Output 1.4: International Safeguards and Non-Proliferation
Contribution to the development and effective implementation of international safeguards and the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
- Contribute to the strengthening of international safeguards in ways that advance Australia's interests.
- Contribute to policy development and diplomatic activity by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
- Contribute to the IAEA's Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI).
- Manage the Australian Safeguards Support Program (ASSP).
- Cooperate with counterparts in other countries in the strengthening of international safeguards and improvement of domestic safeguards implementation.
- Provide advice and assistance to the Australian Intelligence Community in support of national and international non-proliferation efforts.
- Manage ASNO's international outreach program.
- Assess developments in nuclear technology.
Strengthening International Safeguards
ASNO continues its active role in international efforts in shaping and developing the effective implementation of nuclear safeguards, through engagement in a range of fora and projects. This includes working directly with the IAEA, as well as with other international fora, primarily through ASNO's membership of the Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network (APSN).
This engagement helps build and maintain specialist knowledge in ASNO on developments, emerging issues and trends in nuclear non-proliferation and how the IAEA verifies nuclear programs. This helps inform Australian Government policy on international security issues, and supports ASNO's monitoring and administration of the use of Australian uranium under Australia's many bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements. For example, ASNO continues its coordination of work on examining areas where Australia has technical capabilities that could potentially support an international verification effort in the DPRK. This could draw on expertise in inspections and support areas within Australian Government agencies, as well as the specialised technical capabilities developed through the various Australian Safeguards Support Program (ASSP) projects. Developments in a range of IAEA approaches to different verification challenges can also change the regulatory impact on nuclear industrial and research activities in Australia. Maintaining specialist knowledge therefore also helps ensure changes in safeguards regulatory approaches can be managed with minimal disruption.
On broader aspects of safeguards implementation, ASNO's engagement included the IAEA Director General's Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI), technical meetings on IAEA safeguards projects, and various conferences and workshops. ASNO participated in the IAEA's Emerging Technologies Workshop (ETW) and its biennial Member State Support Programme (MSSP) Coordinators' Meeting in January 2020 presenting on aspects of Australia's contributions to developing safeguards technology and approaches, delivering safeguards training, and providing technical services. For the ETW, ASNO facilitated researchers from CSIRO to present on potential applications of robotics for safeguards inspection and artificial intelligence for analysing outputs from safeguards surveillance. In September 2019, ASNO was also part of the Australian delegation to the annual IAEA General Conference, contributing to the negotiation of the Safeguards Resolution (‘Strengthening the Effectiveness and Improving the Efficiency of Agency Safeguards') which was adopted by consensus.
Australian Safeguards Support Program
The Australian Safeguards Support Program (ASSP), coordinated by ASNO, is one of 21 programs established by member States and the European Commission to assist the IAEA in safeguards research and development. Australia has one of the longest-running programs, having been in place for 40 years.
The ASSP contributes to projects supporting the IAEA's safeguards development and implementation needs, including by reviewing IAEA technical guidance documents, training materials and updates to the Physical Model.
Nuclear Inspection Robots and Other Emerging Technologies
In November 2017, CSIRO hosted the IAEA's Robotics Challenge, an event aimed at developing robotic systems to help inspectors perform repetitive inspection tasks more efficiently and consistently, particularly in areas of nuclear facilities that may be difficult to access (see ASNO's Annual Report 2017–18). Based on the outcomes of the challenge in 2017 and subsequent testing, the IAEA selected a design produced by Datastart Ltd of Hungary, which autonomously propels itself across the surface of a spent fuel pond while holding a device for measuring radiation glow patterns (known as Cherenkov glow). The robot has the potential to automate time-consuming inspection tasks required to verify nuclear material in spent fuel. The IAEA is continuing discussions with Member States, nuclear facility operators and Datastart Ltd to further refine and test the design to ensure it is compliant with all applicable requirements and regulations. During 2020, CSIRO is assisting with upgrading the robot's autonomous features, user interface and broader system architecture.
Separate from the Robotics Challenge, ASNO, CSIRO and the IAEA are exploring how robotics for safeguards can be developed further. CSIRO is developing robots for surveying radioactive material in drums in densely packed storage installations. These robots may have safeguards applications, including building maps of storage facilities, identifying the locations of nuclear material, characterising that material, and verifying seals in otherwise inaccessible locations.
In 2018, a team of researchers led by Dr Edward Obbard at the Faculty of Engineering, University of New South Wales (UNSW) developed a blockchain (shared ledger) platform to hold nuclear material accounting data based on ASNO's existing centralised Nuclear Material Balance and Tracking (NUMBAT) database. Their platform ‘Shared-Ledger nUclear Material Balance and Tracking' (SLUMBAT) allowed testers to try out performing the roles of hypothetical nuclear operators, transporters and regulatory authorities and enter transactions involving hypothetical nuclear material into an encrypted blockchain through a simple user interface. It demonstrated potential advantages of blockchain platforms in terms of data integrity and efficiency in tracking complex chains of transactions for nuclear material accounting data held among nuclear operators and regulators. In March 2020, the Stimson Center, Finland's nuclear regulator (STUK) and UNSW launched a shared ledger version of the SAFKA nuclear material database used in Finland. This ‘SLAFKA' nuclear accountancy prototype extends the focus to consider accountancy for Finland's deep geological spent fuel repository. SLAFKA uses hyperledger fabric running on dedicated nodes in the cloud and incorporates a graphical user interface allowing testers to record movements of hypothetical nuclear material through a web browser.
Helping detect undeclared nuclear activities using mass spectrometers
ANSTO's Centre for Accelerator Science participates in the IAEA Department of Safeguards' Network of Analytical Laboratories (NWAL), providing bulk analysis of swipe samples. During 2019, extensive testing established that ANSTO successfully resolved issues with sources of background in the system that had required temporary suspension of routine analyses of swipe samples. ANSTO analysed quality control samples from the IAEA in 2019–2020 and it expects to resume routine analysis of samples from IAEA inspections during 2020.
The University of Western Australia's Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis continues to participate in the NWAL. The Centre uses its large-geometry secondary ion mass spectrometer (LG-SIMS) for uranium isotopic characterisation of particles in environmental samples for nuclear safeguards. During 2019–2020, the Centre completed analysis of 22 samples for the IAEA, bringing it to a total of over 100 IAEA samples since joining the NWAL in 2012. In 2019, the Centre also participated in an inter-comparison exercise with other SIMS in the NWAL, achieving excellent results, comparable to other leading NWAL members.
Proliferation Analysis Training
Since 2009, Australia has provided annual proliferation analysis training to IAEA safeguards staff to enhance their ability to apply structured analytical techniques to complex proliferation issues. The Office of National Intelligence and the Australian Department of Defence planned to provide a proliferation analysis workshop to the IAEA in May 2020 but the workshop has been postponed due to travel restrictions associated with the COVID–19 pandemic. The content of the workshop is regularly updated and participant feedback from workshops in recent years has confirmed that the training continues to meet the needs of the IAEA Department of Safeguards.
Information Collection and Analysis for Safeguards
The Department of Government and International Relations at University of Sydney has provided an expert consultant to assist the IAEA Department of Safeguards' Division of Information Management with optimising the collection and analysis of open-source information for safeguards. The project involves applying network analysis software to map safeguards-relevant transfers and relationships within strategic trade networks for states in East and Southeast Asia using open-source trade statistics and transaction-level data. The ultimate goal is to strengthen the Agency's ability to identify trade flows of safeguards-relevant commodities.
Cooperation with other States
ASNO has close and long-standing relationships with nuclear security and safeguards regulatory and policy agencies in several countries both in and outside the region. ASNO actively worked to maintain and strengthen relationships through both high-level and operational-level discussions and through projects under the Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network (APSN).
The 10th annual meeting of APSN was held on 28–29 August 2019 in Bali, hosted by the Government of Indonesia and organised by Indonesia's Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency, BAPETEN. The meeting was attended by 36 representatives from 16 countries and the IAEA and European Safeguards Research and Development Association (ESARDA).
This meeting commemorated the 10th anniversary since the establishment of APSN, and began with speeches and presentations highlighting the key achievements of APSN over this time. A recorded speech was delivered by Mr Massimo Aparo, the IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards where he emphasised that the safeguards system is based on cooperation by all; and he stated the value of APSN in leading the way and supporting State safeguards authorities cooperating and supporting each other. Director General ASNO, Dr Robert Floyd, reflected on participation in APSN meetings over the past 10 years, where there have been 353 participants representing 205 different individuals. He observed there have been a number of key achievements in this time, although the most important achievement has been to establish a community of safeguards professionals who are friends, a trusted community that allows and promotes openness, frankness and mutual support.
Australia coordinates APSN Working Group 1 (safeguards infrastructure implementation and awareness), which during the 2019 plenary:
- delivered a presentation by the IAEA looking backwards and forwards 10 years on how safeguards has developed and possible future challenges; and
- facilitated an information-sharing session on challenges with managing safeguards for locations outside facilities (LOFs), including a presentation on nuclear material accountancy by the IAEA.
IAEA Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation
Director General ASNO chairs the IAEA Director General's Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI). Dr Floyd's appointment started with the 77th series of SAGSI meetings in 2013. SAGSI provides recommendations to the IAEA Director General on vital safeguards implementation issues. The Group currently comprises 17 international experts from 17 Member States. The members serve on the group in a personal capacity and not as representatives of their government or organisation. Each expert is invited to serve a three-year term, with the possibility of renewal. The Secretariat of SAGSI includes the IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards, and the Director, Division of Concepts and Planning.
SAGSI has two series of meetings each year, with each series usually comprising a working group meeting and a plenary meeting. The working group meeting scheduled for March 2020 was postponed due to COVID–19 restrictions. During each series of meetings, SAGSI examines and provides advice on a list of safeguards implementation topics set by the IAEA Director General. One of the core topics examined over 2019–2020 was mobilising partnerships on safeguards issues, following up from the Symposium on International Safeguards in November 2018.
SAGSI discussed opportunities for partnering with a wider set of stakeholders, including technical experts from non-nuclear sectors, NGOs, start-up companies and universities. These partnerships can support the IAEA in research and development for safeguards and in providing capacity building opportunities for member states.
Other core topics included: improvement of methods for implementation of safeguards at the state-level under the Department of Safeguards' State-Level Approaches (SLA) Project, reviewing training activities for Department staff, initiatives to work with member states to address difficulties in safeguards implementation, verification activities for safeguards-sensitive equipment from nuclear facilities during their decommissioning, application of business process modelling to manage safeguards equipment and services, and review of technology foresight activities and use of innovative technologies in data analysis and in-field measurements.