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NNSA Commissions New Safeguards Tool at Chornobyl Site

WASHINGTON – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the successful commissioning of a new tool to help Ukraine fulfill nuclear safeguards obligations still complicated by the 1986 explosion at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (CNPP).

Following the accident at Chornobyl twenty-four years ago, a temporary sarcophagus was built around the damaged reactor to mitigate the radiation effects of the explosion and to protect the environment. Today, several countries are helping Ukraine build a more stable and permanent structure to replace the sarcophagus. But excavation at the construction site will likely unearth significant amounts of radioactive nuclear fuel and fragments ejected from the reactor at the time of the accident. This material presents a complex technical challenge for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) nuclear safeguards system because the material, including uranium and plutonium, still must be measured and declared, even after a quarter century.

Last year, Ukrainian authorities requested U.S. assistance with this task, and technical experts at Los Alamos National Laboratory were able to modify an existing instrument capable of measuring dispersed nuclear material, such as that found in the dirt in Chornobyl.

NNSA’s International Nuclear Safeguards and Engagement Program PDF document (INSEP) and Los Alamos National Laboratory offsite link developed the Chornobyl Drum Assay System (CDAS) in cooperation with the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the State Nuclear Regulatory Committee of Ukraine. This new tool will help Ukraine analyze the content of the soil and debris in the evacuation site, and thereby honor its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The International Nuclear Safeguards and Engagement Program in general, and this new tool in particular, are good examples of how NNSA has successfully applied decades of nuclear security expertise to confront complex technical challenges,” said Kenneth E. Baker, NNSA’s Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation. “Together with our Ukrainian partners, we are leveraging the unparalleled expertise from our national labs to solve real-world problems, such as helping to clean up the Chornobyl site, as well as strengthening the global nonproliferation regime.”

Over the next few years, Ukrainian experts will use the new tool to analyze the soil for radioactive material, and add these measurements to its inventory declaration to the IAEA.

INSEP is a key component of NNSA’s Next Generation Safeguards Initiative (NGSI), a robust, multi-year program to develop the policies, concepts, technologies, expertise, and international infrastructure necessary to strengthen and sustain the international safeguards system. INSEP draws on the unique expertise of the DOE and NNSA national laboratories to engage partner countries to improve the development and application of international safeguards through all stages of nuclear development. Through regional bilateral engagements, INSEP provides training, equipment and expertise needed by international partners to resolve unique safeguards challenges, like those at Chornobyl.

INSEP also develops and tests next generation safeguards technologies through collaborative technical projects with foreign partners. These technologies are intended to reduce the requirement for on-site inspector presence at particular facilities and increase the consistency of international safeguards reporting.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.