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Faces of Safeguards

22 November 2017
The IAEA monitors nuclear material and facilities around the world to provide credible assurances that nuclear technology is only used for peaceful purposes. Over 800 people work at the IAEA Department of Safeguards, each bringing their own unique skills and background. This photo essay highlights six of our staff members: two inspectors, a systems engineer, a spectrometry specialist, a safeguards containment engineer and an IT systems analyst. These are just some of the faces of safeguards who work to make sure that the IAEA fulfils its mission. Nuclear safeguards inspectors – such as Pablo Alvarez Casado (right) pictured in training at the Dukovany nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic – travel to nuclear facilities around the world to verify that States comply with their obligations. “Our role is to perform verification activities in the field,” he says. “For example, when we perform an inspection at a facility, let’s say a nuclear power plant, we want to know how much nuclear material exists at that facility and what the operator is doing with this material, to verify that what has been declared by the State authority to the IAEA is indeed correct.” 
“Typically, inspectors have a technical background; we are engineers, chemists, physicists, with previous technical experience of the nuclear fuel cycle, or at least some steps of it,” says Alvarez Casado. “Then, our career as inspectors at the IAEA starts with a period of approximately four months of specific training. It’s like going to university again, with theoretical and practical exercises, for learning all the legal, technical and procedural aspects that an inspector needs to master.”During training, Alvarez Casado installs a camera facing the reactor and spent fuel pond in the reactor hall of the Dukovany nuclear power plant. Cameras are often used to verify that no diversion of nuclear material takes place. The cameras take continuous photos with a time interval, with the photos either stored on a secure memory card or relayed immediately back to IAEA headquarters for analysis.Ania Kaminski, a nuclear safeguards inspector pictured taking a measurement of uranium hexafluoride at the URENCO enrichment plant in the Netherlands, started her career at the IAEA installing radiation monitoring systems in nuclear facilities. “More and more States conclude safeguards agreements with the IAEA and this means more nuclear material coming under safeguards and more work for us,” she says.Jonathan Beaumont, a Non-Destructive Assay (NDA) Engineer, works to improve the equipment that the IAEA’s safeguards inspectors use to perform various types of measurement, such as determining the composition of nuclear fuel and other nuclear material. “NDA is a group of techniques which allow you to make different kinds of measurements without permanently altering nuclear fuel or material, chemically or physically,” he says. Beaumont calibrates a fast neutron collar, a new tool used to measure the uranium content of nuclear fuel assemblies. This machine induces minor nuclear reactions and then measures the emitted radiation. These measurements provide the information needed for safeguards inspectors to quickly and accurately quantify the monitored uranium fuel. “It used to take around three hours to get a result. Now, with the fast neutron collar, it takes around 20 minutes. Our measurement equipment is ever more precise, accurate, and fast,” Beaumont explains. Laure Sangely, a Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry Specialist in the IAEA’s Environmental Sample Laboratory, analyses samples of dust that inspectors bring back from verification activities. These help the IAEA confirm the absence of undeclared nuclear material. Mass spectrometry allows analysis of particles contained in these dust samples taken by safeguards inspectors. The technique is a powerful tool in ascertaining what has occurred at a nuclear facility.Laure Sangely is pictured here analysing the results obtained from a mass spectrometer. “The environmental samples capture information about what was going on at a particular location, and we send the result of this analysis to evaluators to check our findings against State declarations,” she says. To ensure the reliability of the analysis undertaken, the analysis is carried out ‘blind’.  This means the analysts are unaware of where a sample has been taken. “Impartiality is important. We do not interpret the results but deliver  them to be used in drawing safeguards conclusions; so the analysis that we provide has to be reliable,” adds Sangely. Chris Martinez, a Containment Engineer, works on designing a glass seal for use by safeguards inspectors to verify nuclear material remains in peaceful activities. Safeguards seals are applied to nuclear material and equipment at the nuclear facilities inspectors visit. When an inspector returns a few months or years later, they check the integrity of the seal. “As a Containment Engineer, my mission is to make the sealing and containment of nuclear material more efficient and effective,” says Martinez. “To serve safeguards inspectors better, I worked on a programme to rapidly design, prototype, and deliver systems for sealing and containment solutions.” Developing new techniques for safeguards containment is a fast-moving field where new technologies, such as 3D printing and remote surveillance are enabling the IAEA to apply new means for safeguarding nuclear material. 

“A typical day for me is spent designing containment solutions, and collaborating with colleagues and safeguards inspectors to ensure that solutions meet the needs of performing safeguards verification,” says Chris Martinez. “I also perform research for new development, techniques and technologies.”Urska Repinc, an Analytical Chemist at the IAEA Nuclear Material Laboratory, analyses material collected by safeguards inspectors. The chemical analyses of uranium and plutonium samples aim to verify that the diversion of safeguarded nuclear material has not occurred. “Our results are used to verify nuclear material accounting declarations provided by States, so we have to maintain a very high level of confidence in our results and apply strict quality standards,” says Repinc. Chemical analysis is just one of the analytical techniques the IAEA employs in evaluating nuclear material samples. “The analysis of samples is a collaborative effort within the laboratory — chemistry, radiometry, mass spectrometry, analytical services, quality, and support,” says Repinc. Repinc prepares nuclear samples for chemical analysis at the IAEA Nuclear Material Laboratory. “I work with the staff of the uranium and plutonium laboratories, mostly for the processing and analysis of safeguards inspection samples that are of a special nature, for example nuclear materials that have been diluted. These require the application of different types of procedures than standard nuclear material, and for the preparation and validation of their own quality control samples and standards,” says Repinc. “The analysis of non-routine samples requires a lot of time, effort, and analytical thinking during sample processing. But, at the same time, it is also very rewarding as the final results of our work are used to draw important safeguards conclusions.”The utilisation of modern and reliable software is critical for the IAEA to perform its work. “We develop tailored software for all safeguards inspectors and evaluators at the IAEA to help them do their job more efficiently and effectively,” says Vinit Pandya, Systems Analyst. The IAEA is overhauling some of its information technology architecture under the Modernization in Safeguards Information Technology (MOSAIC) project. “We work towards developing sustainable applications that can be easily maintained for years to come as technology evolves,” Pandya says. “We keep finding better technical solutions so that we can provide greater support to the work of the IAEA.” Every morning, the IT development teams get together to discuss what they are working on and advise each other. “We discuss ideas about the project, better ways to achieve our goal, and better ways to construct our software to use the information that we have,” says Vinit Pandya (right). Software development is a team activity involving developers, business analysts, product owners, technology architects and technical leaders like Pandya. “I have the opportunity to work with some of the most talented people from around the world,” he says. “It encourages us all to learn from each other and find the best solution to meet the IAEA’s goals.”

The IAEA monitors nuclear material and facilities around the world to provide credible assurances that nuclear technology is only used for peaceful purposes.

Last update: 24 July 2019

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