Nuclear Security: Ensuring an Effective Role for the IAEA After 2016

Project duration

June 2016 to December 2018

Project staff

Principal investigator: Dr Trevor Findlay, Senior Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of Melbourne
Research assistants: Anthony Heath, Jenna Parker, Zhongzhou Peng


John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


In April 2016 the final biennial Nuclear Security Summit in a series of four was held in Washington DC. A key question looming over the meeting was how to ensure that the gains made by the summit process were sustained. A key role was envisaged for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), notably in an Action Plan (140kb pdf) that envisaged continuing initiatives for the summit participants to strengthen the Agency’s role. The IAEA, as the paramount multilateral body involved in nuclear governance, is a prime candidate for assuming much of the summits' mantle. There is continuing debate, however, among its members about its existing nuclear security role and some opposition, notably from Russia. The Agency itself is often reluctant to take the initiative in expanding its activities. There is therefore a role for outsiders to monitor progress in implementing the summiteers' Action Plan for the IAEA; observe the Agency's own activities in response to both the ending of the summit process and the Action Plan; and to propose measures to enhance the IAEA's contribution to nuclear security.

Aim of the project

This project involves research and nuclear security community engagement designed to focus on ensuring that the IAEA, in the post-nuclear summit era, makes an effective contribution to advancing and sustaining nuclear security.

Project deliverables

The main planned deliverables are three publications and associated presentations:

  • a policy brief presented at a non-governmental forum held in association with the final summit in Washington DC in April 2016
  • a report on the summit outcome containing ideas for follow-up action in mid-2016, which was presented at the December 2016 IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security; and
  • a final report on the project's findings and ideas for further action and research to be published in early 2019


Project leader Dr Trevor Findlay participated in the NGO Nuclear Security Summit meeting on 'Solutions for a Secure Nuclear Future' in Washington DC from 30-31 March 2016. He gave a joint presentation 'Recommendations on Strengthening the Role of the IAEA ' (500kb pdf) with Jennifer Mackby of the Federation of American Scientists on strengthening the role of the IAEA in nuclear security; co-chaired the breakout group on the subject; and was the rapporteur to the conference plenary; the joint paper with Dr Mackby was published by the Partnership for Global Security on the conference website.

Following the summit Dr Findlay wrote an OpEd for the Belfer Center website on the implications for the IAEA.

During his visit to the US for the summit Dr Findlay visited Harvard to discuss nuclear security with the Project on Managing the Atom (of which he remains an Associate) and gave a presentation on IAEA finance and budget which included a recommendation on funding nuclear security as part of the regular IAEA budget in the context of a grand IAEA budgetary bargain.

In May Dr Findlay met in Sydney with Dr Robert Floyd, head of the Australian Safeguards Office, his colleague Craig Everton and a visiting IAEA inspector to discuss the outcome of the Washington summit and its implications for the IAEA. Australia was the coordinator on the summit's IAEA Action Plan at the summit

On 28 July Dr Findlay gave a talk on 'Global Nuclear Governance and the Role of the IAEA', including on nuclear security, at The University of Melbourne's School of Social and Political Sciences' Governance Cluster

From 26-30 September Dr Findlay attended the IAEA General Conference in Vienna, participating in side events on the nuclear security issue and gathering information and views on the Nuclear Security Contact Group, which met for the first time in the margins of the conference. He also met with the head of the IAEA's International Nuclear Security Education Network (INSEN) to learn about its activities and toured the IAEA's nuclear laboratories at Seibersdorf (which are equipped to undertake nuclear forensics in the event of a nuclear security incident) and the IAEA's revamped Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) which would be activated in the event of a major nuclear or radiological incident.

On 19 October Dr Findlay gave a presentation 'Global Nuclear Governance Role of the International Atomic Energy Agency' (1.8Mb pdf), including the IAEA's role in nuclear security, to the Victorian branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) in Melbourne to an audience of about 30.

From 5-9 December Dr Findlay attended the IAEA's International Conference on Nuclear Security: Commitments and Actions in Vienna; he participated in a panel on 'Perspectives on Implementing Obligations under International Instruments for Nuclear Security' and presented a paper on 'Managing the Global Nuclear Security Architecture after the Summits' (135kb pdf) which was later published in the conference proceedings. He also participated in a workshop at the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation on 'Nuclear Security Centers of Excellence in Asia: Progress and the Way Forward' and a meeting of the Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group (NSGEG).


In February 2016 Dr Findlay gave a presentation on nuclear governance, including nuclear security, to the New South Wales branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs in Sydney, along with an interview for the institute’s podcast series.

In March 2017, nuclear security and the IAEA were key issues discussed at the Workshop on Asia-Pacific Nuclear Governance organized in Singapore by the project in collaboration with the National University of Singapore (for details see Project on Cultivating Better Asia-Pacific Security on this website).

Also in March, Dr Findlay participated in the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington DC. Following this he gave a presentation at Harvard University for the Project on Managing the Atom on Asia-Pacific nuclear governance, including the role of nuclear security and the IAEA.

On 26 April he gave a seminar on nuclear governance, including nuclear security and the IAEA, with a focus on Japan’s role, for students at La Trobe University in Melhbourne who were about to visit Japan.

From 22-26 May Dr Findlay participated in a workshop at the Lorenz Center, Leiden University, in the Netherlands, on the subject of risk and international governance. He gave a keynote address on the IAEA and managing risk, including in the realm of nuclear security.

From 9-10 October Dr Findlay participated in the Luxembourg Forum in Paris. In an intervention from the floor during the plenary discussion he introduced the subject of nuclear security and the roles of the nuclear security summits and the IAEA.

In November Dr Findlay participated in a Conference on the IAEA at 60, held on 6-7 December by the Wilson Centre in Washington DC, and a seminar on nuclear security at the Stimson Centre, also in Washington DC, on 7 December. Later that month, from 13-17 November he participated in the IAEA Conference on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials in Vienna, during which he interviewed participants about progress being made in the IAEA’s post-summit role in nuclear security. He attended an IAEA session on E-Training for nuclear security and a seminar on “Insider Threats” by Matt Bunn at the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP).


From 22-23 January Dr Findlay participated in the Nuclear Energy Experts Group meeting in Singapore organized by CSCAP-Pacific Forum, where he gave an introductory address on nuclear governance, including nuclear security and the role of the IAEA.

In February and March Dr Findlay had discussions with Dr Thomas Leslie of the IAEA concerning a review of the IAEA’s nuclear security program.

On 4 September Dr Findlay had meetings at the Belfer Center at Harvard University, including on nuclear security and the IAEA’s role.

Other Project Activities

  • Engaged with Australian government officials in Canberra and Vienna and with other delegations in Vienna with regard to on nuclear security developments at the IAEA, including the establishment of the Nuclear Security Contact Group by several summit participating countries
  • Helped introduce the issue of nuclear security, and the potential role of the UN, to the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters for the first time (Dr Findlay was Chair of the Board for 2017)

Further research

The next stages of the project involved:

  • Continuing research on the impact of the end of the summit process on the IAEA, including following the developing role of the Contact Group and NISGS
  • Presentation of the research findings at a side-event during the November 2017 IAEA International Conference on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities. The conference was mainly concerned with how to implement the newly amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) but also had a session on broader nuclear security governance
  • Development of the project web page and posting of all of the publishable deliverables
  • Production of the final project study by December 2018