Output 1.2: Nuclear Security

Protection of Australia's nuclear facilities, nuclear material and nuclear items against unauthorised access removal, and sabotage, including Australia's uranium supplied overseas.

Performance Measures

  • Security of nuclear material, technology and facilities meets Australia's obligations under the Amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (A/CPPNM), the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements, as well as being in accordance with IAEA guidelines.
  • Internationally agreed standards for the security of nuclear material are applied to all AONM.
  • Proactive and professional contributions are made to the development and effective implementation of nuclear security worldwide.

Performance Assessment

Australian Nuclear Material Categories

The table below lists the permit holders for which physical protection or information security is required, categorised according to the materials or items held.

Table 14: Distribution of Permits Holders according to security category
Nuclear Material Category Type of ‘Facility' Number of Permit Holders
Category II11 Research Reactor, Storage 1
Category III12 Storage, Scientific Research 1
Category IV13 Scientific Research 1
Uncategorised14 LOFs, Radiographers, Laboratories 99
Natural Uranium (UOC) Uranium Mines and Concentration Plants 4
Transport of nuclear material Transport Companies, Ports, Shipping Lines 24
Associated Items
Associated Equipment and Technology Enrichment Research, Storage and Archives 4
Associated Technology Patent Attorneys 5

International and Bilateral Obligations

ASNO's regulation of permit holders established that security arrangements at Australian nuclear facilities were in accordance with Australia's obligations under the CPPNM, its 2005 Amendment and relevant bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements, as well as being in accordance with IAEA recommendations. ASNO also met Australia's international shipment notification obligations under the CPPNM by notifying relevant parties of the transhipment of uranium ore concentrates (UOC) exported from Australia.

Exports of Australian Uranium

Australian uranium ore concentrate (UOC) continues to be exported as reported by relevant mining, transport and shipping permit holders and confirmed by overseas counterparts and converter facilities abroad. Australian uranium exports are subject to security procedures that include checking of the physical condition of, and verifying the integrity of the containers. At each port of unloading or transhipment, seals and locks are checked to detect any breach of integrity. There were no security incidents (malicious acts) involving the transport of UOC in Australia during the reporting period.

In December 2019, a trailer loaded with a container of UOC at an international transit point outside Australia was unsuccessfully coupled to a prime mover during routine activities. The operation was attempted in the dark and in subzero temperatures. Subsequently the trailer uncoupled from the prime mover as the vehicle was leaving the yard. There was no reported damage to the load and the trailer was re-coupled to the prime mover. Investigation into this incident lead to a review of procedures and verification of operational equipment to function effectively in dark and severe weather conditions.

ASNO confirms the separation of UOC storage from other mine activities.

ASNO confirms the separation of UOC storage from other mine activities.

Nuclear Security of UOC at Australian Mines and in Transport

ASNO visited the uranium storage yard of Toll North, trading as NQX Freight Systems on 20 August 2019. NQX transports UOC from the Ranger mine to Darwin and provides storage facilities for UOC shipments prior to export from Darwin, or prior to transfer to rail for transport to Adelaide. ASNO inspectors verified the current security plans and arrangements including actions arising from previous inspections and inspected the UOC holdings and storage area.

On 21 August 2019, ASNO conducted a routine inspection at the Ranger uranium mine, evaluating security plans and procedures against ASNO's permit requirements and verifying that recommendations arising from previous inspections had been addressed. The inspection included a review of the security upgrades to the UOC storage yard perimeter, access control measures to the processing plant, the on-site laboratory and sample handling procedures. ASNO discussed general security arrangements and decommissioning arrangements at Ranger including predicted changes to key security personnel.

During this reporting period, both BHP (Olympic Dam) and Heathgate Resources (Beverley mines) have submitted updated security plans or arrangements for changes to their UOC extraction plant equipment.

ASNO inspections include physical protection measures for the storage of UOC.

ASNO inspections include physical protection measures for the storage of UOC.

Physical protection of UOC continues at ports and through approval of vessels.

Physical protection of UOC continues at ports and through approval of vessels.

DG ASNO has approved changes to the 2015 revised requirements to enable the transit of vessels carrying UOC through areas of high-risk piracy15 and specifically to previous required risk mitigation measures. These measures limited vessels available for approval and led to significant cost impacts to conveyance of UOC. A review by ASNO of the current piracy situation highlighted changes in two areas since 2015; the nature of global piracy and the subsequent shipping industry response.

  • Piracy has expanded from a geographically limited area (i.e. Gulf of Aden) occurrence to a more widely distributed problem. There were 78 incidents of piracy recorded16 in the first six months of 2019, and all occurred outside the Gulf of Aden.
  • The shipping industry approach to combat piracy has matured significantly to anticipate and mitigate acts of piracy and it has become more cohesive and coordinated in dealing with global problem.

ASNO sought advice from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other industry standards in its updated requirements. Vessels carrying Australian origin UOC in piracy high-risk areas must implement the latest AMSA17 and Best Management Practice (BMP)18 guidelines or updates thereof, to effectively manage the risk of piracy.

ASNO will continue to monitor piracy risk where it may affect shipments of Australian origin UOC and adjust requirements accordingly; this may entail suspension of UOC shipments should the piracy risk increase significantly.

UOC Shipments are inspected and location during transport verified.

UOC Shipments are inspected and location during transport verified.

Nuclear Security at Lucas Heights

ASNO held several meetings with ANSTO over the financial year in order to monitor standards of safeguards and security for facilities at Lucas Heights including the OPAL research reactor, the ANSTO Nuclear Medicine (ANM) facility and areas where nuclear material is stored.

ANSTO is currently reviewing a number of security documents and procedures as part of permit conditions to possess nuclear material and in view of the ongoing conduct of a Periodic Safety and Security Review (PSSR). ANSTO is scheduled to provide a PSSR report, to the CEO ARPANSA and to the DG ASNO, by 30 November 2021.

Other Holders of Nuclear Material

The consolidation of CSIRO's nuclear material holdings has required additional physical protection measures to be installed at an allocated storage facility. ASNO conducted an inspection of the protective security measures and found the storage arrangements to be satisfactory.

Research activities continue at the Silex Systems Limited (SSL) Lucas Heights site, although at a reduced level. SSL continues to hold a Permit to Possess Associated Technology with ASNO and regulatory activities, including inspections and monthly reporting, continue at SSL facilities.

Silex Systems Limited (SSL) and Canadian uranium producer Cameco Corporation announced on 16 December 2019, that they have signed a purchase agreement obtaining all interest in GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC (GLE). SSL is seeking United States Government approvals on matters that relate to the ongoing operation of GLE.

SSL announced on 10 February 2020 that it is partnering with UNSW Sydney and Silicon Quantum Computing Pty Ltd (SQC) in a project to develop a process for the commercial production of high-purity ‘Zero-Spin Silicon' using a variant of the SILEX laser isotope separation technology. ASNO is satisfied that this program does not involve associated technology as defined by the Safeguards Act.

Other Enrichment Technologies

ASNO continues to work closely with a permit holder that possesses associated technology for research into innovative uranium enrichment technology. In supporting the company to mature its security measures and culture, ASNO conducted an inspection on 21–22 November 2019, and collaboratively established a classification guide in keeping with international best practice.

International Conference on Nuclear Security

The International Atomic Energy Agency hosted the International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICoNS) – ‘Sustaining and Strengthening Efforts' during 10–14 February 2020. It was the third IAEA ministerial conference on nuclear security during which 140 countries adopted a ministerial declaration to enhance global nuclear security and counter the threat of nuclear terrorism and other malicious acts. ASNO, as part of a larger Australian contingent, actively participated through presentations and discussion forums. Director General ASNO delivered Australia's national statement to the conference.

Nuclear Security Guidance Committee

The primary role of the Nuclear Security Guidance Committee (NSGC) is to manage the production of guidance documents in the IAEA Nuclear Security Series (NSS). The NSGC comprises over 50 IAEA member states, is constituted on rolling three-year terms and meets twice per year at the IAEA in Vienna. Australia (ASNO) has been a member since its inception in 2012. Dr Stephan Bayer, Director of ASNO's Nuclear Security Section, was appointed Chair of the NSGC in 2018.

The 15th and 16th meetings of the NSGC, held in July and November 2019, focussed on a review of the top-tier documents in the Nuclear Security Series and considered the merits of a Nuclear Security Series publication on the interface of nuclear safety and nuclear security. A subgroup was commissioned to examine the document roadmap in preparation for the next three-year term of the NSGC. The 17th NSGC meeting scheduled for June 2020 was cancelled due to the impact of COVID–19. The face-to-face meeting was replaced by a series of shorter video teleconferences.

Post Nuclear Security Summit Activities

Australia is a member of the Nuclear Security Contact Group (NSCG), established following the Nuclear Security Summit meetings (2010 – 2016), whose Statement of Principles19 includes advancing implementation of nuclear security commitments and building a strengthened, sustainable and comprehensive global nuclear security architecture. The NSCG, currently chaired by Hungary, met in Vienna during the reporting period to discuss the upcoming Amended CPPNM Review Conference, collective commitments, core messaging on nuclear security and work under the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). Director General ASNO is Australia's NSCG delegate and also co-chair of the preparatory process for the Amended CPPNM Review Conference which is scheduled to take place in 2021.

In further initiatives to promote nuclear security internationally, Dr Robert Floyd continues to be active in track 1.5 dialogues, in particular the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Global Dialogue on Nuclear Security Priorities, which like the NSCG, has been active in promoting the Nuclear Security Summits' goals and commitments and assisting in preparation for the Amended CPPNM Review Conference.

11 Nuclear material category is based on IAEA Nuclear Security Series No. 13.

12 Ibid.

13 Category IV limits are 15g≥Pu>10g; 15g ≥(235U≥20%)>10g; 1000g ≥(235U<20%-10%)>10g;
10 000g ≥(235U<10%)>10g; 15g ≥233U>10g; Unirradiated Source Material ≤5000kg. (%-enrichment).

14 i.e. below Category IV quantities.

15 Defined by the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations and by the Listed Areas as published by the Joint War Committee.

16 ICC- Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships - Report Period 1 January – 30 June 2019.

17 Marine Notice 07/2015 – Piracy and armed robbery against ships.

18 Currently BMP5, available from the International Maritime Organization.

19 INFCIRC 899, November 2016, IAEA.