Senior European Officials Visit IAEA Labs in Seibersdorf

Vienna representatives of EU countries and senior European Commission officials visited the IAEA Laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria, on 14 May 2013, and received in-depth briefings on the science conducted there and on the IAEA's plans for modernisation of the laboratories. (Photo: K. Gaggl/IAEA)

Ambassadors and other diplomats of European Union (EU) countries, senior European Commission (EC) staff and Ambassador Györgyi Martin Zanathy, the Head of the EU Delegation in Vienna, convened at the IAEA Laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria, on 14 May 2013 to receive in-depth briefings on the science conducted there and on the IAEA's plans for modernisation of the laboratories.

Peter Farros, Deputy Director General of the EC's Directorate General for Energy, and senior officials of the Joint Research Centre participated in the programme alongside resident representatives to the IAEA.

Deputy Directors General Daud Mohamad and Herman Nackaerts, Heads of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications and the Department of Safeguards, respectively, explained the laboratories' essential contributions to achieving the Agency's mission of helping to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons while supporting the peaceful uses of nuclear technologies to help solve today's global development challenges.

Close partnership with Member State officials and scientists is especially important in furthering the work of these laboratories, as highlighted by Daud Mohamad, "after more than 50 years of service, the Nuclear Science and Applications Laboratories continue to support Member States in utilising nuclear sciences and application for peaceful purposes. Looking ahead, however, we need to update the facilities and the equipment to be able to respond to the ever changing global challenges and meet the Member States' growing demands."

Referring to the IAEA's scientific capabilities, Mr. Peter Faross of the European Commission said, "if the Agency lags behind Member States, it can no longer do its job."

Analytical results and quality control practices in Seibersdorf are routinely confirmed through parallel scientific inquiry and exchanges of information with other leading facilities. And, in order to ensure good management and consensus support for the Agency's work, senior officials and diplomats from Member States periodically review the programmatic activities conducted in the laboratories.

Nuclear Sciences and Applications (NA) - Helping States to Meet Their Sustainable Development Goals

The NA laboratories support research and training for improving animal production and health, ensuring the effective and safe use of radiotherapy equipment, reinforcing food safety and developing hardier and higher-yielding crops, protecting the environment, eliminating insect pests with minimal environmental impact, enhancing capabilities in the use of nuclear instrumentation and analytical techniques, and managing soil and water sustainably. The high-ranking European visitors were extensively briefed on:

  • The Dosimetry Laboratory, which oversees the quality assurance aspects of the use of radiation in medicine in Member States, provides dosimetry calibrations for national standards laboratories and conducts audits of the dose in radiotherapy and radiation protection;
  • The Terrestrial Environment Laboratory, whose staff develops environmental assessment strategies and ensures the quality of analytical results by recommending methods, providing reference materials and organizing proficiency tests;
  • The Nuclear Spectrometry and Applications Laboratory, which along with its nuclear instrumentation services promotes the various applications of particle accelerators; and
  • The Insect Pest Control Laboratory, which develops environmentally friendly methods for the area-wide control of insect pests such as fruit flies, tsetse flies, moths and disease transmitting mosquitoes. It is renowned worldwide for its work on the sterile insect technique.

With the evolving needs and interests in Member States as well as emerging trends in nuclear science and technology, the NA laboratories are facing the need to adapt to be able to continue to provide "fit-for-purpose" services in the next 15 - 20 years. Therefore, the IAEA is preparing a new initiative to modernise the NA laboratories in Seibersdorf, which will involve upgrading its facilities and acquiring necessary new equipment. The demand for respective NA laboratory services is increasing and there are rising challenges to be addressed, such as climate change, transboundary animal diseases and the growing cancer epidemic in the developing world.

Safeguards (SG) - Supporting Non-Proliferation

The IAEA is responsible for preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons by detecting early the diversion of nuclear material and by providing credible assurances that States are honouring their safeguards obligations. The Safeguards Analytical Laboratories, comprising the Nuclear Material Laboratory and the Environmental Sample Laboratory, analyse various samples collected in the course of in-field verification activities.

The EU group received a practical introduction into the collection and analysis of environmental swipe samples, in which even the most minute particles of radio-isotopes can be detected and characterised for the purpose of comparison with a State's nuclear material balance declaration. They also toured the new Nuclear Material Laboratory building just before its completion and the start of a phased transfer of analytical functions from the current laboratory.

The visitors were informed on the IAEA's on-going, major project to modernise, expand and, where necessary, replace laboratory facilities and the supporting infrastructure in Seibersdorf. Entitled Enhancing Capabilities of the Safeguards Analytical Services, the ECAS project involves the construction of a new Nuclear Material Laboratory building that will provide a secure, flexible, "fit-for-purpose" facility in which to conduct analysis of nuclear material samples. Referring to the construction of new Safeguards laboratories and site improvements, Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts said, "the new buildings and infrastructure will provide reliable, expandable, flexible work spaces for staff conducting analytical work at Seibersdorf - and do so within a coherent, safe and secure Agency complex."

Thanks to significant financial support from, amongst others, individual EU States and the European Commission (EC), the building is nearing completion. Funding through the EC specifically is supporting the establishment of the Nuclear Material Laboratory's laboratory spaces for plutonium, "hot" environmental swipe samples, calibration and other "low-level" activities, trace and impurity characterisation, and thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS), as well as the sample handling logistics area. Eight EU States have further supported the ECAS project with national contributions as well. The new Nuclear Material Laboratory will replace in 2014 the existing leased facility that has been in continuous operation since the 1970s. In this undertaking as in the Agency's scientific endeavours, Deputy Director General Nackaerts emphasised that "Member State support has been vital to our success."

Science Supporting Sustainable Development

Through nuclear science, technology and innovation, IAEA scientists work with experts in Member States to ensure safe power generation, support economic development and help to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The IAEA is the world's clearinghouse for scientific advice and reference materials, education and training, technical documents and access to data in fields involving radiological material. States that are most advanced in peaceful uses of the atom, including many members of the European Union, work through the IAEA to advance nuclear science and technology applications, also for the benefit of developing Member States.

Established with the aim to "accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world," the IAEA is unique within the UN family in having dedicated specialist laboratories that support its activities, develop innovative technologies and provide training. The laboratories are central to Agency efforts to help Member States gain access to nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes.

Last update: 10 September 2014