Good cooperation between IAEA inspectors, national safeguards authorities and nuclear operators helps to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the IAEA’s verification activities. At a workshop at IAEA headquarters earlier this month, State authorities responsible for safeguards implementation and safeguards officers from nuclear facilities shared lessons learned and advice on how to better facilitate and support IAEA safeguards activities.
“IAEA’s guides on safeguards implementation are practical and very well documented, but workshops like this offer practitioners the opportunity to discuss and generate new ideas on how to solve different types of issues encountered before or during IAEA inspections,” said Marko Hämäläinen, Senior Safeguards Inspector from Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority.
The participants of the three-day workshop were experienced regulators and facility safeguards officers from countries with a significant amount of nuclear material under IAEA safeguards, including Argentina, Canada, Finland, Germany, Kazakhstan, South Africa, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland.
The implementation of IAEA safeguards is an important confidence building measure through which States can demonstrate — and other States can be assured — that nuclear facilities and nuclear material are used only for peaceful purposes. Such safeguards are a shared responsibility between the IAEA and States in accordance with applicable legal agreements between the parties. Mutual understanding and good cooperation are essential for effective safeguards implementation.
Safeguards activities are conducted to verify States’ reports and declarations. IAEA inspectors carry out a set of activities at facilities and locations outside facilities to verify that a State has properly accounted for and has declared all nuclear material and is not carrying out undeclared nuclear activities.
“In-field inspections are of fundamental importance as they provide the IAEA with information based on which it can establish its findings and draw independent conclusions that a State is fulfilling its safeguards obligations,” said Van Zyl de Villiers, a Director in the IAEA Department of Safeguards. “In order for IAEA inspectors to conduct verification activities in States, they need the support and cooperation of the States’ regulatory authorities and the facility operators.”
The workshop, based on the IAEA’s Safeguards Implementation Practices Guide on Facilitating IAEA Verification Activities, focused on the activities undertaken by States and operators/licensees to facilitate IAEA verification activities that are carried out both in the State and at IAEA headquarters, to meet safeguards objectives.
“Careful coordination, communication and planning are required by States and operators to facilitate IAEA verification activities at facilities and other locations,” de Villiers said. This may include the provision of information and support to inspectors in the form of escorts, radiation protection personnel and equipment, and assistance by technical and operational staff.
Communication is an important prerequisite for carrying out effective verification activities. Knowledge of how IAEA inspectors carry out verification activities and what their needs and expectations are can improve the preparatory work and ultimately the efficiency of those activities, participants said.
“Safeguards inspections are a big challenge,” said Gustavo Diaz, Head of Safeguards Inspections at Argentina’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority. “I now have a clear picture of what the IAEA expects for every inspection.”
Learning about the challenges faced by IAEA inspectors can lead to improvements in how States prepare for verification activities. “No matter how much knowledge you have, there is always something to learn. It is very helpful to have a broader perspective,” said Rowena Maxwell, Senior Safeguards Advisor at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. “The one thing that I found most valuable is hearing about the challenges the IAEA faces during inspections; where can they use more support, what works well and what does not, and how can that be improved.”
Outreach to facility operators
The roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders involved in IAEA inspections need to be clearly defined and it is helpful for operators to be familiar with specific IAEA safeguards requirements for their facility type in order to prepare for inspections effectively.
“In my country, we do not have formalized safeguards training for operators,” said Arnold Rezniczek, a safeguards consultant at the Jülich Research Centre in Germany. “This guide will be a really good basis for training our operators.”
This event follows the first ever IAEA workshop focused on safeguards implementation practices held from 16 to 18 February in Vienna. In attendance were practitioners from countries where safeguards activities are expected to increase in the near future, as more nuclear facilities and material come under IAEA safeguards.