Safeguards Symposium hears results of INMM verification workshop

Day two of the IAEA Safeguards Symposium here in Vienna saw a presentation by Chris Pickett, secretary of the Institute for Nuclear Materials Management (INMM), on the results of the INMM’s June 2010 conference on containment and surveillance concepts for nuclear verification.

The workshop – attended by 95 participants and held at the Oak National Laboratory in Tennessee – was primarily intended to discuss the challenges that need to be addressed to enable future containment and surveillance systems to better maintain ‘continuity of knowledge’ of items under verification. As Mr Pickett’s presentation noted, workshop discussions at the five-day event focused on four main areas: authentication; tagging and identification technology; sealing and containment; and surveillance systems.

Participants were drawn from an array of institutions, including the IAEA, EURATOM, the US Department of Energy and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Authentication, defined as the process by which a monitoring party ‘gains appropriate confidence that the information reported by a monitoring system accurately reflects the true state of the monitored item,’ essentially boiled down to ‘the need to trust the data’, Mr Pickett declared. That trust is not always easy to come by, though. Authentication requires the design of systems that no one can modify to produce false results, and that can be ‘re-verified’ if there is any suspicion of the equipment having been tampered with. It is an area of verification that emerged as a key finding in VERTIC’s recent publication on Verifying Warhead Dismantlement also, and it remains a priority area for future research and development activities in the verification field.

With regard to tagging and identification, the essential problem, Mr Pickett said, was ‘how to tag the untouchable and make it un-detachable’ at the same time. Not only that, but often an item itself cannot be tagged (out of respect for various safety and/or proliferation concerns) and must instead be tagged only in a containerised form.

The workshop highlighted the need to develop unique tagging systems for new containers and to develop secure tags for existing ones. Seals can double up as tags, workshop participants noted (especially when random particulate systems are used as unique identifiers), but tags cannot also be used as seals. Moreover, said Mr Pickett, workshop participants felt that it was important for tags to be developed that were environmentally ‘robust’ (i.e. able to withstand harsh conditions) and for more work to be done on the use of radio-frequency technologies to assist in item tracking.

On the sealing and containment front, a major problem is the wide variety of container types, which creates a need for a correspondingly large array of seals. As a result, sealing demands outpace the supply of approved seals. Current technologies are also very dated, said Mr Pickett, and the lifespan of current adhesive seals too short. How to seal areas ‘not conducive to traditional sealing methods’, manhole covers for instance, remains a perennial challenge. ‘Tamper Indicating Enclosures’, or TIEs, was proposed as one potential way to ease the sealing burden, with workshop participants reportedly also recommending the development of new, easily verifiable containers designed so that the container itself acts as the seal. It is worth remembering that seals in the verification context are not designed to prevent entry, merely to record it. Improvements in technology to allow for more rapid verification of seals in the field was recommended also.

Finally, Mr Pickett addressed the issue of surveillance by asking: are we taking full advantage of the capabilities of the surveillance equipment on offer to us? The use of cameras in verification activities figured prominently in this part of Mr Pickett’s talk. Specifically, the size of cameras, and the ‘discretion’ with which they are used within a verification regime. Should cameras be noticeable, for instance? And would smaller cameras allow them to be placed in more convenient locations? Again though, returning to the workshop’s first theme, how to authenticate camera equipment and video recordings is a matter that requires careful and crucial consideration.

David Cliff, VIenna