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Nuclear Material Laboratory: Meeting Milestones Towards Full Operation

Director General of European Commission Joint Research Centre Appraises Progess During On-Site Visit

Ms. Gabriele Voigt, Director, IAEA Office of Safeguards Analytical Services, and Mr. Vladimir Sucha, European Commission Director General for the Joint Research Centre, inaugurate the first newly installed laboratory glove box in the IAEA Nuclear Material Laboratory.

On 11 June 2014, Vladimir Sucha, the European Commission Director General of the Joint Research Centre, joined the Director and staff of the IAEA Office of Safeguards Analytical Services to mark a milestone in the Nuclear Material Laboratory's phased entry into service: the delivery of the first glove box for safe handling of heavy elements in inspection samples.

By the end of 2014 the IAEA will be operating a state-of-the-art laboratory to help carry out one of its core functions - providing credible assurance that states are not diverting nuclear material from peaceful purposes.

Part of the broader modernization of the Safeguards Analytical Laboratories in Seibersdorf, Lower Austria, the new Nuclear Material Laboratory (NML) will take over the functions of its predecessor, which has been in service since the 1970s.

The NML's core function is the analysis of samples taken during IAEA safeguards inspections at nuclear facilities around the world. In the new building, each of the highly sensitive analyses will be confined to its own dedicated, specially outfitted and controlled area in order to protect the safety of people, to ensure quality control, to minimize the risk of cross-contamination of samples, and to uphold security requirements.

The European Union, one of the generous donors whose financial support and technical advice has made the NML building possible, sponsored several of the specialized spaces, including the thermal ionisation mass spectrometry (TIMS) and chemistry laboratories and the sample logistics area. The European Union will continue to provide technical support to the NML based on the longstanding cooperation between the IAEA and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre.

Air-tight glove boxes provide the controlled environment in which harmful materials can be handled safely. The air pressure inside the box is kept lower than that in the laboratory room in which the box stands, while air throughout the NML building is subject to constant filtering and radiation monitoring. European Union financial support helped to make possible the NML's vital, fit-for-purpose analytical capabilities for safely measuring the concentration and isotopic composition of actinides in samples collected by IAEA inspectors in the course of in-field verification activities.

By the end of the year, the TIMS laboratory should be operational for assay measurements of uranium and other nuclear material samples, allowing the new NML to analyse inspection samples for Safeguards verification purposes.

"The IAEA laboratories have to be world-class. The international community relies on the conclusions of the IAEA Department of Safeguards concerning the non-diversion of nuclear material, and we have to give the IAEA the tools it needs to do the job," said Commission Director General Sucha.

"That's why the European Union is so pleased to be a major contributor to this renovation effort and will continue to provide technical support for the NML to maintain the high quality of analytical performance."

Close scientific partnership with institutes of the European Union and in individual Member States contributed to the IAEA's design of the NML building and the practices its scientists will follow. That technical input and the financial help of the contributors have made the NML construction a success, and laid the foundation for greater cooperation in the implementation of nuclear safeguards.


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