Tag Archives: international atomic energy agency

Sleep Easy:the Nuclear Fuel Bank in Kazakhstan

image from IAEA

Kazakhstan has chosen August 29, 2017 for the opening ceremony of the first Low Enriched Uranium Bank (LEU Bank), being established in Kazakhstan under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The idea to establish the LEU bank was initially put forward in 2006 by Sam Nunn, co-founder of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a non-profit organization… The IAEA authorised the initiative in 2010 and Kazakhstan volunteered the following year to host the bank.

Previously Kazakhstan voluntarily had destroyed the 1,400 nuclear weapons it inherited from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991….Kazakhstan was the first to close, at the end of Soviet days, the largest nuclear test site in the world, the Semipalatinsk test site, where 500 nuclear explosions took place,” he said, adding the LEU Bank is another example of Kazakh efforts to address the nuclear weapons issue.

The LEU bank will operate as a mechanism of last resort; in case of unforeseen disruption in a commercial market of uranium, countries that are unable to procure uranium for their nuclear power plants can request LEU from the bank under certain conditions. Thus, it will ensure a global nuclear fuel supply and facilitate nuclear non-proliferation efforts.The bank will be based at the Ulba Metallurgy Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk in eastern Kazakhstan. The plant has dealt with and stored nuclear materials for more than 60 years without any incidents.  The funding is based on voluntary contributions from the NTI, the U.S., the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, Kuwait, and Kazakhstan, which in total equals to $150 million, believed to be enough to procure 90 tonnes of low enriched uranium.

Excerpt from  Colin Stevens, 29 August opening of #Kazakhstan Low Enriched Uranium Bank, EU Report, July 24, 2017

Sitting Still Nuclear Waste

Several options are available to immobilise waste resulting from nuclear fuel reprocessing. One of these is vitrification – a mature technology which has been used for high-level nuclear waste immobilization for over 50 years…Argentina is considering vitrification as a viable option for dealing with its high-level nuclear waste. The Argentine National Programme for Radioactive Waste Management aims to build capacities to implement vitrification processes for radioactive waste….
The vitrified radioactive waste is extremely durable, and ensures a high degree of environmental protection. Although the process of vitrification requires a high initial investment and then operational costs, waste vitrification has important advantages: it significantly reduces the volume of waste, and allows simple and cheap disposal possibilities. The overall cost of vitrified radioactive waste is usually lower than alternative options when transportation and disposal expenses are taken into account. For this reason, the process is very attractive for sates seeking effective and reliable immobilisation solutions for their radioactive waste stocks.

Excerpts from Taking a Closer Look at Vitrification: How the IAEA Helps Countries Utilise Advanced Immobilisation Technologies, IAEA Press Release, Mar. 24, 2017

Stolen Nuclear Material Iraq

industrial radioagraphy camera. image from GAO

Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen in 2015, according to an environment ministry document and seven security, environmental and provincial officials who fear it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing in November 2015 from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to U.S. oilfield services company Weatherford WFT.N, the document seen by Reuters showed and officials confirmed…

The material, which uses gamma rays to test flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography, is owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey, according to the document and officials.  A U.S. official said separately that Iraq had reported a missing specialized camera containing highly radioactive Iridium-192 to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, in November 2015….The environment ministry document, dated Nov. 30 and addressed to the ministry’s Centre for Prevention of Radiation, describes “the theft of a highly dangerous radioactive source of Ir-192 with highly radioactive activity belonging to SGS from a depot belonging to Weatherford in the Rafidhia area of Basra province”…

A senior environment ministry official based in Basra, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak publicly, told Reuters the device contained up to 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of Ir-192 “capsules”, a radioactive isotope of iridium also used to treat cancer.

The material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source by the IAEA, meaning that if not managed properly it could cause permanent injury to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours, and could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days….

Large quantities of Ir-192 have gone missing before in the United States, Britain and other countries, stoking fears among security officials that it could be used to make a dirty bomb…..“They could simply attach it to explosives to make a dirty bomb,” said the official, who works at the interior ministry…But the official said the initial inquiry suggested the perpetrators had specific knowledge of the material and the facility. “No broken locks, no smashed doors and no evidence of forced entry,” he said….

Besides the risk of a dirty bomb, the radioactive material could cause harm simply by being left exposed in a public place for several days, said David Albright, a physicist and president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security…The senior environmental official said authorities were worried that whoever stole the material would mishandle it, leading to radioactive pollution of “catastrophic proportions”.

Excerpts from Exclusive: Radioactive material stolen in Iraq raises security fears, Reuters, Feb. 17, 2016

See also Nuclear Materials in Iraq and the 2014 Civil War

 

Secrecy at the International Atomic Energy Agency

iaea, headquarters vienna

The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], which is charged with both promoting the peaceful use of nuclear power and controlling fuel that could be used in weapons, is holding its quadrennial safeguards meeting behind closed doors for the first time in at least 12 years this week in Vienna. The agency also decided to withdraw information about nuclear projects that have led to proliferation risks.

The IAEA restricted access to the symposium [Linking, Implementation, Safety, Nuclear, Safeguards, Atomic Energy, Technology, Science, Energy, Chemistry, Physics] held between October 20 and October 24, 2014, so participants aren’t “inhibited,” spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in an e-mail while noting that the opening and closing ceremonies will be public. Information about technical cooperation, which has been progressively restricted since 2012, will be made available again in the “coming weeks,” IAEA public-information director Serge Gas said in an e-mail….

To be sure, some IAEA members such as Iran would like to see the agency impose even greater controls over information. President Hassan Rouhani’s government asked the IAEA in a Sept. 19 open letter to investigate leaks of confidential data that it said could violate the interim agreement it signed with world powers last year.

Iran’s stance shows the agency is guilty of a double failure, according to Tariq Rauf, a former IAEA official who is now a director at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. While the public is increasingly excluded from the scientific debate that shapes policy decisions, “the agency routinely allows secret information about nuclear programs to be given to select Western countries, which then leak it out,” he said.… The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a 2011 report it’s wary about IAEA help to Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.  Past IAEA technical assistance probably wound up helping Pakistan discover and mine the uranium that went into its nuclear weapons. In Syria, the agency developed a uranium-ore production facility that later drew scrutiny after the Middle East country allegedly built a secret reactor…

Scientists at this week’s meeting will explain how they can use rooftop sensors to sniff out the gases given off during plutonium production, according to the meeting agenda. Others will look at new ways to analyze satellite imagery, more sensitive methods for measuring traces of radioactivity and the difficulties in keeping track of nuclear material at places like Japan’s $20 billion plutonium-separation facility in Rokkasho. [abstracts of presentations]

Excerpts from Jonathan Tirone. Nuclear Secrecy Feeds Concerns of Rogues Getting Weapons, Bloomberg, Oct 22, 2014n

IAEA Evaluates Vietnam Nuclear Program

map vietnmam

Senior international nuclear safety and radiation protection experts today concluded a 10-day International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to review how Viet Nam’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety has incorporated recommendations and suggestions from an earlier review, conducted in 2009.  The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) follow-up mission, requested by the Viet Nam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety (VARANS), also reviewed the development of the regulatory safety infrastructure to support Viet Nam’s nuclear power programme.  The eight-member team comprised senior regulatory experts from Canada, France, Pakistan, Slovenia, United Arab Emirates and the United States of America, as well as three IAEA staff members.

The IRRS team said in its preliminary assessment that Viet Nam had made progress since 2009, but that some key recommendations still needed to be addressed.

–The effective independence of the regulatory decision-making process needs to be urgently addressed;

–Additional resources are needed to regulate existing radiation facilities and activities, as well as the country’s research reactor;

–Efforts to increase the capacity of VARANS to regulate the developing nuclear power programme should continue;

–The draft Master Plan for the Development of Nuclear Power Infrastructure should be finalized and implemented with a high priority given to nuclear safety; and

–The draft National Nuclear Emergency Response Plan should be finalized and implemented as a matter of priority, and the country’s emergency response capability should be further developed….

Viet Nam has a large number of medical, research and industrial facilities that utilize radiation, including a research reactor. The country is planning to build a new research reactor and to develop a nuclear power programme.

Excerpts IAEA Mission Concludes Peer Review of Viet Nam’s Radiation and Nuclear Regulatory Framework, IAEA Press Release, Oct. 9, 2014

Nuclear Materials in Iraq and 2014 Civil War

university of mosul. image from http://www.uomosul.edu.iq/en/

The U.N. atomic agency said on Thursday (July 10, 2014) it believed nuclear material which Iraq said had fallen into the hands of insurgents was “low grade” and did not pose a significant security risk.  Iraq told the United Nations that the material was used for scientific research at a university in the northern town of Mosul and appealed for help to “stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad”.

Iraq’s U.N. envoy this week also said that the government had lost control of a former chemical weapons facility to “armed terrorist groups” and was unable to fulfill its international obligations to destroy toxins kept there.  An al Qaeda offshoot, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, took over swathes of Syria and Iraq before renaming itself Islamic State in June and declaring its leader caliph – a title held by successors of the Prophet Mohammad.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “is aware of the notification from Iraq and is in contact to seek further details”, IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said.  “On the basis of the initial information we believe the material involved is low grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk,” she said. “Nevertheless, any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern.”

Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a July 8 letter that nearly 40 kg (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were kept at the university.  “Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state,” he said.

However, a U.S. government source said it was not believed to be enriched uranium and therefore would be difficult to use to manufacture into a nuclear weapon. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the reported seizure likely posed no direct threat. But, he said: “The sheer fact that the terrorists … show unmistakeable interest in nuclear and chemical materials is, of course, very alarming”.

Any loss or theft of highly enriched uranium, plutonium or other types of radioactive material is potentially serious as militants could try to use them to make a crude nuclear device or a “dirty bomb”, experts say.  Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA chief inspector, said that if the material came from a university it could be laboratory chemicals or radiation shielding, consisting of natural or depleted uranium.  “You cannot make a nuclear explosive from this amount, but all uranium compounds are poisonous,” Heinonen told Reuters. “This material is also not ‘good’ enough for a dirty bomb.”  In a so-called “dirty bomb”, radioactive material such as might be found in a hospital or factory is combined with conventional explosives that disperse the hazardous radiation.

Citing U.N. investigations dating back ten years or more, Heinonen said there should be no enriched uranium in Mosul. The Vienna-based IAEA helped dismantle Iraq’s clandestine nuclear programme in the 1990s – during Heinonen’s three decades there.  “Iraq should not have any nuclear installation left which uses nuclear material in these quantities,” he said.  Another proliferation expert, Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank, said: “The Mosul region and several university departments were scoured again and again by U.N. inspectors for a decade after the first Gulf War (1990-1991) and they know what materials were stored there.”  “These included tons of uranium liquid wastes, sources, uranium oxides, and uranium tetrafluoride. Some of these items are still there, but there’s no enriched uranium,” he said.

Excerpts from Fredrik Dahl, UPDATE 4-Seized nuclear material in Iraq “low grade” – UN agency, Reuters, July 10, 2014

Iran Cooperates with the IAEA on its Nuclear Program: May 2014

Negotiations about Iran's nuclear program

The  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly report made available tp the public  on May 2014 

Main Developments

• Iran has implemented the six initial practical measures that it agreed with the Agency in
November 2013 in relation to the Framework for Cooperation and both parties have agreed on the next   seven practical measures to be implemented by Iran by 15 May 2014, including one measure related to  the information contained in the Annex to the Director General’s November 2011 report.

• On 24 November 2013, the E3+3 [China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States] and Iran agreed on a Joint Plan of Action (JPA). The JPA took
effect on 20 January 2014, and the Board of Governors endorsed the Agency undertaking monitoring   and verification in relation to the nuclear-related measures.

Enrichment of UF6 above 5% U-235 is no longer taking place at [Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz] FEP and [Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant] FFEP. The amount of  nuclear material that remains in the form of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 is 160.6 kg. A proportion   of this material is being downblended and the remainder is being converted to uranium oxide.

• Enrichment of UF6 up to 5% U-235 continues at a rate of production similar to that indicated in   the Director General’s previous report. No additional IR-2m or IR-1 centrifuges have been installed at  FEP, FFEP or [Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant] PFEP (production area). The amount of nuclear material that remains in the form of UF6   enriched up to 5% U-235 is 7609 kg.

• An updated Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the IR-40 Reactor has been provided   to the Agency. No additional major components have been installed at this reactor and there has been  no manufacture and testing of fuel for the reactor.

• Managed access has been provided to the Agency to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities….

74. While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the   nuclear facilities and [locations outside facilities most of them in hospitals] LOFs declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, the Agency is not in a  position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities   in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.  75. Iran has implemented, within the specified three-month period, the six initial practical measures   contained in the Annex to the Framework for Cooperation. The Agency is analysing the information  provided by Iran and has requested additional clarifications of some of this information.

Excerpts from Implementation of the NPT Safeguards  Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the  Islamic Republic of Iran : Report by the Director General, GOV/2014/10, Feb. 20, 2014