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Nuclear Safeguards


James E Lovett states the following in his book, Nuclear Materials: Accountability, Management, and Safeguards.
"Safeguards is a collective term that comprises those measures designed to guard against the diversion of material such as source and special nuclear material from uses permitted by law or treaty, and to give timely indication of possible diversion or credible assurance that no diversion has occurred." The measures designed, refer to :

  • containment measures, which means locking it in a safe or vault;
  • surveillance measures, which means using a camera or use a guard to watch over it;
  • Nuclear Material Accounting. This entails data capturing, recording, reporting and verification activities.

The security of material is also associated with safeguards and not only the safety of the people working with the material.

History of Safeguards

South Africa acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on 15 July 1991 and signed a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 16 September 1991. According to the CSA, SA had to submit a report on all its nuclear material (uranium, plutonium and thorium) as on 30 September 1991. This was SA's initial report that was submitted to the IAEA on 31 October 1991. Inspectors of the IAEA started verifying SA's declaration in November 1991 and an IAEA technical team performed a complete investigation during 1992 - 1993. The report to the United Nations stated unequivocally as follows: "No evidence has been found casting doubt on the veracity of the initial declaration".

To enable South Africa to fulfil its obligations relating to the CSA, the Nuclear Energy Act, Act 131 of 1993 was put into effect and it stated that the Atomic Energy Corporation of South Africa (AEC) acted as National Authority to implement safeguards. This function was delegated to the Department Licensing and Safeguards, which was ultimately transformed to the Department Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NNP). Implementation of safeguards implies the establishment of a State System of Accounting and Control of nuclear material (SSAC). This entails that every facility reports changes in its inventories to NNP every time it occurs. The IAEA's inspectors visit South Africa monthly to inspect various facilities and also to verify changes in inventories.

In 1999 the Department NNP was discontinued and the responsible division, Division Safeguards was transferred to the Department Quality and Engineering which then became Quality, Engineering and Safeguards (QES). Since 24 February 2000, the new Nuclear Energy Act, Act 46 of 1999 was implemented. It states that the Minister of Department Minerals and Energy (DME) is the National Authority for the implementation of safeguards. The day-to-day safeguards activities were however delegated via the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, NECSA (the previous AEC), to the Division Safeguards. During the years, a computer-aided system was developed to support reporting and lately the reports are being transferred to Vienna (the IAEA) via encrypted e-mail. To provide assurance and that there are continuous improvement with respect to application of safeguards, a quality management system (QMS) has been developed where the requirements of safeguards and principles of ISO 9001:2000 are integrated into a QMS applied on State and facility level.

The ultimate objective of safeguards is to provide assurance to the international community via the IAEA that the State is complying with non-proliferation and peaceful undertakings and that diversion of significant quantities would be detected timeously.


Inspections are carried out by designated IAEA Safeguards Inspectors accompanied by National Safeguards Inspectors. Inspections take place on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis, depending on the types and quantities of nuclear materials in the facility. The inventories of all the facilities are verified annually during a Physical Inventory Verification (PIV).

Physical Inventory Verification(PIV)

Once a year, during October, all South African facilities take stock of the nuclear material under their control, i.e. a physical inventory taking (PIT). The IAEA then sends its inspectors, normally four, to verify each facility's declaration. This verified inventory then forms the beginning quantity for the new so-called material balance period (MBP), i.e. the period this October to next year October. In the case of the Koeberg facilities, verification activities are performed on an eighteen-month cycle.

After completion of verification activities, final reports are prepared and submitted to the IAEA. These comprise a physical inventory listing (PIL) and a material balance report (MBR). The former report is a summary of the facility's inventory and the latter a summary of all the changes in inventory during the past MBP. The IAEA would reconcile reported data with inspection and PIV data. When everything matches, the material balance for each facility is closed for the past year.


Nuclear material reporting is a very important component of the total package of control measures to ensure that nuclear material is used for peaceful purposes only. For example, the research on radioactive isotopes in laboratories that are shielded in transport containers - radioactive isotopes and sources could be used in industrial instruments and for non-destructive examination.

The possession of all inventories of nuclear materials, and consequent changes thereof at facilities of Necsa, as well as at private companies has to be declared to the IAEA in prescribed formats. This is in accordance to the agreement between the government of South Africa and the IAEA (INFCIRC/394) in terms of the safeguards.

This includes inventory changes constituting the increase/decrease of nuclear material (receipts/shipments), process losses/gains and even the establishment of better values, the latter as accurate as to the nearest tenth of a gram. It is also important to ascertain that every user/possessor of nuclear material is duly authorised in terms of the Nuclear Energy Act.

Since October 1991 all inventory changes must be reported monthly within 30 days after occurrence and annually, after completion of the physical inventory verification. Material balances and inventory lists are to be submitted to the IAEA for evaluation.

Safeguards Information Systems of the Safeguards Division started off by submitting manually prepared reports. This has progressed to the current status of having developed a fully computerised system to encompass electronic error detection and transmitting accounting reports via encrypted electronic mail enhancing the all important timeliness and correct aspect of nuclear material accounting.

Remote Monitoring

Following the 37th Regular Session of the General Conference of the IAEA in 1993, South Africa informed the Director General by letter, that it was prepared to consider proposals from the IAEA on the further strengthening of Safeguards for High Enriched Uranium (HEU). This was intended to provide additional confidence building measures and enhance transparency.

Remote Monitoring (RM) as a Safeguards tool was being actively developed and tested on an international level during this time.

South Africa obtained clearance to build a RM system in August 1996. User specifications and technical specifications were drawn up and co-operation established between Sandia National Laboratory (SNL), Aquila Technology Group (ATG), US Department of Energy (DoE), IAEA and the South African National Safeguards Authority/Necsa.

Equipment was procured from items available on the industrial market. Installation was completed during April 1997 and a testing phase was started. An extension of the Remote Monitoring System (RMS) to Koeberg Nuclear Power Station (2 Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) units) and the Thabana pipe store (Safari Reactor spent fuel storage) was accepted by Necsa.

Data transmission (encryption, transmission line, electronic hardware and software) problems were resolved over a period of time. Equipment related problems included neutron-induced failures of the digital processing part of the camera hardware. A key success factor in resolving these technical problems with the RMS was the good communication between Necsa and IAEA technical staff and the competent and speedy reaction.

This good co-operation enabled completion of the test phase, initiation of normal remote monitoring operation with IAEA review and the start of the final phase of pioneering a new safeguards approach for the facilities with RMS.

Remote Monitoring Objectives

The initial objectives for a remote monitoring system were:

  • To institute additional confidence building measures regarding South Africa's HEU material through continuous real time monitoring, improve openness and transparency, show commitment to safeguards agreements and demonstrate trust in order that safeguards goal attainment was assured.
  • To increase effectiveness and strengthen safeguards implementation,
  • To collect experience on the effectiveness, reliability and functionality of RMS as part of the IAEA safeguards system, and
  • To lower the cost of safeguards processes by reduction in the inspection effort (e.g. frequency of inspections).

Additional benefits would be that the RMS could reduce worker radiation exposure and be less intrusive on facility operations. The national output from the RMS could also be integrated into the physical protection surveillance system in order to enhance the detection capability through health or motion pictures.

International Developments In RMS

The US Department of Energy, through bilateral agreements with international partners, had initiated the International Remote Monitoring Project [1] by placing demonstration systems in various nuclear facilities to conduct field trials during 1994 and 1995. The RMS was tested in dry spent fuel storage facilities, light water reactor facilities and laboratories.

With experience gained from these projects, RMS is presently being field tested with the IAEA in:

  • Seven countries with Safeguards Agreements in force,
  • Nineteen facilities (five of these facilities in South Africa),
  • Thirty-nine camera systems (twelve of these cameras are installed in South Africa in the HEU storage vault, Thabana pipe store, the two units of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station (KNPS) and the Koeberg spent fuel cask storage facility).

RMS In South Africa

Installation and Configuration

Development of the unattended RMS for timeliness purposes was initiated for field testing (with reference to the implementation of Programme 93+2), using a land based communication network between the IAEA Headquarters in Vienna and Pelindaba site in South Africa.

The RMS made use of cameras with motion detection and unattended remotely monitored sensors such as magnetic vault door switches and a network of "seismic" sensors along the walls and individual vault contact surfaces in the HEU storage vault at Pelindaba. User and technical requirements were jointly resolved between SNL, ATG, US DoE, IAEA and Necsa. The user requirements included review stations at both IAEA Headquarters in Vienna and at the Pelindaba field office, authentication of data, encryption of data, trace ability through file number, date and time identification, motion and trigger events to initiate alarm signals and images and sufficient storage space at the camera and server in case of transmission failure.