Training the Nuclear Watchdogs

Published Date: 17 January 2006

© IAEA Often called the world's nuclear "watchdog", the IAEA serves as the inspectorate of the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  Hundreds of  IAEA inspectors verify nuclear materials at most of the world's civilian nuclear facilities, conducting inspections pursuant to safeguards agreements concluded with 140 countries.  Look inside to see how new inspectors train for the job. New inspectors undergo rigorous classroom training.  Already experienced professionals, they hold degrees typically in nuclear physics, chemistry, engineering or related sciences. The Agency trains about 20-30 new inspectors every year.  Veteran inspectors are also kept abreast of the latest safeguards measures and strategies with regular training.  The inspectors come from all regions of the world, some 70 nationalities are represented in the Agency’s team of 250 inspectors. An IAEA inspector takes a physical inventory of fresh enriched uranium fuel assemblies.  Inspectors visit over 600 civilian nuclear facilities and locations with sensitive nuclear material.  Like external auditors, they examine the facility's accounting and operating records and take an inventory of safeguarded nuclear materials to verify the declared data. Most nuclear materials of concern to IAEA safeguards -- like enriched uranium in fresh fuel assemblies and plutonium in spent fuel assemblies -- emit gamma rays.  An inspector uses a mini multi-channel analyser (inset) combined with a palmtop computer and a gamma ray detector to identify the isotopic composition of the nuclear material. This gamma ray detector collects what the naked eye cannot see -- emissions of radioactivity from nuclear materials. 8 : Fuel assemblies are scanned and measured, this time using a HM-5 (a hand-held multipurpose gamma spectrometry) device to confirm the presence of enriched uranium. The enriched uranium in these fuel assemblies is among more than 53,000 tonnes under IAEA safeguards worldwide. Photo 7 of 18 : As part of the inventory check, an IAEA inspector verifies and confirms the declared and design capacity of the storage holding fresh fuel assemblies. Each year some 2400 inspections are carried out at civilian nuclear facilities and locations throughout the world.  Typically one or two inspectors conduct a normal safeguard inspection but depending on the complexity of the nuclear facility, as many as 10 inspectors may be sent. An inspector uses a Cerenkov Viewing Device (ICVD) to detect the "glow" of ultraviolet radiation emanating from spent fuel assemblies (inset). While verifying the spent fuel pond, Inspectors examine possible locations where undeclared nuclear materials could be concealed. Metallic seals like this one are commonly used to prevent unauthorized access to safeguarded materials. The seals provide important evidence of any “tampering” or unauthorized attempt to gain access to the secured material. After its contents are verified a spent fuel pond is about to be covered, then sealed. IAEA metallic seal on the spent fuel pond.  Each year some 20,000 seals are scrutinised at IAEA headquarters for signs of tampering. IAEA inspectors also use in situ verifiable fibre optic seals called COBRA. The COBRA seal system connects to a still video camera that records the unique "signature pattern" of each seal. A reference image of the seal taken from the previous inspection is used to compare the recorded image of the seal signature pattern being verified. Optical surveillance systems are also used widely by the IAEA when an inspector is not physically present on-site.  Here an inspector services a surveillance camera that has been mounted high in the reactor hall to give a wide, clear view and  record the activities taking place. At the end of the day's work, IAEA inspectors pass through radiation monitors to check for any signs of contamination.  Once trained, inspectors join teams that conduct 9200-plus days of inspections worldwide each year © IAEA