Chapter 65: International Legal Framework

The risk that nuclear or other radioactive material could be used in malicious acts remains high and is regarded as a serious threat to international peace and security.  It is well recognized that the responsibility for nuclear security rests entirely with each State and that appropriate and effective national systems for nuclear security are vital in facilitating the peaceful use of nuclear energy and enhancing global efforts to combat nuclear terrorism.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has provided assistance to States and supported their national efforts to establish and improve nuclear security since the early 1970s.  The focus of these efforts has always been to contribute to global efforts to achieve worldwide, effective security wherever nuclear or other radioactive material is in use, storage and/or transport, and of associated facilities, by supporting States, upon request, in their efforts to establish and maintain effective nuclear security through assistance in capacity building, guidance, human resource development, sustainability and risk reduction.  The objective was also to assist adherence to and implementation of nuclear security related international legal instruments; and to strengthen the international cooperation and coordination of assistance given through bilateral programmes and other international initiatives in a manner which also would contribute to enabling the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear energy and of such applications with radioactive substances.

Lessons learned that apply at the international level include the following:

  • The existence of terrorist networks that operate internationally and the potential global consequences of a nuclear security event require a global response;
  • This response must rest on a solid foundation of preparedness, appropriate sharing of knowledge, experience and coordination among States and international organizations based on a comprehensive set of established standards and guidance to provide common references; and
  • Vigilance must be maintained and security regarded as work in progress recognizing changing risk assessments.

Here are the lessons that apply to the IAEA’s work:

  • Nuclear security is a long term effort and the Plan should adopt a long term perspective, identifying core activities while, at the same time, being kept under constant review to reflect changes in circumstances;
  • Priority should be given to the production of nuclear security guidance to assist States and to human resource development support;
  • Effective implementation of the security plan has to be based on systematic approaches using programmes designed to ensure sustainability of security improvements and to obtain strengthened capacities, building on regional and national infrastructures and capabilities; and
  • Strengthened coordination with other international organizations, initiatives and bilateral programmes is needed to avoid duplication of efforts or gaps.

The term “Nuclear Security” is generally accepted to mean “The prevention and detection of, and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material, other radioactive substances or their associated facilities.”  While the ultimate responsibility for nuclear security within a State rests entirely with that State, the need for regional and international cooperation has become increasingly evident with the growing recognition that the ability to prevent, detect and respond to the threats to nuclear security within one State is affected by the adequacy and effectiveness of nuclear security measures taken by other States, particularly when nuclear material is transported across national frontiers.  Since the early 1970s, the IAEA has been called upon to play an ever increasing role in assisting States, upon request, to strengthen their national legal infrastructures and physical protection systems, as well as to facilitate regional and international efforts to enhance nuclear security, including measures to protect against nuclear terrorism.

International conventions adopted under both IAEA and other auspices have also assigned a clear role and functions to the IAEA in the field of nuclear security and have been approved as such by the Board of Governors.

In particular, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the 2005 Amendment thereto, the Convention on Early Notification in the Event of a Nuclear Accident, the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of

Nuclear Terrorism, have all assigned specific functions to the IAEA.

Non-binding legal instruments promulgated under IAEA auspices, including the Nuclear Security Recommendations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities and the Code of

Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, also illustrate the IAEA’s role in elaborating such guidance and confirm its role in assisting States, upon request, in implementing the recommendations contained therein.  Thus, like the international legal framework for nuclear security, the IAEA’s nuclear security mandate is embodied in both binding and non-binding legal instruments adopted under both IAEA and other auspices.



1.1.1     Primary Legal Instruments under the Auspices of the IAEA:

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  1. IAEA Nuclear Security Plan 2010-2013; and
  2. IAEA the International Legal Framework for Nuclear Security.

Chapter 66