What Are Nuclear Security INFCIRCs?

One of the innovations of the Nuclear Security Summits was the concept of “gift baskets.” These joint commitments were vehicles for groups of countries to take more ambitious steps in specific areas of nuclear security than would be possible by consensus. Examples included commitments to minimize highly enriched uranium or to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear security recommendations.

Gift baskets resulted in tangible progress, but their reach was limited to countries that participated in the summits (held biennially from 2010–2016). Of the 176 countries represented in the NTI Index, 52 were invited to participate in the summits. (Russia also participated in the first three summits.) Summit countries that were hopeful they could sustain the progress and attention of the summits looked for ways to expand participation in certain gift baskets beyond summit participants.

Conversion of Gift Baskets to INFCIRCs

The first gift basket to become available to countries outside of the summits was the 2014 Joint Statement on Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation. One of its initial sponsors, the Netherlands, asked the IAEA to circulate the Joint Statement to IAEA member states as an information circular (INFCIRC) in 2014. INFCIRCs are documents used for communications between the IAEA and member states. The resulting INFCIRC/869 included directions that a country wishing to subscribe could do so by informing the IAEA of its intention and by requesting that its communication be shared with all IAEA member states. Since the 2016 summit, 10 other gift baskets have been made available to all IAEA member states as INFCIRCs.

As a result of making these gift baskets available beyond summit participants, five countries that did not participate in the summits have since subscribed to one or more INFCIRCs: Colombia, Ireland, Luxembourg, Qatar, and Slovenia. Although this number is lower than hoped, given that these instruments are still new, this is a good start.

The full list of INFCIRCs and links to the IAEA’s website can be found on the on the webpage of the Nuclear Security Contact Group, http://www.nscontactgroup.org/iaea-info-circulars.php.

INFCIRCs and the NTI Index

Because these new tools can be vehicles for countries to make commitment and to spur progress, NTI decided to give credit in the 2020 NTI Index to countries that have subscribed to INFCIRCs about nuclear security.

The NTI Index gives credit for subscribing to INFCIRC/869, through which countries commit to implement IAEA nuclear security guidance. Committing to implement IAEA nuclear security guidance helps to bring the world closer to uniform minimum standards that all countries follow, thereby raising global standards. Countries subscribing to INFCIRC/869 also commit to continuously improve nuclear security through peer review and ensure that management and personnel at nuclear facilities are demonstrably competent. Thirty-nine countries have subscribed to INFCIRC/869. China, India, Jordan, and Switzerland subscribed after it was published in 2014.

The NTI Index also gives credit to countries that subscribe to one or more of nine other nuclear security INFCIRCs. Thirty-six countries have subscribed to three or more other nuclear security INFCIRCs, nine countries have subscribed to two INFCIRCs, and five countries have subscribed to just one INFCIRC.

The 2020 Index captured two new subscriptions to nuclear security INFCIRCs that led to score increases this year: Pakistan subscribed to INFCIRC/899 establishing principles for the Nuclear Security Contact Group, which was founded by a group of countries that participated in the summits to facilitate cooperation and sustained engagement on nuclear security after the conclusion of the summits in 2016; and Switzerland subscribed to INFCIRC/869, through which countries commit to implement IAEA nuclear security guidance.

The Radioactive Source Security Assessment also identifies how many countries have subscribed to INFCIRC/910 on the security of radioactive sources. Thirty-one countries have done so, including two countries that did not participate in the summits, Luxembourg and Slovenia.

INFCIRCs are relatively new methods used for making commitments, so it is not surprising that participation is low. As they become more visible, subscriptions may increase.

Status of Nuclear and Radiological Security INFCIRCs

NumberNameNumber of Subscribers *
INFCIRC/869Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation39 (4)
INFCIRC/899Nuclear Security Contact Group48 (8)
INFCIRC/901Certified Training for Nuclear Security Management14 (3)
INFCIRC/904Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism Preparedness and Response26 (2)
INFCIRC/905National Nuclear Detection Architectures24 (2)
INFCIRC/908Mitigating Insider Threats30 (3)
INFCIRC/909Transport Security of Nuclear Materials17 (2)
INFCIRC/912Minimising and Eliminating the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium23 (2)
INFCIRC/917Forensics in Nuclear Security31 (1)
INFCIRC/918Countering Nuclear Smuggling38 (1)
INFCIRC/910Security of High Activity Sealed Radioactive Sources31 (3)
This chart shows the subscriber status of the 10 nuclear security INFCIRCs and the radiological security INFCIRC, as of June 17, 2020.
*The number in parentheses indicates the number of subscribing countries that were not original subscribers, and subscribed after initial release of the INFCIRC.