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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

Annual Report 1999-2000

Implementation of Integrated Safeguards in Australia

Introduction

The preceding article outlines the program for strengthening safeguards, which commenced in the 1990s and is ongoing. From the outset of this program, ASNO has been closely involved with the IAEA in the development of new concepts, procedures and techniques, including, with the cooperation of ANSTO, the conduct of field trials at Lucas Heights. In 1993 Australia had informally provided the IAEA with extended access through an any where/any time offer. As part of the development of the Additional Protocol concept, ASNO prepared a trial Expanded Declaration for the Agency.

Prior to the conclusion of the Additional Protocol, the IAEA had begun carrying out strengthened safeguards measures at Lucas Heights as allowed under the existing safeguards agreement (Part 1 measures), such as environmental sampling, and had exercised wider access at the site pursuant to the offer mentioned above.

Conclusion of Australia's Additional Protocol

The text of the Additional Protocol was agreed by the IAEA Board of Governors in May 1997. Australia was the first State to sign an Additional Protocol, on 23 September 1997, and was also the first to ratify the Protocol, which entered into force on 10 December 1997. Australia had given a very high priority to concluding the processes necessary for ratification (including amendments to the Safeguards Act) in order to encourage other States to do so at the earliest opportunity.

Following the ratification of the Additional Protocol, the first practical step in the implementation of strengthened safeguards measures was for ASNO to provide an Expanded Declaration, a full and comprehensive declaration of all safeguards relevant activities that had been ever conducted in Australia. The initial set of formal Protocol Declarations was sent to the IAEA on 26 March 1998, well within the 180-day time limit set in the Protocol.

Preparation of the Expanded Declaration (and the previous drafts) was a major and complex task, even though Australia has only one nuclear operator, ANSTO (before 1987 the AAECAustralian Atomic Energy Commission). ANSTO's Lucas Heights site has been in use from the 1950s and, as to be expected with a large nuclear research organisation, a variety of programs were conducted there, including reactor materials research, centrifuge uranium enrichment research from the 1960s until the early 1980s, and a large-scale program of radioisotope production. Information was also required on past as well as current uranium mining operations, and on all activities that had involved nuclear material (including for non-nuclear uses). In addition information was provided on the British nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga and the Monte Bello Islands.

Implementation of strengthened safeguards

An essential part of the strengthened safeguards process is the preparation by the IAEA of a State Evaluation. In accordance with Agency policy, Australia has not been given access to any evaluations or supporting country files, but understands the Agencys approach as it compiles the detailed information required. The State Evaluation is the subject of ongoing reviewthe initial analysis is used to identify areas requiring further clarification, including through the conduct of safeguards activities such as complementary access and environmental sampling, and the results of these activities are fed back into the evaluation process.

Soon after the entry into force of Australias Protocol, the IAEA took a further range of environmental samples at Lucas Heights (as already mentioned, this activity had started before the Protocol). These samples enabled the IAEA to confirm the details of Australias expanded declaration, to raise questions about specific activities revealed by the detailed analysis, and to establish a baseline which is used for comparison in routine environmental sampling campaigns.

To briefly summarise the complementary access provisions of the Additional Protocol, the IAEA is entitled to seek access as of right to any location on a nuclear site (i.e. in Australia's case Lucas Heights), and any location declared to have held nuclear material, and to certain nuclear-related locations, in order to verify that there is no undeclared nuclear material or activities at those locations. Elsewhere the IAEA is entitled to access in order to resolve any question or inconsistency arising from its information analysis. The State may require that access be carried out on a managed basis in order to protect proprietary information, information that may be proliferation-sensitive, etc.

As at 30 June 2000 the IAEA had carried out complementary access in Australia on eight occasions, six times at Lucas Heights and twice elsewhere. One of the complementary accesses at Lucas Heights was carried out on a managed access basis.

An outline of the two complementary accesses conducted away from Lucas Heights is as follows. One was to a location belonging to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in South Australia. Nuclear material (natural uranium discs) had been used at this site at some stage in the past, for non-nuclear purposes (in sonar research), and the IAEA asked for access to confirm that there was no longer any nuclear material at that location. The buildings where the nuclear material had been used were found to be derelict, so the access was extended to other buildings at the location. Environmental samples were taken to confirm the history of operations at the location.

The other complementary access was to the Ranger uranium mine. The object here was to determine that there was no undeclared uranium production. This access was particularly important as it was the IAEAs first opportunity to trial verification activities at a uranium minea difficult task, but one on which ASNO has been working closely with the Agency in the development of concepts and approaches. A report of this access is in ASNO's Annual Report for 1998-99.

Since Australia's Additional Protocol was the first to enter into effect, we are the first to have gone through two complete annual cycles of strengthened safeguards verification and evaluation, i.e. in 1998 and 1999. Thus Australia is the first candidate for the introduction of integrated safeguards, and ASNO has been in detailed discussion with the IAEA on how this might be done.

Integrated safeguards

As discussed in the preceding article (on page 51), the concept of integrated safeguards is that classical and strengthened safeguards are self-reinforcing and to some extent redundant, and that in certain circumstances it may be appropriate to recognise this through commensurate reductions in classical safeguards effort. The IAEA has determined that the introduction of integrated safeguards can be considered if there are positive results from the implementation of both classical and strengthened safeguards activities. Progress to integrated safeguards is thus a two-stage process, the first stage being to meet the requirements of strengthened safeguards.

Under classical safeguards the IAEAs inspection activity for Australia is determined primarily by Australias holdings of research reactor fuel. Australia has large holdings of irradiated (spent) HEU (high enriched uranium) fuelthough these holdings are being steadily reduced through transfers to the US and France. The Agencys current criteria require this spent fuel to be inspected four times a year.

If Australia were to divert this material for weapons purposes, we would need both to reprocess the fuel to separate the HEU from fission products, and to enrich the recovered HEU to the levels required for a nuclear weapon. The enrichment level of currently used HIFAR fuel is 60% U-235, and the average residual enrichment level of the spent fuel is about the same (this is because some earlier fuel was of higher enrichmentspent fuel from the current 60% enriched fuel will have a residual enrichment of about 40%): this compares with weapons-grade HEU, 93% U-235.

Under classical safeguards, the timeliness requirement of three months was set on the basis that if a State has an undeclared, operational, reprocessing plant it would take at least three months to reprocess spent fuel and to fabricate a weapon from the recovered material. Thus the diversion of safeguarded material could be discovered before there was sufficient time to manufacture a weapon. Under classical safeguards the Agency had limited capabilities for establishing whether there may be an undeclared facility, and therefore it had to be assumed that they might exist. The issue for integrated safeguards can be stated as follows: if the IAEA has been able to establish a satisfactory level of confidence that Australia has no undeclared reprocessing facilityand no undeclared enrichment facilityhow should this be reflected in the intensity of routine safeguards? Does the Agency need to continue 3-monthly inspections, or is a lesser level of effort appropriate?

ASNO and the IAEA are currently developing an integrated safeguards approach for Australia on a State-as-a-whole level. It is envisaged that the frequency of inspections at Lucas Heights could be reduced from four per year to one full inventory verification and one unannounced (surprise) inspection.

Other aspects being examined are:

  • use of remote monitoring of the spent fuel storage area and of the loading of spent fuel shipping casks;
  • use of power monitors to verify the power level at which HIFAR is operated. This relates to the possible undeclared irradiation of targets to produce plutonium. HIFAR is too small for thisgenerally production in a research reactor of a safeguards significant quantity (SQ8 kg) of plutonium in a year would require a very large reactor, more than 25 megawatts thermal power (MWt), compared with HIFARs level of 10 MWt. In fact, some years ago, as part of an international study for the IAEA on possible misuse of research reactors and safeguards approaches to detect this, ASNO, in collaboration with ANSTO and the Indonesian National Nuclear Energy Agency BATAN, undertook a study of HIFAR which showed that annual plutonium production capability was much less than one SQ, and that any such attempt would be readily indicated by abnormal (significantly increased) fuel use. Thus misuse of HIFAR is not a plausible scenario, but the IAEA will use HIFAR to test new safeguards technology;
  • further development of verification approaches appropriate for uranium mines.

Implications for Lucas Heights

Strengthened and integrated safeguards will place new requirements on nuclear operators and national safeguards authorities. In particular, for unannounced inspections to work efficiently the operators accountancy records need to be maintained on a real-time or near-real-time basis (what is referred to as NRTAnear-real-time accountancy). This is likely to require integrated site-wide computerised accountancy systems. ASNO is working closely with ANSTO to ensure the necessary standard is achieved.

Conclusions

Since Australia's Additional Protocol was the first to enter into effect, we have been in a pioneering role in assisting the IAEA to develop the procedures and methods for strengthened safeguards. Australia has hosted the IAEA's first complementary accesses, the first exercise of managed access under the Protocol, and the first complementary access to a uranium mine. We are also working with the Agency in generic areas such as information collection and analysis techniques, criteria for the exercise of complementary access, and evaluation techniques.

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