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Safeguarding the Future: IAEA Looks for Improved Solutions for Passive Loop Seals for Nuclear Verification

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Once a cylinder's contents are verified, inspectors attach an IAEA metallic seal  - commonly used to prevent tampering. The seals provide important evidence of any unauthorized attempt to gain access to the secured material. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Used around the world, metal cap seals are an important part of the toolkit of the IAEA's nuclear inspectors, tasked with verifying that nuclear material and facilities remain in peaceful use. Seals are a solution to a basic problem: how can an IAEA inspector close a container, a hatch to a room, or a cask with nuclear material in it, return three years later and know whether it was opened or not? The IAEA is seeking new and innovative technology, materials and solutions that could improve this tool; for example, by enabling inspectors to verify on the spot whether a seal had been tampered with.

Every year, IAEA staff perform over 2000 inspections around the world. During these inspections, over 15 000 metal cap seals are distributed and verified. Each of these seals is numbered and has a unique marking that inspectors record before applying them. During an inspection, seals are checked, replaced and brought back to IAEA headquarters to verify their integrity and authenticity.

This simple, robust and reliable metal seal has proved its usefulness. Now, over forty years since its first introduction, the IAEA has issued an Expression of Interest for new suggestions and ideas to improve what is known as the ‘passive loop seal’. Are there new materials, new technologies or new methods that could make the metal cap seal even better? Are there ways for an inspector to identify the authenticity of the seal in the field without having to break it and bringing it back for verification at IAEA headquarters? Or are there new materials that could make the indication of tampering even more obvious?

“The IAEA is always looking for new technologies that increase its confidence and effectiveness to carry out its safeguards mission. The metal seal has proved to be an essential element for inspectors, by providing a low cost, secure and reliable method for containment of nuclear material or equipment. We are now looking ahead for other sustainable, technical solutions to broaden our range of passive sealing methods,” said Alexey Anichenko, Director of the Safeguards Technical and Scientific Services Division at the IAEA.

Individuals or companies who may have a new and novel solution to this age-old challenge are asked to submit a technical (paper-based) proposal by 27 July 2020. Following an evaluation of the submitted proposals, the IAEA may request the submission of conceptual prototypes. 

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