The Year Ahead

ASNO will continue its efforts to promote effective safeguards implementation internationally, through its leadership role in the Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network (APSN), and I, as DG ASNO, will continue serving as Chair of the IAEA Director General's Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI).

Improving the efficiency of regulatory activities is an ongoing element of ASNO's work and during the coming year this will include continuing development of the Nuclear Material Balance and Tracking (NUMBAT) database in order to connect related functions and improve the efficiency of ASNO and permit holder management of inventory records and reports.

ASNO will continue to work with the IAEA and ANSTO on the deployment of the IAEA's customised active well coincidence counter (AWCC) detector to measure the nuclear material content in solid waste from the ANSTO Nuclear Medicine (ANM) molybdenum–99 production plant. After the successful hot test of that detector in February 2019, the next step is to deploy the system for formal IAEA verification purposes, planned for the second half of 2020.

Permanent Representative of Australia to the OPCW, H.E. Ambassador Matthew Neuhaus (Credit: OPCW Flickr).

Permanent Representative of Australia to the OPCW, H.E. Ambassador Matthew Neuhaus (Credit: OPCW Flickr).

A key challenge for ASNO over the coming year will be assisting with the development and implementation of a new chemical database to support Australia's reporting obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. ASNO will continue to work with DFAT's Information Management and Technology Division to develop a new chemical database system with an industry access online portal to improve the end-user stakeholder experience and the efficiency of ASNO's regulatory functions.

Australia's resumption of a seat on the OPCW Executive Council for a two-year term from May 2020–22, will provide a focus for ASNO in terms of technical advice and support for Australian policy positions at the OPCW.

Regarding domestic nuclear security, ASNO will focus on reviewing ANSTO's security plans and the conduct of a Periodic Safety and Security Review of the OPAL reactor and also will continue oversight of associated technology and Uranium Ore Concentrate storage and transport. Internationally, ASNO will play a leading role in preparations for the 2021 Review Conference of the Amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material with myself, (as DG ASNO), co-chairing the preparatory process. We will continue to engage in the Nuclear Security Contact Group and the Nuclear Security Guidance Committee.

ASNO will continue to implement Australia's bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements (NCAs), and where appropriate, liaise with partners to streamline relevant accounting procedures and processes. This may also include updating several Administrative Arrangements (implementation documents pursuant to NCAs) to ensure these reflect current working practices. ASNO will continue to modernise security practices to facilitate the efficient and secure exchange of information between counterparts. While COVID–19 may prohibit face-to-face engagements and meetings with counterparts, we will seek to cooperate with overseas counterparts using alternative meeting methods.

Since the 1980s, Australia has advocated at a high political level for a ban on nuclear weapons tests and contributed actively in the negotiation of the CTBT. Australia regards the CTBT as a critical element of the multilateral non-proliferation and disarmament architecture and continues to provide significant political and practical support to promote entry into force of the treaty and to advance the work of the CTBTO. An article at page 21 of this report reviews the history of Australia's engagement with the CTBT, with a particular focus on specialist technical contributions.

Against this backdrop, the Minister for Foreign Affairs decided that Australia would nominate myself as a candidate in a selection process to succeed the CTBTO's present Executive Secretary (Dr Lassina Zerbo) at the end of Dr Zerbo's second four-year term.

International engagement to advance non-proliferation and disarmament has faced significant challenges since the global spread of the COVID–19 virus. This is likely to continue in 2020–21 while international travel is constrained. A number of important meetings or practical activities have been deferred.

Participants in the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification are finding new ways to advance their work in light of COVID–19 impacts. Meetings in the coming year are likely to continue to be conducted online.

Each few years the CTBTO conducts field exercises to help to test equipment and procedures for conducting an on-site inspection, in order to refine preparedness for entry into force of the CTBT. ASNO's Malcolm Coxhead has contributed to a group of experts developing viable and technically sound scenarios for a further series of exercises. These were scheduled to take place in 2020, but have been deferred due to COVID–19. They should proceed in 2021, if the more than 100 participants are able to travel to the exercise site in Slovakia.