National Nuclear Security Administration

Training preps countries for nuclear material measurements and bolsters nonproliferation network

September 25, 2018

You are here

Participants learn how to use the Active Well Coincidence Counter, an IAEA inspection tool, to measure uranium at Los Alamos National Laboratory in July.
Participants learn how to use the Active Well Coincidence Counter, an IAEA inspection tool, to measure uranium at Los Alamos National Laboratory in July.
Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear engineer Robert Weinmann-Smith shows participants how to use a handheld IAEA inspector tool, called identiFINDER, to detect radioactive materials.
Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear engineer Robert Weinmann-Smith shows participants how to use a handheld IAEA inspector tool, called identiFINDER, to detect radioactive materials.

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) provided basic training to nearly a dozen African and Asian countries on measuring and characterizing nuclear materials at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in July.

The training supports the peaceful use of nuclear energy, helping countries improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their nuclear material accountancy systems and, subsequently, their safeguards reporting to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“This training gives the IAEA more confidence in a country’s ability to submit correct reports,” said Anne Phillips, Acting Assistant Deputy Administrator of NNSA’s Office of Nonproliferation and Arms Control, which supports the training through the International Nuclear Safeguards Engagement Program. “We are strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime.”

Participants received class instruction and conducted hands-on exercises to bring them up to speed on non-destructive assay measurement techniques. Through various laboratory exercises participants learned how to use low- and high-resolution detectors to identify and measure nuclear materials like uranium and plutonium.

The 15 participants hailed from Egypt, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Liberia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Tunisia. The program included instructors from LANL, Sandia National Laboratories, Savannah River National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“The ability to leverage technical expertise within the National Laboratories is a significant aspect of our safeguards engagement,” said Danielle Watts of NNSA’s Office of Nonproliferation and Arms Control.

“We are giving them this expert knowledge and turning them into detectives,” said Sean Branney, a nuclear engineer at Savannah River National Laboratory. “We want them to distinguish between nuclear materials that are a genuine threat versus those that are not – and take action.”

The technical skills also prepare nations to detect the diversion of nuclear materials for suspicious use.

“It will help to keep their materials safe and prevent them from falling into the wrong hands,” said Ram Venkataraman, a nuclear specialist from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The training also allows nuclear engineering and nonproliferation specialists who develop safeguards measurement technologies to incorporate feedback from the participants. This helps them fine-tune the measurement tools and techniques.

“It helps us improve the design of our tools,” said William Geist, a nuclear scientist at LANL, which hosts the course each year. “Education is power and allows us to influence these countries to use technology that’s appropriate for them.”