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Training Safeguards Inspectors: Hot Cell and Glovebox Training in Georgia

20 August 2019
The IAEA verifies that nuclear material remains in peaceful use. To do this, nuclear safeguards inspectors regularly carry out on-site inspections at nuclear facilities around the world. Safeguards inspectors undertake regular training to ensure that they have the knowledge and experience to carry out inspections. Around half an hour drive from Tblisi, Georgia, sits the Andronikashvili Institute of Physics (pictured). The IAEA regularly holds week-long training courses for inspectors at the institute on how to apply nuclear safeguards to hot cells and gloveboxes.The Andronikashvili Institute of Physics houses a non-operational, Russian-built IRT-M type research reactor that was decommissioned in the early 1990s. The reactor has an associated radiochemical laboratory, also known as a hot cell and glovebox facility, which was briefly used to separate materials with very short half-lives. Hot cells (pictured) and gloveboxes are shielded containment chambers.  When working with radioactive isotopes, this shielding is required to keep workers safe. By providing a containment box, workers can control and manipulate equipment and nuclear materials.  Now free of radioactive material, the Andronikashvili Institute of Physics is one of only a few facilities where safeguards inspectors have unrestricted access to a clean hot cell and glovebox environment.IAEA safeguards inspectors peer into the research reactor at the Andronikashvili Institute of Physics at a training in late 2017. In April 1998, all of the reactor's fresh and spent fuel was transferred from the facility. As part of the decommissioning, the reactor was filled with concrete in the lower portion of the reactor tank, some 3 meters deep.<br>
A historical memo: the last task performed before the facility stopped operations.  
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"The device is not in its full capacity"
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29 December 1987, signed by the Duty Officer.
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"At 20:20 the device was shutdown"
Hot cells (pictured) and gloveboxes can be used for medical isotope separation. They can also be used for small scale plutonium extraction for fuel to produce nuclear energy. IAEA safeguards inspectors are trained to detect plutonium extraction to verify that nuclear material has remained in peaceful use. Most hot cells and gloveboxes in the world are contaminated with nuclear materials which makes safe entry extremely difficult. The only way to see into most hot cells is through a small lead glass window (pictured) that requires inspectors to use mirrors. The hot cells at the Andronikashvili Institute of Physics were only used for a short time and handled radioactive isotopes with a short half-life. Therefore, the hot cells are not contaminated and are safe to enter. The hot cells and glovebox training course is offered to IAEA inspectors twice a year. Andrew Catton (middle), a Nuclear Safeguards Inspector at the IAEA, commented, "It is one of the best courses and it is sought after by inspectors. The content is unique and the instructors are excellent."During the training, IAEA safeguards inspectors practiced taking environmental swipe samples, which help to determine whether illicit nuclear activities have taken place. Environmental sampling is one of the most powerful tools that safeguards inspectors have at their disposal. By taking swipe samples of dust, such as that held by the inspector in the picture, the IAEA can analyse these to ascertain present and historical nuclear activities at a particular site.  IAEA safeguards inspectors receive instruction on what to observe while in the field. "Because of the training at this particular facility, we were able to fully understand the points where nuclear material enters and exits the hot cell system," said Catton (right). "These are key points as nuclear material has to go through them, making them ideal for environmental sampling."An IAEA safeguards inspector takes a close look inside one of the waste tanks at the radiochemical laboratory. All waste nuclear material at a radiochemical laboratory passes through these tanks. As a result, analysing samples taken from the waste tanks provide insight into the past operations of the laboratory."After a week of being around hot cells and glove boxes, the instructors tested us," said Catton (right). "The scenario was that minor isotope separation was occurring in some of the gloveboxes. We had a certain amount of time to take swipe samples, but we had to make sure we covered all the entry and exit points of the hot cells."An IAEA safeguards inspector uses the remote manipulators of a hot cell. These manipulators are used for the remote handling of equipment within hot cells, thus protecting the user from radiation exposure. The test scenario allowed the inspectors to hone their skills in how to apply nuclear safeguards to hot cells and gloveboxes. As part of their work, IAEA safeguards inspectors face difficult conditions in verifying the peaceful use of nuclear material and technology. Such conditions include, among others, tight spots, dark areas, and damp and dusty lower basement levels. With the training at the Andronikashvili Institute of Physics, safeguards inspectors practiced working in these demanding conditions.

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