Science Essential in Verifying Peaceful Use of Nuclear Material
A new Nuclear Material Laboratory will be established in Seibersdorf, Austria, replacing the existing laboratory that began operation in 1976. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)
- Story Resources
- Agency's Laboratories Seibersdorf and Vienna
- Safeguards Analytical Laboratory (SAL)
- Safeguards Analysis Tools
- Strengthening Effetiveness and Improving Efficiency of Safeguards System and Application of Model Additional Protocol, 26 July 2011
- IAEA Department of Safeguards
- In Focus: IAEA and NPT
The IAEA is now in the midst of a multi-phase project to modernize its safeguards analytical capabilities that will help it meet the verification challenges of the next 30 years and beyond. This capital project, the largest ever undertaken by the IAEA, involves forecasting and defining analytical and infrastructure needs; designing the laboratories, site infrastructure and security improvements; and completing their construction on time and within budget without interrupting ongoing operations.
A major part of the project is the establishment of a new Nuclear Material Laboratory (NML) in Seibersdorf, Austria. The new NML will replace the existing NML that began operation in 1976. Since that time, the core mission of the NML has been the analysis and reporting of results from nuclear material accountancy verification samples, which may include uranium, plutonium, spent fuel, and high-activity liquid waste materials. Adding to the Laboratory's workload in the modern era are nuclear material samples collected outside the declared areas of safeguarded facilities. Such samples may have different forms and compositions compared with normal verification inspection samples, and may require special handling and analytical processing within the NML.
Director General Yukiya Amano said that, when completed in 2014, the new NML would "provide the IAEA with a modern and expandable capability for nuclear sample analyses, collected from all points along the nuclear fuel cycle." The new Laboratory brings together into a single building analytical activities that are currently dispersed among a number of buildings at Seibersdorf. The new Laboratory will also allow the IAEA to fully comply with its own latest guidelines on the physical protection of nuclear material, as well as with its nuclear safety requirements.
On 16 December 2011, Deputy Director General for Safeguards, Herman Nackaerts, was able to report to Member State representatives on the start of construction of this vital component of the Agency's analytical capabilities.
The successful completion of the extension of clean laboratory space for the Environmental Sample Laboratory (ESL), on time and within budget, represented another significant project milestone. Recently acquired mass spectrometry equipment of unparalleled precision is now operating within this newly acquired space. The ESL enables IAEA scientists to detect and measure minute particles of uranium found in the swipe samples collected by IAEA inspectors and to identify the isotopic composition of particles weighing as little as the DNA in one human cell. This capability, which IAEA scientists may extend in the future to the analysis of plutonium, constitutes a powerful tool for confirming the absence of undeclared materials and activities in States under safeguards.
Together, the NML and ESL comprise the IAEA Safeguards Analytical Laboratories. According to Director General Amano:
"The role played by the IAEA's Analytical Laboratories in safeguarding nuclear material around the world is vital in upholding the integrity of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
At the 16 December briefing, representatives of Member States and the IAEA Secretariat conferred on the Agency's project plan and identified milestones on the way to its completion by the end of 2014. For this ambitious goal to be achieved, however, Member States will need to continue their generous financial support.
-- By Mark Scheland, IAEA Department of Safeguards
(Note to Media: We encourage you to republish these stories and kindly request attribution to the IAEA).