The advanced safeguards group at Idaho National Laboratory is tasked with researching and developing new, nontraditional methods to account for the nuclear material used to power reactors throught the nuclear fuel cycle.Historically, tracking that material has required researchers to extensively measure the material before and after it enters a nuclear facility to ensure none of it is being diverted and used to make nuclear weapons. It is a labor-intensive process that can take days and can require parts of the facility to be shut down, significantly reducing efficiency and production. INL researchers are looking at alternative methods that could streamline that safeguards process, including using operations data already being monitored to track nuclear material as it moves through the facility. Another involves designing the instrumentation and controls at nuclear facilities to monitor nuclear materials “in process". The advanced safeguards group is a team of researchers brought together by emerging threats and the associated technical solutions. It grew out of the realization that the future of monitoring nuclear material is data management, accurate simulation, along with better and more sophisticated instrumentation and control systems.
The design and operation of nuclear facilities is not trivial. It represents the culmination of the highest in engineered thermohydraulics, neutronics, safety analysis, statistics, and systems engineering. However, because the requirements for security have traditionally come from outside regulators, the safeguards to protect the material were often applied after the facility was designed or built. The Safeguards-by-Design effort focuses on designing nuclear facilities that address safeguards and non-proliferation issues from the onset in close coordination with the other engineering factors.
Nuclear facility operators already monitor every aspect of a plant from the flow rate to various temperatures. INL researchers are working to identify a set of criteria from that constant stream of information that can be used measure nuclear materials in a fuel reprocessing facility in real time. The idea is that by monitoring the status of the plant processes (tank level, chemistry, flow rates/directions), operators could also track the nuclear material in the fuel. Furthermore, some ways of operating the facility benefit these safeguards systems without decreasing efficiency. In fact, the use of these operations methods could reduce the aforementioned labor-intensive material measurements. The safeguards envelope project seeks out these operating parameters to improve the efficiency of the safeguards effort.