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Securing Nuclear Material

Integrating safeguards and security measures

Nuclear facilities have traditionally relied on after-the-fact, weapons systems, monitoring devices, delay barriers, and denial systems, but increasingly, these add-ons and protective measures have become more costly to protect against modern threats.

Now, INL is leading a Department of Energy initiative to ensure the timely, efficient, and cost-effective integration of safeguards and security measures. The lab’s seven-step approach aims to fundamentally change how security is implemented by designing in security features in the early design phases and continually assessing needs through the facility’s life cycle.

This approach requires an understanding of security requirements, nuclear facility design, emerging technology, costs, risk management, and communication. INL has excelled for more than 70 years, and today, the Safeguards and Security by Design process has become part of an international movement that includes the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), its member states, and the nuclear industry.

Material Security and International Safeguards

All over the world, there are unsolved cases of radioactive material that is stolen or diverted from its intended location. The material either has or could cause serious implications for countries concerned about nuclear material proliferation.

INL engineers have created detection technology and safeguards and security recommendations for worldwide application. INL provides training to the IAEA and other national laboratory experts, leveraging unique, world-class facilities and instructor expertise to prepare inspectors and create a pipeline of new experts entering the field.

Today, INL researchers are leading a new safeguards effort that applies the simultaneous action of technology, policies, and accountability procedures to intrinsically protect nuclear facilities.

Cybersecurity for Nuclear Facilities

Instrumentation and control (I&C) within nuclear facilities are continuously connected with information technology and wireless communications in facilities and operations to address efficiencies, cost savings and convenience.

INL’s nuclear security programs are fundamentally changing how the nation and world approach analysis of threats to the complex myriad cyber-physical systems.

Instrumentation and control within nuclear facilities and operations are continuously connected with information technology and wireless communications to address efficiencies, cost savings and convenience. In this digital command and control environment, the use of physical boundaries alone is inadequate to secure nuclear technology and facilities. An integrated cyber physical security approach is essential to address the resilience of the facility and continuity of operations.

INL’s nuclear and cybersecurity capabilities include

  • Internationally recognized nonproliferation experts with real-world experience and backgrounds in nuclear facility inspection, physical protection, modeling and simulation, materials science, physics, and engineering.
  • Comprehensive instrumentation and control, cyber and nuclear nonproliferation capabilities with similar nuclear infrastructure, and examination equipment found worldwide.
  • Frameworks for prioritization of investments and threat indicators for high-consequence activities.
  • Replication of typical control system network for architecture reviews and system hygiene to support asset owners in securing their systems.
  • Protocol analysis, reverse engineering and forensics to advance persistent threat mitigations for the nuclear industry.
  • Cyber-informed risk methods and unique engineering designed tools and methodologies to anticipate cyber and physical security risk and investment strategies.

Fuel Development Plate Checker Project

Program Objective: The U.S. High Performance Research Reactors (USHPRR) Program aims to eliminate more than 200 kg of HEU from commerce annually by converting five U.S. high performance research reactors and one associated critical assembly to LEU fuel. The Fuel Development Pillar is responsible for the development and qualification of a new high-density U-Mo alloy based fuel that will permit USHPRR conversions to LEU.

Project Objective: Design, fabricate and install hot cell equipment with the ability to obtain post irradiation examination information on oxide growth, swelling, and deformation of multiple research reactor fuel configurations. This capability is unique to the DOE complex and international community. INL partnered with Belgian Nuclear Research Center (SCK-

CEN) to utilize and improve upon an existing proven design. The plate checker will be used by other nuclear programs at INL, including the Fuel Cycle Research & Development program. In March 2016, the first of four AFIP-7 plates was measured with the highest degree of resolution that has ever been taken on an irradiated fuel plate.

USHPRR Plate Checker Dimensional Inspection

  • Contact profilometry for plate thickness and high precision x-y-z-theta movement.
  • New measurement bench capable of very high resolution–0.02 mm (0.0008 in) location accuracy–3 ?m (0.0001 in) thickness accuracy.
  • Resulting data is used to calculate fuel swelling behavior.


University of Missouri Research Reactor


National Bureau of Standards


Advanced Test Reactor


Massachusetts Institute of Technology Research Reactor


High Flux Isotope Reactor

Technical Nuclear Forensics

Technical Nuclear Forensics is an essential element of the United States’ strategy to deter nuclear terrorism. Because a hostile government could help terrorists execute a nuclear attack, the ability to determine the origin of material used in a nuclear device allows the United States to credibly threaten reprisal against a state complicit in an act of nuclear terrorism.

Field training and exercises

Nuclear forensics training events provide an opportunity for scientists and security experts to practice the tactics, techniques and procedures they would employ following a nuclear detonation event

INL regularly hosts nuclear forensics training and exercise events at the lab’s expansive 890-square-mile desert Site. These exercises bring over 50 participants from DOE, other national laboratories and foreign governments. In addition, INL supplies radioactive and nonradioactive materials and support for other laboratory exercises in the U.S. and abroad.

Material Mining and Safety

INL seeks improvements to methods that evaluate nuclear security risk, threats, and consequences. Risk-informed physical protection adds a scientific approach to security by considering the likelihood of success of a terrorist attack together with the consequences. This data provides an objective risk-informed management approach that is consistent at every facility and allows both human and technology resources to be used effectively while stabilizing costs. It also ensures that security decisions at facilities are based on the best information available and therefore they are better protected.

INL works to implement improved physical security protection through several programs funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). For instance, we operate a Center of Excellence for vulnerability assessments. The center has created a standard method for conducting physical protection assessments and provides training and on-site assistance at dozens of DOE facilities housing critical materials and technology.

We support initiatives between the IAEA, U.S., and Russia to develop an international verification method for fissile material. We also support Material Protection Control and Accountability programs designed to prevent the theft or loss of nuclear materials at international locations.

Idaho National Laboratory