tailoring the program to the immediate needs of recipient states. Implementation of effective planning tools such as these should be a major Nuclear Security Program goal.

Different Member States have different requirements in preventing the misuse of nuclear and radioactive materials. Even those states that do not possess such materials must be vigilant in preventing illicit transit through their territory or disallow nuclear and radioactive material to be transacted illegally within their boundaries. We strongly encourage the IAEA to intensify work with Member States that face a high risk of malicious acts. Because the malicious use of these materials poses a grave concern to all nations, the Agency and Member States have an obligation to do everything possible to minimize the risk of dangerous materials falling into terrorist hands. Global security is only as strong as its weakest link. Active engagement in higher risk countries is a sensible and achievable Nuclear Security Program goal. Active engagement will be especially important to assist Member States carry out their obligations under an amended CPPNM and Code of Conduct.

To improve coordination, the IAEA should seek to establish clear lines of communication between the Office of Nuclear Security, other parts of the Agency, and relevant partners. This coordination could be defined during the development of Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plans. Such communication would enhance prospects for the best possible results in terms of security improvements, technical guidelines, and efficient use of limited resources.

If the IAEA is to implement these and other proposals, it will need to expand and carefully structure its security staff. Consideration should be given to a more formalized staff structure that allows program leaders to delegate increased responsibility to their staff and free senior managers to focus on planning and prioritization. It would be helpful to have a clearer delineation of responsibilities within the Secretariat to promote better understanding of how the program works and who in the Secretariat is responsible for this work. This should include a more complete definition of the role of the Technical Cooperation Department in the provision of nuclear security assistance.

Another proposal is to maintain a regular dialogue with donor and recipient states to monitor the effectiveness of the Nuclear Security Program. At present, nuclear security items appear on Board of Governors’ agendas, and donor meetings are held. Neither is a completely appropriate forum for the Agency and Member States to communicate their detailed program concerns and priorities to each other. A regularized open communication channel between the Agency and Member States could be established, whether through formal meetings or informal consultations. This would provide continued assurance that the program is evolving commensurate with Member State needs.

Finally, we would like to suggest that Member States assist the Nuclear Security Program by normalizing their NSF funding. There is an ongoing debate about whether the IAEA’s nuclear security activities should be funded through the regular budget or via continued voluntary contributions. The Secretariat can provide evidence of the concrete results of its work to help shape this decision. It can, for example, respond to Member State priorities, maintain regular communication with national authorities, exhibit positive results, and deliver them in the most efficient way possible. This, hopefully, will encourage continued financial support to the NSF.


The Secretariat will soon ask IAEA Member States to approve an updated version of the Nuclear Security Action Plan. A majority of Member States agree that the need for the Nuclear Security Program is real and should continue into the foreseeable future. We share that view. How the program adjusts to the challenges of expansion is its next big test. I hope the suggestions I have outlined today will be helpful to the Agency as it approaches this task. Because the stakes are so high for all of us, it should be our collective responsibility to ensure the continued success of this unique international security initiative.

Thank you very much.

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