IAEA Safeguards: Frequently Asked Questions

How is the NRC involved in the U.S. – IAEA Safeguards Agreement?

The NRC oversees and facilitates the application of IAEA safeguards at NRC and Agreement State licensed facilities. Licensee compliance with U.S. – IAEA Safeguards Agreement commitments is required by Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR); specifically, 10 CFR Parts 75 and 110. The NRC also supports U.S. Government negotiations between NRC licensees and the IAEA, transmits accounting reports to the IAEA, and participates in U.S Government coordinating committees such as the IAEA Steering Committee (ISC), the Subcommittee on International Safeguards and Monitoring (SISM) and the Subgroup on IAEA Safeguards in the U.S. (SISUS).

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What does it mean to be on the U.S. Eligible Facilities List?

Article 1(b) of the U.S. – IAEA Safeguards Agreement states that "The United States shall … provide the [IAEA] with a list of facilities within the United States not associated with activities with direct national security significance to the United States and may … add facilities to or remove facilities from that list as it deems appropriate." The facilities present on the most recent version of the U.S. EFL are eligible to be selected by the IAEA for the application of international safeguards; however the IAEA is under no obligation to apply safeguards to a facility until it has been selected. The U.S. EFL now lists close to 300 facilities.

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Are there any facilities in the U.S. that are currently being inspected by the IAEA?

Since the U.S. – IAEA Safeguards Agreement entered into force in 1980, approximately 20 U.S. facilities, 12 of which were licensed by the NRC, have been selected for IAEA inspections. Currently, however, only one facility is being inspected by the IAEA – the K-Area Material Storage Vault (KAMS) at Savannah River National Laboratory, which is a Department of Energy facility that is not licensed by the NRC. Any questions pertaining to the safeguards inspections at KAMS should be directed to appropriate personnel at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Three NRC-licensed nuclear fuel fabrication facilities and one NRC-licensed gas centrifuge enrichment facility, while not under an IAEA inspection regime, are providing nuclear material accounting data under the Reporting Protocol of the U.S. – IAEA Safeguards Agreement. The three fuel fabrication facilities are FRAMATOME Inc. in Richland, Washington; Westinghouse Electric Company, LLC in Columbia, South Carolina; and Global Nuclear Fuel – Americas, LLC in Wilmington, North Carolina. The gas centrifuge enrichment facility is Louisiana Energy Services, also referred to as URENCO USA, in Eunice, New Mexico.

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What happens when a site is selected for an inspection by the IAEA?

The NRC will notify the facility that it has been selected by the IAEA for the application of IAEA safeguards. Following that, the facility operator, the NRC and other relevant Federal agencies, and the IAEA have a series of meetings during which they negotiate the details of the facility-specific IAEA safeguards approach. These negotiations are guided by the provisions of the U.S. –IAEA Safeguards Agreement.

The facility operator must complete a design information questionnaire (DIQ) for the IAEA. The DIQ contains a detailed physical description of the facility and its material flow. The DIQ forms the basis for the practical implementation of IAEA safeguards at the facility.  When all negotiations are concluded the IAEA creates a "Facility Attachment" which describes the IAEA's safeguards arrangements for that particular facility.

Unless specifically approved as part of the safeguards approach, IAEA inspections are announced to the U.S. Department of State in advance of the IAEA visit. To the extent possible, the NRC will notify the licensee in writing of the IAEA's planned visit as soon as possible after receiving the IAEA's inspection notification. An NRC employee accompanies the IAEA inspector(s) during the visit. The licensee, applicant, or certificate holder should inform the NRC immediately if the IAEA inspection cannot be accommodated on the specified date. Typical IAEA inspections activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Examination of records
  • Inventory and material transaction verifications
  • Verification of the performance and calibration of operator instruments and equipment
  • Servicing of IAEA safeguards equipment installed at the facility
  • Independent measurements
  • Sampling for destructive analysis
  • Other measures requested by the IAEA and approved by the U.S. Government

It is important to note that the U.S. – IAEA Safeguards Agreement has a provision for limiting IAEA access which allows any activity, component, process or otherwise proprietary aspect or information deemed sensitive by the U.S. Government to be protected during the inspection. The licensee must, however, make a reasonable effort to allow for the collection of necessary data through other means.

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What are Safeguards by Design?

IAEA safeguards can be most effectively and efficiently implemented and have the least impact on the inspected facility, if safeguards are considered when the facility is being designed. The Safeguards by Design concept encourages designers and operators to begin incorporating nuclear safeguards measures early in the planning and design of nuclear facilities. This internationally promoted concept has two main objectives: (1) to avoid costly and time-consuming redesign work or retrofits of new nuclear fuel cycle facilities and (2) to make the implementation of international safeguards more effective and efficient at such facilities.

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