Support for the International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plays an important role in strengthening global nuclear and radiological security. It provides crucial nuclear security assistance to member states and helps coordinate international efforts. Support for the IAEA’s role in nuclear security has grown in recent years but is still not as robust as for its role in nuclear safeguards, nuclear safety, or development assistance.

Misplaced Competition for Resources

The IAEA’s assessed budget for nuclear security has increased slightly in recent years, but it still relies on unpredictable voluntary contributions to its Nuclear Security Fund from member states concerned about nuclear terrorism and wanting to support the IAEA’s nuclear security activities. Financial contributions to the Nuclear Security Fund enable the IAEA to provide assistance, host workshops and training, and conduct peer reviews. Financial contributions often are earmarked for particular projects, which hinders the IAEA’s ability to prioritize resources and plan for the long term. In addition, some states worry that increasing the IAEA’s assessed budget for nuclear security will decrease the resources available for development assistance, which is funded by the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation budget. Countries focused on gaining the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology, whether to provide reliable energy, life-extending medical treatment, or opportunities for scientists, want the IAEA to prioritize technical cooperation and assistance.

A zero-sum approach to the IAEA’s activities limits its ability to fulfill its nuclear security mission. These interests do not have to conflict and should instead be mutually reinforcing. An act of nuclear terrorism anywhere will have global consequences and could have a negative effect on the public’s perception—and acceptance—of peaceful use of nuclear material and technology. The IAEA and member states supportive of its nuclear security mission should reinforce the positive link between nuclear security and countries’ continued ability to benefit from peaceful use, and the IAEA’s important role in both technical cooperation and nuclear security.

The IAEA and the NTI Index

To reflect the important role the IAEA plays in nuclear security, this year’s NTI Index includes new questions about countries’ support for the IAEA’s nuclear security activities. In addition to existing questions asking whether a country has made a financial or in-kind contribution to the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund (NSF) in the past two years and whether a country has hosted an International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) mission, the Index also now measures whether countries participate in the following:

  • The IAEA’s International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) at the ministerial level. Participation in ICONS at the ministerial level demonstrates support for ICONS as a forum to increase political attention on nuclear security. If more countries send high-level representatives, ICONS is more likely to become a forum for making political commitments and reporting on progress.
  • The IAEA’s Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB). Participation in the ITDB demonstrates political support for the IAEA’s efforts to track incidents of theft, loss, and misuse of nuclear and radiological materials.
  • The IAEA’s Nuclear Security Guidance Committee (NSGC). Participation in this committee demonstrates support for the IAEA’s role developing guidance for countries to update their nuclear security laws and regulations.

The Radioactive Source Security Assessment also includes questions assessing countries’ engagement with the IAEA’s Code of Conduct for the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and related Supplemental Guidance.

Index Results Show Mixed Support for the IAEA

Support for the IAEA
This chart shows the number of countries contributing to the Nuclear Security Fund, participating at ICONS at the ministerial level, and participating in the Incident and Trafficking Database and the Nuclear Security Guidance Committee. It also shows how many are countries with materials and countries without.

Data Constraints

NTI and the EIU identified other factors that could show support for the IAEA. These include whether a country sends experts to train to join IPPAS mission teams and whether a country has reported incidents to the ITDB. Information barriers at the IAEA and a lack of transparency on the part of some governments limit the availability of reliable data.

Photo credit: IAEA / flickr