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Nuclear safety and security

Key to Moldova’s success with nuclear science and technology

Nicole Jawerth

This IAEA donated vehicle has advanced features that supports Moldova in enhancing its transport security capabilities.  (Photo: D. Sirgedas/Polimaster)

Protecting people, property and the environment is the goal of a country’s nuclear safety and security infrastructure. One of the major benefits of robust safety and security systems and measures is increased and sustainable access to peaceful nuclear science and technology.

“One of the essential elements for introducing new nuclear technology or receiving a technical assistance project is the existence of a robust legal and regulatory framework for nuclear-related activities, in line with IAEA standards and guidance,” said Angela Sidorencu, senior specialist in the Safeguards and Nonproliferation Department of Moldova’s National Agency for Regulation of Nuclear and Radiological Activities until 2020.

“Without IAEA technical assistance projects, Moldova wouldn’t, for example, have access to new technologies in radiotherapy and nuclear medicine for diagnosing and treating cancer and other diseases, and we would not have been able to improve quality assurance in all areas of radiodiagnostics and radiotherapy,” Sidorencu said.

Like many countries, Moldova has radioactive material, as well as small quantities of nuclear material. It uses these materials in medical and industrial applications, as well as in science and research, and the country also has radioactive waste management facilities.

Over 15 years ago, Moldovan experts began working with the IAEA to strengthen the country’s legal and regulatory infrastructure for the safety and security of radioactive and nuclear material.

“In 2006, we recognized that the existing legal and regulatory framework was not providing adequate control over activities involving radiation sources,” Sidorencu said, explaining how, at the time, the assignment of responsibilities among authorities was unbalanced and split, legislation was not fully in line with IAEA safety and security documents, and there was no established inventory of radioactive sources.

The support provided to Moldova by the IAEA is related to all aspects of establishing a legal and regulatory framework for safety and security based on IAEA standards and guidance. The IAEA has provided courses to build specialists’ skills and knowledge in radiation protection and nuclear security for both the regulation and operation of nuclear technologies and facilities.

There are currently three ongoing IAEA technical cooperation projects in Moldova. These include projects to improve radiotherapy services in the country’s Oncology Institute, to establish capacities for isotope hydrology techniques for improved water resource management and climate change impact evaluation, and support in decommissioning a near surface radioactive waste facility and remediating the environment.

Integrating nuclear security

In 2008, through its collaboration with the IAEA, Moldova became one of the first countries to establish an Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plan (INSSP). INSSPs are designed to help national authorities identify and prioritize the country’s needs and establish an effective and sustainable national nuclear security regime.

“Our experts worked with the Moldovan authorities to design an INSSP that could not only help them address the physical protection of radioactive material, but could also establish comprehensive measures to ensure that material would be detected if lost or stolen,” said Scott Purvis, Section Head of the Information Management Section of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security.

INSSPs cover all aspects of nuclear security, such as legislative and regulatory frameworks, threat and risk assessment, and physical protection regimes, along with the detection of and response to criminal and unauthorized acts involving lost or stolen material. INSSPs are periodically reviewed and updated to help the country maintain the plan’s relevance and sustainability over time.

“One of the key priorities of our INSSP is the security of radioactive material, as our goal is to make sure that nuclear and radioactive material does not fall into the wrong hands,” Sidorencu said.

With the INSSP as a basis, Moldovan authorities have worked with the IAEA and other partners, such as counterparts in Germany, Sweden and the United States of America, both to train staff and to upgrade equipment and facilities to ensure the safety and security of radioactive sources both in use or requiring recovery, transport and storage, which is a further priority of the country’s INSSP. Since 2008, Moldova has safely and securely recovered more than 8000 radioactive sources.


Adhering to international legal instruments

For a country to access the many benefits of nuclear technology, proper legal and regulatory infrastructure relating to nuclear and radioactive material needs to be in place. A robust international legal framework exists for nuclear safety and security. It is composed of treaties, conventions and agreements, which define rules and standards for the safe, secure, sustainable and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The IAEA informs and advises countries on these relevant international legal instruments. It also coordinates workshops and meetings within the framework of the IAEA’s legislative assistance programme in order to support countries in establishing and enhancing their legal frameworks.

One important nuclear security treaty is the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), along with its Amendment. The original Convention establishes measures related to the protection of nuclear material used for peaceful purposes while in international transport, as well as the prevention and detection of, and response to, offenses involving nuclear material. It further provides for international cooperation in the case of, for example, theft, robbery or any other unlawful taking of nuclear material or credible threat thereof, as well as in the design of physical protection systems.

The Amendment, which entered into force in 2016, extends the scope of the CPPNM to cover nuclear facilities and nuclear material used for peaceful purposes in domestic use, storage and transport. It also addresses criminal offenses related to illicit trafficking and sabotage of nuclear material or nuclear facilities, and strengthens international cooperation. The Convention and its Amendment are the only legally binding international undertakings in the area of the physical protection of nuclear material.

To date, 164 countries have joined the Convention and, of these countries, 127 have joined the Amendment. The Conference of the Parties to the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (A/CPPNM), planned to take place from 28 March to 1 April 2022, will mark just over five years after entry into force of the Amendment, a major milestone in the development of the international legal framework for nuclear security.


December, 2021
Vol. 62-4

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