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Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal

Introduction - History of IAEA Safeguards

As mentioned previously, IAEA safeguards are concerned with diversion or misuse of nuclear material by the State. Therefore, safeguards cannot be implemented or verified by the state in question, and are instead the responsibility of the IAEA through various types of legal agreements and protocols that it agrees upon with each state.

The IAEA safeguards system has two primary objectives:

  1. Objective 1:Timely detection of diversion of significant quantities of nuclear material from peaceful nuclear activities to the manufacture of nuclear weapons or of other nuclear explosive devices or for purposes unknown, and deterrence of such diversion by the risk of early detection.
  2. Objective 2:The detection of undeclared nuclear material and activities in a State.

The IAEA uses a variety of components for each State to accomplish its objectives.

  1. Nuclear Material Accountancy (NMA)
  2. Containment and Surveillance (C&S)
  3. Design Information Verification (DIV)
  4. Reports
  5. Inspections

In order to aid the IAEA in the verification of its objectives in a state, each state is required to establish and maintain its ownState System of Accounting and Control for Nuclear Material (SSAC).This includes maintaining accurate data on material in the facilities, as well as material flowing in and out of its facilities.

The IAEA established a set of inspection frequency guidelines based on material type in order to verify that an abrupt diversion has not occurred. These guidelines separate the materials into categories to which the IAEA assigns a frequency of inspections. The timeliness detection goals are as follows:

  • One month for unirradiated direct use material,
  • Three months for irradiated direct use material,
  • One year for indirect use material.

The following chart shows the materials, the estimated time it would take to convert each material to weapons-usable material, and the corresponding timeliness detection goals. Remember that HEU is uranium enriched at greater than 20% U235, while LEU is enriched below 20% U235


Nuclear Material

Material Form

Conversion Time

IAEA Timeliness Goals

Pu, HEU, or U-233


7-10 days



Oxide (PuO2)

1-3 weeks

HEU or U-233

Oxide (UO2)


Non-irradiated fresh fuel

Pu, HEU, or U-233

In scrap

Pu, HEU, or U-233

In irradiated fuel

1-3 months


LEU and Th

Unirradiated fresh fuel

>1 year



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