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IAEA Safeguards Labs More Efficient and Accurate Thanks to Recent Upgrades

The new IAEA Environmental Sample Laboratory. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Increased analytical capacity, higher accuracy and faster turn-around time – thanks to the recent modernization of the IAEA's safeguards laboratories – will enable the Agency to meet its growing obligations in nuclear verification.

At its meeting today, the IAEA Board of Governors reviewed the laboratory modernization project, known as Enhancing Capabilities of Safeguards Analytical Services (ECAS), which was completed on time and on budget at the end of 2015.

"With the new facilities and infrastructure, the Agency is able to conduct safeguards sample analysis in safe, secure and modern facilities for decades to come," said Tero Varjoranta, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards.

The modernized laboratories will provide the IAEA with more sampling capacity for nuclear material and improved precision in all analytical services. The time required to analyse nuclear material and environmental swipe samples has been reduced from 55 to 35 days for plutonium analysis and from 20 to 15 days for uranium analysis (see infographic). The accuracy of measurements has also increased by over ten times from 5000 particles per sample to 60 000. 

(Click on the infographic to download the high resolution version - in pdf format)

Laboratory improvements

Upgrades carried out as part of this project included an extension to the Environmental Sample Laboratory and the installation of a new large geometry secondary ion mass spectrometer. Environmental sampling is used to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear material at nuclear facilities and locations outside facilities, and the lab's upgraded spectrometer is so sensitive that it can identify a single uranium or plutonium particle 100 times smaller than the width of a strand of hair.

A newly designed Nuclear Material Laboratory, the working horse of the IAEA's sample analysis, will increase analysis capacity by over 50%. The lab verifies data reported by States through spot checks and analysis of uranium and plutonium content of nuclear material samples. The facility will also allow Member States to better engage in safeguards-related activities through training exercises using actual nuclear materials.

Power and facility services have also been renovated and security has been upgraded for the Seibersdorf site that houses all IAEA research laboratories.

The upgrades were completed by 31 December 2015 and cost €77.16 million of which €56.08 million was provided through voluntary contributions from 18 IAEA Member States.

Analysis of nuclear material samples at the new IAEA Nuclear Material Laboratory. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

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