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First Workshop on Supporting and Managing Nuclear Security Upgrades

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Participants present results after a small group scenario-based discussion about strengthening physical protection at a hypothetical facility. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Upgrading complex systems requires an effective project management framework to plan, organise and manage resources and to ensure the successful completion of project goals and objectives. This is particularly important when it comes to nuclear security: where physical protection systems of nuclear installations are upgraded regularly to make sure they are protected against sabotage and to protect nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Last month, the IAEA held its first practical training on the subject – grouping requests from several IAEA Member States into a single activity. Focused on managing the implementation and oversight of physical protection upgrade projects for facilities with nuclear and other radioactive material, it was held at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria.

“The course was helpful in identifying what is expected when we embark on a security upgrade project,” said Natsai Vanessa Mutanga, from the Radiation Protection Authority of Zimbabwe. “It was particularly helpful to understand the roles and responsibilities within the IAEA, the associated legal documents and administrative processes; and we also got a better understanding of the terminology used throughout the process.”

The training, held from 2 to 6 March, brought together regulators, operators and high-level policymakers from nine countries at various stages of implementing security upgrade projects with IAEA assistance. Such projects range from preparing operational requirements, systems design, facilitating complex procurement, and installing, testing and maintaining equipment necessary to detect intrusion to a facility and delay potential breach, enabling adequate time for an appropriate response. An essential element of the IAEA’s support is to ensure the project’s long-term sustainability and to help ensure that the project is authorised by the regulator to progress from one life cycle phase to the next.

Overcoming Challenges

With ongoing improvements in underlying technology, upgrade projects are often undertaken to further increase physical protection systems using new tools and equipment as they become available. Therefore, a successful security upgrade project requires a high-level of analysis to identify what might adversely affect the ability to implement and sustain the project deliverables. “A good security upgrade project brings benefits such as an integrated nuclear security system, capacity building, increased system sustainability and risk reduction,” said Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security. “We help our Member States requesting assistance to further reduce risk by facilitating physical protection upgrades based on IAEA nuclear security series guidance documents, priorities of the Member States, the ever-evolving threat and emerging technology.”

The participants considered many approaches to the most frequently encountered challenges. At a facility-level, one of the most common challenges is the selection of new technology, evaluation of the costs and benefits and long-term sustainability, along with change management – both in terms of technology and human resources – of integrating upgrades into existing systems.

Ethel Ebere Ofoegbu, from the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority, shares regulatory perspective and her experience of working with operators on physical protection upgrades projects. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

At a national level, upgrades to a facility with nuclear and/or other radioactive material requires coordination, communication and cooperation among the many national stakeholders, including operators, regulators, national security services and appropriately vetted local contractors. Finally, at an international level, application of an export control regime to the technology related to nuclear activities or facilities may preclude or delay procurement of the equipment deemed by a country as most suitable for the security upgrade of a nuclear installation.

“There are three variables that distinguish these upgrades from other infrastructure development projects: potential significant time delays due to complexity of projects, restricted availability of proper equipment due to some controlled restrictions, and confidentiality of sensitive information,” said Muhammad Khaliq, Section Head responsible for nuclear security upgrade projects at the IAEA. “For sustainability of the projects, it is important to keep involved the key project users, national stakeholders and the community you serve in project development, delivery, and evaluation.”

Under the leadership of representatives from countries with extensive experience cooperating with the IAEA on physical protection upgrade projects of nuclear facilities, the participants considered these challenges and familiarized themselves with the best approaches to project management. The course covered all the stages of project management, including the need for an assessment of ‘achievable deadlines' and ‘setting up milestones’ necessary to identify the countries capabilities to implement and sustain the upgrades long-term. From project initiation and planning, to implementation, testing and commissioning, to closing and maintenance, participants worked in small groups to develop projects aimed at strengthening physical protection at a hypothetical facility.

In the period 2017-2019, the IAEA provided support to the upgrades of 17 facilities with radioactive material and 4 facilities with nuclear material.

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