All over the world, there are unsolved cases of radioactive material that is stolen or diverted from its intended locations. The material either has or could cause serious implications for countries concerned about nuclear materials proliferation.
Nonproliferation and security experts continue to play an important role in developing technology, policy, and systems for safeguarding and securing nuclear materials and facilities. Nowhere is this work more evident than at the nation’s national laboratories.
Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has been a leader in the nuclear field for more than 70 years. In fact, we have safely designed, built, and operated 52 distinctive reactors. Our engineers have created detection technology and safeguards and security recommendations for worldwide application. We continue to work toward a future where nuclear facilities are designed to be more efficient and effective at safeguards and protection.
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.
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
Nuclear facilities have traditionally relied on after-the-fact security like armed security guards, weapons systems, monitoring devices, delay barriers, and denial systems. But increasingly, these add-on 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 life cycle of the facility.
This approach requires an understanding of security requirements, nuclear facility design, emerging technology, costs, risk management, and communication. In all of these areas, INL has excelled for more than 70 years. And today, this 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.
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.
As the nation’s lead research institution for nuclear energy, INL employs world-renowned nuclear scientists, engineers, and nonproliferation experts who lead immersive, hands-on responder training. INL’s isolated landscape and nuclear materials inventory supports real-world weapons of mass destruction training exercises. Sessions include a mixture of classroom and field exercises taught by experts with backgrounds in radiological detection, measurement and interrogation techniques.
INL has conducted radiological classroom and field training since 2002.
INL has conducted 81 Potassium Bromide (KBr) dispersals at the Radiological Response Test Range since 2015. Nearly two-thirds of those dispersals have been performed in support of training the U.S. National Guard, NNSA Stabilization Program and other DOD assets. The remaining one-third were used to support the following:
Classes range from several days to a few weeks and can be scaled to accommodate any sized group. Course materials are tailored to the participant’s potential need to search, interact, and render safe a radiological dispersal device or other potentially dangerous materials. Field activities can involve the strategic placement of radioactive sources so detection and identification techniques can be taught and performed by participants in a similar fashion to real deployment.
Nuclear Infrastructure Assessment Detection (NIAD) Training is a two-week Nuclear Fuel Cycle (NFC) course specifically designed for the U.S. Army 20th CBRNE Nuclear Disablement Teams (NDT). The annual training is structured for two levels of knowledge-based material intended to satisfy the varying range of student knowledge of the NFC. Instructors from INL and ORNL present information for each NFC process and associated topics including criticality awareness. This classroom instruction is followed with field training exercises (FTX) allowing students to demonstrate proficiency in learning objectives to characterize and disable a simulated nuclear facility.
INL is collaborating with Idaho State University on a new Disaster Response Complex (DRC). The DRC is standing up a regional training center for emergency responders that will provide year-round access with in-door and out-door training venues.
Training opportunities will include technical rescue in a collapsed structure with shoring, vehicle extraction, and subterranean lanes. In addition, the DRC is developing CBRN curriculum. Stay tuned in for more information on the DRC.
INL’s Radiochemistry and Nuclear Measurements is leading research and development of instruments and methods related to handling, chemical processing, isotopic separations, purification, detection, and measurement of radioactive materials. This work focuses on a broad set of applications in support of nuclear energy development, special nuclear materials accountancy and controls, international safeguards, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear counterproliferation, nuclear forensics, and other national security applications.
Areas of Expertise:
Emerging areas of research include data analytics, acoustics, and x-ray radiography of irradiated nuclear fuel.