Thailand inks agreement with nuclear security organization

The World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) and Thailand’s Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP) have signed a memorandum of understanding, WINS announced last week. WINS is a nongovernmental organization based in Vienna that works with the International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear security–related issues. OAP is Thailand's nuclear regulatory body.

Centered on security: Under the MOU, WINS is supporting the establishment and operation of an IAEA nuclear security support center at OAP. The main functions of the center will include human resource development, technical support services for nuclear security equipment lifecycle management, and scientific support services for the provision of nuclear security expertise, analysis, and research and development, according to the IAEA.

A key aspect of the OAP project will be to support the development of Thailand’s national nuclear security training strategy, as well as to provide professional development activities to Thai nuclear stakeholders, WINS said. The project is funded by Global Affairs Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program.

Nearly 22,000 completed IAEA courses in nuclear security

The IAEA's In Young Suh (center) demonstrates nuclear security e-learning modules to participants of the International Conference on Nuclear Security. Photo: C. Mitchell/U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory

An International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear security e-learning program is celebrating its 10 years of existence by marking a milestone with nearly 22,000 course completions by nuclear operators, regulators, policy professionals, academics, and students from 170 countries

The IAEA launched the first nuclear security e-learning course, "Use of Radiation Detection Instruments for Front Line Officers," in 2010. Since then, the agency has developed a suite of 17 nuclear security e-learning courses, which are available online at no cost.

The courses include:

  • Overview of nuclear security threats and risks
  • Physical protection
  • Insider threat and information
  • Computer security
  • Other areas of nuclear security

The online courses combine self-paced e-learning with virtual and face-to-face classroom learning. They are frequently prerequisites to instructor-led and classroom-based nuclear security education, training, and capacity building activities, according to the IAEA.

COVID-19 wake-up call: Doomsday Clock remains at 100 seconds to midnight

Bulletin members reveal the 2021 setting of the Doomsday Clock. Photo: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists/Thomas Gaulkin

Citing the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board kept the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight, remaining as near to midnight as it has ever been.

“The mishandling of this grave global health crisis is a ‘wake-up call’ that governments, institutions, and a misled public remain unprepared to handle the even greater threats posed by nuclear war and climate change,” a press release from the Bulletin stated. The group also cited a lack of progress in 2020 in dealing with nuclear and climate perils as the reason for not moving the Doomsday Clock from its 2020 position.

ANS member Joyce Connery appointed as DNFSB chair

President Biden has appointed Joyce Connery as chair of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB). Connery, an ANS member since 2012, was appointed to the board in August 2015 for a term ending in October 2019. She was confirmed again by the Senate as a DNFSB member on July 2, 2020, for a term expiring on October 18, 2024. Connery previously held the chairmanship from August 2015 until January 2017.

NNSA to hold virtual public meetings regarding Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration will hold two virtual public meetings on a new environmental impact statement for its Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program (SPDP). The meetings will be held on Monday, January 25, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) and Tuesday, January 26, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET). Participants can join by computer, telephone, or other device. A Notice of Intent contains a full description of the proposal and other options for providing public comment until February 1.

The program: The SPDP EIS will analyze alternatives for the disposition of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium using the capabilities at multiple sites across the United States. The NNSA’s preferred alternative, the dilute and dispose approach (also known as plutonium downblending), includes converting pit and non-pit plutonium to oxide, blending the oxidized plutonium with an adulterant, and emplacing the resulting transuranic waste underground in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), in New Mexico. The approach would require new, modified, or existing capabilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Pantex Plant in Texas, and WIPP.

NNSA releases contractor performance evaluations

The National Nuclear Security Administration last week released performance evaluation summaries on the effectiveness of its management and operating (M&O) contractors in meeting the agency’s expectations during fiscal year 2020.

The summaries feature assessment “scorecards,” as well as links to M&O contractor performance evaluation and measurement plans. Also included are specific contractor accomplishments, plus issues requiring attention.

IAEA confirms Iran working on uranium metal for reactor fuel

Iran has started work on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog and Tehran said on Wednesday. Kazem Gharib Abadi, Iran’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that the country has started working on the fuel, saying that everything has been reported to the agency.

Iran's action is the latest breach of its nuclear deal with six significant powers as it presses for a lifting of U.S. sanctions.

First female CO to command nuclear aircraft carrier

Bauernschmidt
Photo: U.S. Navy

Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt will assume command of USS Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy announced last month. It marks the first time that a female commanding officer will lead the crew of one of the Navy’s 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Bauernschmidt will take the Lincoln’s helm this summer, upon completion of the nuclear power, aviation, and leadership training required of aircraft carrier COs.

NNSA reportedly hacked as part of “extensive espionage operation”

In an exclusive story published yesterday, the news website Politico reports that networks of the National Nuclear Security Administration and other federal entities have been hacked “as part of an extensive espionage operation.”

Citing officials familiar with the matter, the story says that network breaches have been identified at the NNSA’s Office of Secure Transportation (which is responsible for the transport of government-owned special nuclear materials), Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, the Department of Energy’s Richland Field Office, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

According to the story, the hackers are believed to have gained access to the networks “by compromising the software company SolarWinds, which sells IT management products to hundreds of government and private-sector clients.”

Gordon-Hagerty resigns as NNSA administrator

Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty has resigned as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration and undersecretary of energy for nuclear security, the Department of Energy announced on November 6. William Bookless, who had been serving as NNSA principal deputy administrator for the past year-and-a-half, was named as acting administrator. Bookless spent more than three decades as a senior physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory prior to joining the NNSA.

New NNSA website helps in nuclear safeguards reporting

The National Nuclear Security Administration has launched RAINS—the Reporting Assistant for International Nuclear Safeguards website—intended to assist users with the requirements surrounding international nuclear safeguards.

Nuclear safeguards are designed to verify that all nuclear material declared by a nation-state is not diverted for non-peaceful uses; detect any misuse of declared facilities or locations outside facilities; and detect any undeclared nuclear material or activities in the nation-state.

GAO: Concerns persist on DOE Order 140.1

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on October 29 outlining potential issues regarding a 2018 Department of Energy order on how the department, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and their contractors interact with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) and its staff. DNFSB is the independent agency responsible for ensuring that DOE facilities are protective of public health and safety.

According to the 81-page GAO report, provisions of DOE Order 140.1, issued in May 2018, restricted DNFSB’s access to information essential to its mission, and a subsequent revision of that order has not eliminated concerns that it would hinder DNFSB in carrying out its oversight responsibilities.

Security equipment repository for Asia-Pacific region established

During a virtual meeting between the Atomic Energy Licensing Board of Malaysia, Japan’s Permanent Mission in Vienna, and the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, an agreement was signed to establish a pool of nuclear security equipment, including items pictured here, in Malaysia. Photo: I. Pletukhina/IAEA

The International Atomic Energy Agency has joined with Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) to establish a pool of radiation detection equipment available for loan to support nuclear security training and detection capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region, the IAEA announced October 7

This is the first such repository facilitated by the IAEA. The equipment was purchased with Japan’s contribution to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund.