Delivering Effective Safeguards Needs Agility to Align Science, Technology, Policy and Culture, Says Tero Varjoranta, Head of the IAEA Department of Safeguards

Tero Varjoranta, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

The IAEA will need to be agile in its responses to extraordinary events to continue to deliver effective safeguards, a point highlighted by Tero Varjoranta, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards, at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (INMM).

“Extraordinary events, whether positive or negative, complicate the effective management of safeguards implementation,” he said. The Presentation provided examples of major events that can happen suddenly and to which the IAEA has to respond immediately and effectively.

Varjoranta referred to three categories of extraordinary events:

  • Diplomatic events, such as the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) and Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, that require the development and implementation of novel and modified monitoring and verification approaches at short notice;
  • Security events, that undermine a State’s control over part of its territory in which the IAEA applies safeguards, disrupting the normal verification process and necessitating agile responses; and
  • Climatic events, such as an earthquake or flood — that perhaps damage nuclear facilities or compromise the IAEA’s activities in the field, thereby requiring the IAEA to use a variety of innovative instruments and methods to ensure verification.

Varjoranta said that enhanced responsiveness was needed to deal with the challenges related to extraordinary events. “We need to avoid a culture in which precedence overrides improvement, process overrides outcomes and bureaucratic practice overrides critical analysis,” he said.

In this context, he identified five areas to be addressed to properly connect and align organizational culture, people, science, technology and policy. These are: effective leadership; more adaptable financial mechanisms; expanding skill sets through inspector training programmes; upgraded information technology (IT), including new software solutions; and streamlining internal processes.

Varjoranta also underscored the IAEA’s mandate. “It is our legal obligation to implement safeguards — it is not a matter of choice: our legal obligation determines our workload. And our workload is increasing,” he said. More plants, more nuclear material, more spent fuel transfers, and more decommissioning are the reasons, he added.

“These upward trends look set to continue and we need to accept that as the demands grow, the safeguards budget won’t match them,” he explained. “For example, over the past five years, while the amount of nuclear material under safeguards increased by 22%, our budget rose by only 0.6% in real terms over the same period.”

Iran

Varjoranta said that since last January, the IAEA has been verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. “There were a number of features of this experience that required a significant, swift and innovative IAEA response, while still acting within our legal mandate,” he said.

The IAEA had to develop new, innovative, robust approaches and ways of working with little time available, he noted. This included, among others, the development of new equipment, such as the on-line enrichment monitor to verify Iran’s uranium enrichment activities in real time at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant.

He was positive about the future of IAEA Safeguards. “Recently, the JPA and JCPOA have demonstrated that the Agency is able to respond effectively and with agility in response to extraordinary events, where ‘failure is not an option’.”

The INMM is an international professional society dedicated to development and promulgation of practices for the safe, secure and effective stewardship of nuclear materials through the advancement of scientific knowledge, technical skills, policy dialogue, and enhancement of professional capabilities. Nuclear materials management involves the production, use, storage, transport, handling, protection, accounting and other essential aspects involved with the fundamental elements of the civilian nuclear fuel cycle, most notably, uranium and plutonium.