On this page
- The Safeguards Act – Serving Australia's Interests
- Australian Support to the International Atomic Energy Agency's Network of Analytical Laboratories
- Facing the Proliferation Challenges of Unconventional Sources of Uranium
- National Data Centres and National Approaches to Verification under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty
- The Aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Accident – One Year Later
- Seoul Nuclear Security Summit
- Australia Supports Efforts to Strengthen the Chemical Weapons Ban: Challenge Inspections as a Means to Deter Non-Compliance
- Celebrating 15 years of the Chemical Weapons Convention
- Australia's Uranium Production and Exports
The year 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the commencement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987. The period from 1987 has presented major challenges to the international nuclear non-proliferation architecture including: the discovery in 1991 of the clandestine nuclear weapons program in Iraq; the dismantlement of nuclear weapons programs in the early 1990s; breaches of nuclear safeguards and non-proliferation obligations by Iran, Libya, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea; the discovery of the AQ Khan illicit procurement network for enrichment technology; and, the changes to the modus operandi of international terrorism to a greater willingness to inflict mass destruction. The international community has responded to these challenges in both normative terms by strengthening international legal instruments and in political terms by working collaboratively to strengthen the systems that underpin these instruments and in making individual commitments and actions that reduce proliferation and security risks.
The non-proliferation achievements during the last 25 years include: the strengthening of safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through the conclusion of the Additional Protocol, and the associated work by the IAEA to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the safeguards verification systems; the strengthening of nuclear security through the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), both complemented by improvements to the IAEA's implementation guidelines on nuclear security; the myriad of international programs to build the capacity and awareness of states for securing and accounting for nuclear material and related equipment and technology; and, the recent international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in the world through actions agreed at the series of Nuclear Security Summits initiated by President Obama. Significant challenges still remain and there are several unresolved issues, but strengthening of the architecture and systems in the last 25 years is a good framework upon which further improvements can hopefully be made.
Australia has been well equipped through this period to make strong contributions to these developments by being amongst the top tier of countries with internationally recognised expertise and capabilities in nuclear safeguards and security. Australia's capabilities stem from the resourcing of departments and agencies to advance the strong policy commitments of successive governments to robust international nuclear safeguards and security, and the expertise that has derived from implementing safeguards and security at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), universities, research and development institutes and companies, and uranium mines, and in designing, implementing and administering the controls on Australian nuclear material through the network of 22 bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements under which Australian uranium is exported. The same knowledge and expertise that ASNO builds through its domestic and bilateral regulatory functions transfers to providing specialist advice to the Government on the breadth of bilateral and international safeguards and security issues.
The legislative instrument for the administration of safeguards and security on nuclear material and equipment in Australia and Australian Obligated Nuclear Material (AONM) and equipment overseas is the Safeguards Act. The Safeguards Act has served Australia's interests well over these 25 years by being the vehicle through which Australia could flexibly implement and enforce its obligations. It establishes the statutory position of the Director General of ASNO and empowers the Director General and the office of ASNO variously to:
- ensure the effective operation of the Australian safeguards system
- carry out Australia's obligations under agreements such as the Australia-IAEA Safeguards Agreement, Additional Protocol and the CPPNM
- monitor compliance of Australia's respective bilateral partners under each of the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements covering supply of Australian uranium
- advise the Minister for Foreign Affairs on matters relating to safeguards
- undertake, coordinate and facilitate nuclear safeguards research and development.
Nuclear safeguards and security is a highly specialised field underpinned by various academic disciplines such as physics, chemistry, engineering, international law and international relations. Maintaining the expertise and skill sets in ASNO is challenging. Ensuring ASNO has an appropriate level of expertise to both administer the regulatory responsibilities and provide policy advice and guidance to Government on domestic, bilateral and international nuclear safeguards and security issues requires maintaining a critical mass of experience. To put this challenge into perspective, the minimum entry-level pre-requisite for a safeguards position at the IAEA is five years' experience in a relevant nuclear field. This level of experience is limited in Australia. As such, ensuring ASNO has an appropriate depth of experience and expertise to maintain Australia's international profile and reputation in the field of nuclear safeguards and security requires a commitment to sufficient staffing levels to accommodate staff movements, and a commitment to training staff through exposure to IAEA and international workshops, meetings and committees.
The Safeguards Act – history
The Australian Safeguards Office (ASO) – ASNO's predecessor – was established in July 1974. It was not until the commencement of the Safeguards Act on 31 March 1987 that ASO was given a broad legislative foundation to regulate nuclear material, nuclear-related items, and nuclear-related activities across all sectors, private and public. The Act established the statutory position of Director of Safeguards, now known as the Director General of ASNO.
From 1975 to 1987, ASO operated under an administrative order from the minister with responsibility for the Atomic Energy Act 1953. That Act set the legislative basis for nuclear activities at the Australian Atomic Energy Commission's (AAEC) (later to become ANSTO) facility at Lucas Heights, and hence the basis for regulating AAEC's compliance with safeguards obligations under Australia's safeguards agreement with the IAEA. A comprehensive review of the Atomic Energy Act led to the replacement of the AAEC by ANSTO in 1987 and the establishment of the Safeguards Act as the legislative basis for the implementation of nuclear safeguards and security of all nuclear material and related equipment and activities in Australia across all jurisdictions; and in doing so gave a firm legal basis for ASO's functions, backed up by clearly defined offences.
In 1994 ASO was moved from the Primary Industries and Energy portfolio to the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio, under the Minister for Foreign Affairs. This move was prompted by the increasing foreign policy attention being given to strengthening the IAEA safeguards system. There were natural synergies with DFAT's interests in international nuclear policy that ASO, with considerable expertise in nuclear safeguards and security, could more effectively contribute. This move was followed by the designation of additional functions to the Director of Safeguards: the position of Director of the Chemical Weapons Convention Office (CWCO); and, the position of the Director of the Australian Comprehensive Test-Ban Office (ACTBO) – further boosting the contribution that the Office could make to DFAT's interests in international security. In August 1998 the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) was established, combining the functions of ASO, CWCO, and ACTBO. The position of Director of Safeguards, Director of CWCO, and Director of ACTBO were combined into the position of Director General, ASNO.
The Safeguards Act has proved versatile for managing the obligations under Australia's safeguards agreement and Additional Protocol with the IAEA, bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements, and the CPPNM. The permit system under the Act has proven very effective for regulating and administering compliance with Australia's treaty obligations in a broad range of industries, including: uranium mines; nuclear research reactors; enrichment research, and possession of small quantities of nuclear material at universities, hospitals, and industrial radiography companies. The flexibility the Safeguards Act and Regulations gives to the permit system contributed to Australia being the first country in the world to bring an Additional Protocol into force, on 12 December 1997. Whereas most countries took a few years or more to bring this strengthened safeguards agreement into force, Australia made the transition seamlessly rather than requiring any additional laws. Australia's permit system was held up as a regulatory good practice model for other states to consider at the recent joint IAEA, US, EU and Namibia hosted regional seminar on "Good Practices in the Processing and Control of Uranium Ore Concentrate", held in Windhoek, Namibia in April 2012.
The Safeguards Act has only required relatively minor amendments over the last 25 years. In 2003 the Act was amended to strengthen arrangements and offences for the protection and safeguards of nuclear material, facilities and associated information, and to introduce a permit requirement for the establishment of any new nuclear facility in Australia. In 2007 the Act was amended to give legal effect to Australia's obligations under the amended CPPNM, to introduce a permit requirement for the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, and to extend the geographical jurisdiction for some offences. And in 2012 the Act was amended to align the offences provisions with the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which was brought into force in Australia on 15 April 2012.
The IAEA maintains a Network of Analytical Laboratories (NWAL) that supports its Department of Safeguards in meeting non-proliferation challenges, such as detecting undeclared nuclear activity through environmental sample analysis and destructive analysis. An advanced analytical instrument, the large-geometry secondary ion mass spectrometer (LG-SIMS), is becoming the IAEA's workhorse for the NWAL, and Australia will make a major contribution through the decision of the University of Western Australia (UWA) to add its LG-SIMS and services to the IAEA's analytical arsenal.
NWAL derives support through Member State Support Programs (MSSP), which provide financial and technical assistance. Australia has been a part of the MSSP since 1980 and has contributed to the NWAL system for 10 years through the accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) facility at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). In 2012, Australia's role in NWAL expanded significantly through the qualification of the LG-SIMS at the UWA's Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis.
NWAL uses various types of technology to provide analyses on environmental samples gathered by IAEA inspectors. Environmental sampling is a crucial technical verification tool in the field of nuclear safeguards. Any human activity that involves nuclear materials, such as handling uranium and plutonium, leaves tiny, but detectable traces in the neighbouring environment. When a sample from this environment is analysed, the traces of nuclear activity provide an indication as to the nature of the activities, and whether there are any undeclared activities. Environmental sampling is especially important in safeguards verification of uranium enrichment facilities. During enrichment operations, uranium particles are released into the environment at very small levels, and isotopic analysis of these sub-micron particles can reveal signatures of the enrichment process.
The two most commonly employed techniques for analysing uranium enrichment in environmental particles use mass spectrometers. Mass spectrometer analysis can reveal certain isotope anomalies that could suggest activities inconsistent with a declared nuclear program. The analytical challenge inherent in these analyses consists of first locating the uranium particles in a background of millions of dust particles, and then performing the analyses on individual particles with enough sensitivity to characterise the sample enrichment. Once the uranium particles have been identified, analysis can determine the abundance of different uranium isotopes within individual particles. This can provide details of enrichment levels and the specific enrichment process that was used to enrich the uranium. Furthermore, by performing abundance analysis on rarer uranium isotopes, LG-SIMS can also help distinguish anthropogenic uranium from natural uranium feedstock.
Previously, the data quality from the smaller geometry mass spectrometers used in the NWAL precluded the ability to verify the presence of some particles or produced inconclusive results. The inability of the smaller instruments to effectively resolve interferences led to inaccuracies in estimating uranium enrichment, which is the key to understanding if weapons-grade materials are being produced. Because of the need for improved data quality and higher sample throughput, in 2007, the Department of Safeguards at the IAEA called for the inclusion of Cameca IMS 1280 LG-SIMS laboratories in the NWAL, which has led to the qualification of UWA's instrument. LG-SIMS machines have a greater sensitivity to minor uranium isotopes, allowing much greater fidelity of results. The Cameca IMS-1280 ion probe at UWA combines high transmission, high abundance sensitivity, and high primary current density to provide unparalleled capability for in situ stable isotope ratio analyses, which it routinely uses to measure minute isotopic variations in rocks and minerals.
The University of Western Australia's large-geometry secondary ion mass spectrometer (LG-SIMS), now part of the International Atomic Energy Agency's analytical arsenal (Photo: University of Western Australia)
The LG-SIMS has only recently entered the IAEA's arsenal of analytical instruments for uranium particle analysis. There are two LG-SIMS in the NWAL, with the first machine commencing operations for the IAEA in August 2011. Two more LG-SIMS – one of which is UWA's – are expected to come on line during 2012–13.
UWA will be the first university to become a member of NWAL. Most other members are government agencies, such as ANSTO, the US Air Force, the Japanese and French atomic energy agencies, and the European Commission's Institute for Transuranium Elements. Overall, there are currently eight members from six countries, the EU and the UN, performing particle analysis using a range of mass spectrometer instruments.
Not only does the LG-SIMS at UWA provide a crucial technical capability, UWA's analysts are recognised by the IAEA for their leading expertise. This means UWA can assist in developing the analytical techniques for other NWAL facilities to use, thereby contributing to strengthening the overall NWAL system and the Agency's ability to perform verification activities.
The inclusion of the LG-SIMS instrument at UWA represents a crucial resource for the IAEA's NWAL that will prove invaluable in assisting international safeguards verification. It can provide assistance to the IAEA for some of the more delicate proliferation challenges in recent years, especially in helping to identify undeclared nuclear activity, especially uranium enrichment. It demonstrates Australia's commitment to non-proliferation objectives and the willingness of Australia's technical and educational community to contribute to those objectives, building on the analytical work provided by ANSTO's AMS instrument for more than 10 years.
Uranium is a relatively common element and, while only a small number of countries have economically viable uranium deposits, most countries around the world have a source of extractable uranium associated with other mineral resources. These recoverable sources of uranium are typically not economic on the basis of uranium extraction exclusively, but it is possible, and even sometimes economic, to extract the uranium as a by-product. Known as "unconventional" sources of uranium, they are typified by low uranium concentrations in a high volume material. A uranium concentrate can be extracted during the processing of this material or the processing produces a waste product that contains elevated levels of uranium. This waste material might then be used as a feed material for a uranium processing plant. Uranium may also be extracted for environmental reasons from mineral products, process waste or tailings during processing or during the remediation of mining sites.
Unconventional sources have been used to produce uranium for nuclear purposes for over 40 years. Uranium was extracted in the 1980s and 1990s from the processing of phosphoric acid from uranium rich phosphate deposits in Morocco (processed in Belgium), Canada, Israel, Spain, USA and Taiwan. Processes have also been demonstrated and patented for the co-extraction or post extraction of uranium in the milling of rare earth metals, mineral sands and from waste and tailings products from other mining and milling processes. Even fly-ash from coal fired power stations, which only has concentrations of up to 30 parts per million of uranium, has been shown to be a viable source of uranium.
The international trade in processed uranium is already well safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and all states with safeguards agreements are required to report the international movement of nuclear material for tracking and verification purposes. But this doesn't cover unprocessed ores and concentrates containing uranium. However, states with Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements with the IAEA have specific obligations to report imports and exports of any material containing uranium, not just nuclear material subject to safeguards, unless the material is specifically for non-nuclear use. These reporting obligations also apply to material containing thorium which commonly occurs in the same or similar unconventional mineral sources as uranium. While these materials primarily have non-nuclear uses, the fact that uranium could also be extracted from a mineral product may be overlooked.
It is obviously of concern if material containing recoverable uranium is exported from one country to another for nuclear use and the export or import of the material is not reported to the IAEA. The material then may be processed, without the knowledge of the exporter, for the extraction of uranium for nuclear purposes. This arrangement could provide unreported feed material for undeclared nuclear fuel cycle activities. This situation would be compounded by the issue that mining and ore processing activities are not under safeguards in states with only a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. In states with an Additional Protocol, all plants that produce uranium concentrates, whether they are processing conventional or unconventional resources, are required to be declared to the IAEA and are subject to verification and reporting requirements.
Australia has several rare earth and mineral sands deposits that have concentrations of uranium and thorium above 500 parts per million. Under Regulation 9 of the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958 permissions are required from the Minister for Resources and Energy, or authorised person in the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism to export controlled ores and concentrates or other materials that contain more than 500 parts per million of uranium and thorium, combined. The need to control these exports reflects Australia's stringent nuclear non-proliferation requirements, including the need to ensure that Australia's safeguards obligations are met with regard to the exports of ores, concentrates and residues which contain practically recoverable concentrations of uranium and thorium.
ASNO contributes to this export control process by providing technical analysis of the safeguards risk of the exports based on the type of material being exported, the amount of contained uranium or thorium and the destination country. Some of Australia's bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements require that uranium or thorium from ores and concentrates from Australia is not extracted for nuclear purposes or that extracted uranium or thorium becomes subject to the agreement upon extraction. ASNO, through these agreements, also ensures that any uranium extracted from Australian origin minerals is under IAEA monitoring and verification, recorded as Australian Obligated Nuclear Material (AONM) and remains in exclusively peaceful use. ASNO has also provided training and outreach to regional and international partners to raise awareness of this issue and assist our partners in appropriately controlling these materials.
Unconventional sources of uranium are generally of low strategic value and low proliferation risk. But it is important for all states to have oversight and control of exports of commodities from which nuclear material can be extracted for nuclear purposes in order to meet IAEA reporting requirements and to assist in maintaining international security in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Effort should not be diverted from safeguarding the later proliferation-sensitive stages of the nuclear fuel cycle. However, the IAEA and the international safeguards community must remain vigilant in safeguarding the evolving front end of the nuclear fuel cycle.
National Data Centres and National Approaches to Verification under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty
The scientific and technical underpinnings of the CTBT and its verification regime have long been widely recognised. Data from facilities set up to monitor variously for acoustic waves and radionuclide particulates and gases are analysed to identify events, and to determine if an event is nuclear explosive in origin. If the nature of a concerning event is not fully clear, an on-site inspection could be sought at the event's location to gather further data.
To prepare to make that concept operational, the CTBT Organization has been tasked to establish physical, technical and human infrastructure for the International Monitoring System (IMS), the International Data Centre (IDC) and for on-site inspections (OSI). Strong progress has been made over the last 15 years.
The IMS, IDC and any OSI will be run under the authority of the CTBT Organization, and are valuable tools for gathering reliable and authenticated verification data. But the task of analysing that data to judge compliance with the CTBT when it has entered into force will fall to State Parties. If the CTBT is to be implemented effectively, each State Party should develop its own technical judgements about any event that appears to have the characteristics of a nuclear explosion. It will only be on the basis of sound technical judgements that State Parties can participate effectively in many of the political processes of the CTBT – such as use of the Treaty's consultation and clarification or OSI mechanisms, or dealing with any case of non-compliance. This gives countries a significant role in verifying the Treaty – more than is the case in relation to, for example, International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
Progress with the development of analytical capability in National Data Centres (NDCs) has been made by a number of CTBT signatories, but much more remains to be done. Even before the CTBT has entered into force there are good reasons to establish the relevant technical capability in order to benefit from civil and scientific uses of IMS data, such as for disaster management.
Monitoring being undertaken at the Australian hydroacoustic station at Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia (Photo: CTBTO Public Information – www.ctbto.org)
Each country may choose the level of effort that its NDC will put into treaty verification. An NDC may simply examine IDC products, available through subscription or from the IDC secure website or it may set up a capability to examine events of concern through the analysis of raw data. The selection of a suitable NDC model is an issue that all CTBT signatories should be considering sooner rather than later, so that the process of developing critical technical skills can begin.
The CTBT Organization is promoting training and activities that can help to establish relevant technical capacity in CTBT signatory states. Australia is pleased to contribute to this work and in May 2010 hosted a workshop in Canberra to promote NDC capacity in countries in our region. More recently, Australian CTBT agencies have initiated contacts with some regional countries to assess what more needs to be done to establish and maintain a sound skill base in NDCs. Advanced technical training and practical engagement among NDCs were identified as priorities.
Whatever work may be done among the CTBT Organization and technical agencies of CTBT signatories to promote skills, it will be important that national governments recognise and support the importance of a sound NDC capacity – even while entry into force of the treaty may be some time off.
This was the first time that a natural disaster has led to a serious nuclear accident.
The Tohoku Pacific Earthquake of magnitude 9.0 struck the north-eastern part of Japan on 11 March 2011. Of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, the three reactors operating at the time shut-down automatically and the remaining three were already off-line for maintenance at the time of the earthquake.
The tsunami generated by the massive earthquake breached the six metre high sea-wall and badly damaged the site resulting in the loss of on-site and off-site power. The diesel generators providing emergency power were damaged by the resulting inundation less than one hour after the earthquake struck and the three operating reactors shutdown. When diesel back-up generators failed, battery back-ups powered the operational site pumps for a limited period of time and when this was expended all six of the reactors were left without essential power.
The three reactors that had been operating at the time – Units 1, 2 and 3, required continuous power after emergency shut-down to allow for the reactors to cool down. In the absence of adequate cooling, temperatures in the reactors increased causing significant core damage (melting) and pressures to build to unsafe levels with an increase in explosive hydrogen gas caused by the reaction between the damaged zirconium fuel cladding and water. Plant engineers attempted to reduce the pressure and temperature by venting the trapped gases and by injecting seawater, the only cooling fluid available in large quantities – effectively ruining the reactors. This improvised cooling, however, failed to prevent a series of hydrogen explosions at Units 1, 3 and 4. The explosions damaged the reactor buildings (Unit 4 suffered the most serious damage), releasing radioactive material into the environment. The spent fuel pools continued to heat up requiring additional water to be injected in these to prevent water levels dropping to the extent that fuel could be exposed to air and catching fire causing a more significant release of radioactive material.
In the case of the Units 1–3, the aim of cooling was to get the reactors into 'cold shutdown'; a state reached when temperatures in the core remain below 100°C and the pressure reaches equilibrium with the atmosphere. This state represents a relative degree of stability and the Japanese Government declared this objective as being met on 16 December 2011.
A nuclear emergency was declared by the Japanese Government on 11 March 2011 and the threat of radioactive release caused the government to order a 20 kilometre evacuation zone to be set up around the stricken plant the following day. A further zone extending from 20 to 30 kilometres was declared as an emergency preparedness evacuation zone in which people were instructed to stay indoors, or to leave and head for the nearest evacuation centres. Also in March 2011, the Australian Government and several other countries encouraged their citizens to move out of the area within 80 kilometres of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Plant as a precaution. By April 2011, some 160,000 people living within a 30-kilometer radius of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Plant, as well as some outlying areas, had been evacuated from their homes.
Japanese officials initially assessed the accident as Level 4 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), which was subsequently raised to 5 and eventually to 7, the maximum scale value indicating an accident causing widespread contamination with serious health and environmental effects. Prior to Fukushima, the Chernobyl disaster was the only level 7 accident on record, while the Three Mile Island accident was a level 5 accident. The Japanese Government estimated the total amount of radioactivity released into the atmosphere was approximately one-tenth as much as was released during the Chernobyl disaster. Significant amounts of radioactive material have also been released into ground and ocean waters. Measurements taken 30–50 kilometre from the plant showed caesium-137 levels high enough to cause concern, leading the government to ban the sale of food produced in the area.
Almost all the airborne emissions from the plant took place within the first couple of weeks. Within a month the rate of emission had fallen by a factor of 10,000.
The Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO) is now focussed on decommissioning activities while the various levels of the Japanese Government are now concentrating on decontamination efforts, so that people evacuated in the early days of the accident can return home – although decontamination efforts are expected to take a number of years and at great cost.
The future of nuclear power in Japan awaits consideration of the results of an energy review and accident investigation reports. Following the Fukushima accident, the Japanese Government has on several occasions signalled a reduction on the future reliance of the technology, favouring an increased use of alternative energy sources. However, the government remains committed to restarting reactors which have been shut down and stayed off-line following routine maintenance inspections.
On 16 June 2012, Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, announced the Japanese Government's intention to restart reactors 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co (KEPCO) Ohi nuclear power plants – noting also the government's determination to restore trust in Japan's nuclear policies and safety regulations. Reactor 3 restarted on 1 July 2012 and was brought to full operation on 9 July 2012. Reactor 4 reactivated on 18 July 2012 and became the second to be restarted since the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Two major investigations into the accident have been commissioned by Japan. "The Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company" was formed 7 June 2011 by the Japanese Government to investigate the causes of the accident and accident damage and to make policy recommendations for limiting and preventing reoccurrence of similar accidents. The Investigation Committee issued an interim report in December 2011, and is expected to issue its final report later in 2012. The second, "The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission" (NAIIC) by the National Diet, was established on 8 December 2011 with the mission to investigate the direct and indirect causes of the Fukushima nuclear incident. The Commission submitted its report to both houses on 5 July 2012. Both the interim report and that by NAIIC were critical of the regulatory structures, of TEPCO and the response to the accident in the hours, days and weeks that followed. The NAIIC chairman, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, declared: "It was a profoundly man-made disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented."
The Japanese Government decided in mid-2011 to establish a new and more independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) under the Environment Ministry, combining the roles of Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency (NISA) and Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), and also the monitoring functions of the Education and Science Ministry. Also, coming under the remit of the Ministry of the Environment will be the five member Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which replaces the NSC and will review the effectiveness of the NRA and be responsible for the investigation of nuclear accidents. As an expression of its determination to strengthen nuclear safety regulation, Japan seeks to receive an IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service mission in 2012.
In the aftermath of the accident, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano dispatched an International Experts Fact-Finding Mission to the site of the accident, and convened a Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Vienna in June 2011. The Ministerial Conference adopted a Ministerial Declaration that, inter alia, requested the Director General to develop a draft Action Plan on Nuclear Safety. Developed in intensive consultation with Member States, the Action Plan on Nuclear Safety was adopted by the IAEA's Board of Governors and subsequently unanimously endorsed by the IAEA General Conference in September 2011. The implementation of the Action Plan started immediately after its adoption through a wide range of activities.
The full implementation of the Nuclear Safety Action Plan makes a major contribution towards enhancing nuclear power production safety. The activities undertaken to implement the Action Plan focus on reviewing, improving and strengthening IAEA peer reviews, emergency preparedness and response, the effectiveness of national regulatory bodies and operating organisations, IAEA Safety Standards and their implementation, the international legal framework's effectiveness, capacity building, the effectiveness of communication, information dissemination and transparency, and nuclear safety research and development.
The accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant highlighted the need for effective communication to states and relevant organisations (such as the IAEA) of information on emergency incidents. Furthermore, the information must be adequately detailed and contextualised to allow this information to be interpreted in a way that ensures an appropriate response. Incomplete information and a poor understanding of that information at a time of information overload, as is likely to occur during an emergency, can make it very difficult to identify the key matters requiring an active and effective response.
The 2010 Washington Nuclear Security Summit was the largest gathering of world leaders in the US since the 1945 founding of the United Nations. That summit produced a Communiqué and a Work Plan which confirmed leaders' commitment to strengthen nuclear security and reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism through, inter alia, the application of international conventions, partnerships and threat reduction programs. Leaders at Washington also agreed to hold a second summit in Seoul in 2012.
The Seoul Summit was held during 26-27 March 2012 and attended by 53 countries, the United Nations, the European Commission and Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency and Interpol. Australia's delegation to the Seoul Summit was led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. ASNO provided support through Director General ASNO (as Australia's Summit Sherpa) and also through ASNO's Nuclear Security Section. The Seoul Summit also produced a Communiqué, supporting the Washington Communiqué, which expanded on specific elements such as information security, security of radioactive materials, and the safety/security interface. In all, 11 key nuclear security issues with corresponding specific actions were added to the Communiqué.
Though not the focus of the Security Summit, leaders made references to the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident and how those lessons could also improve the application of nuclear security.
In addition to national progress reports and national statements, 13 joint statements or so called "gift-baskets" were presented to the Summit. These statements included papers on radioactive sources, information security, counter smuggling, transport security, legislation implementation, nuclear security centres of excellence, and using low-enriched uranium to produce medical isotopes.
Actions taken by Australia
Prime Minister Gillard during her summit intervention outlined Australia's fulfilment of specific commitments made at the Washington Summit.
- Australia ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism on 16 March 2012 (see page 63)
- Australia continued to conduct outreach activities in the Asian region on nuclear security and led a number of workshops, especially under the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism
- Australia undertook to host a workshop on IAEA International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) missions in 2012 and host an actual mission in 2013.
Information on Australia's progress against the Washington Communiqué and Work Plan is available at http://www.thenuclearsecuritysummit.org/eng-media/speeches_list.jsp
Actions taken by other countries
Following similar actions announced at the Washington Summit a number of countries announced the completion of nuclear material threat reduction programs. Specifically, Ukraine repatriated all of its highly enriched uranium (HEU) to Russia, Sweden repatriated of all of its separated plutonium to USA and the Czech Republic, Mexico and Vietnam completed the conversion of their research reactors from HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU). Many states also pledged new contributions to the IAEA nuclear security fund. Along with Australia, Finland, the Republic of Korea, Romania and the US volunteered to host IPPAS missions.
There were 21 ratifications of the 2005 Amendment to the Convention of the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) since the Washington Summit, but as of 30 June 2012 another 40 further ratifications were required to achieve entry into force. The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism has already entered into force, but only 79 States have ratified.
Netherlands and beyond
Leaders agreed at the Seoul Summit that a third summit will be held in 2014 in the Netherlands. Looking ahead to that summit, Prime Minister Gillard highlighted the "need to agree measures to sustain these efforts and make a focus on nuclear security a permanent feature of what we do". In particular Prime Minister Gillard suggested three things to be considered, namely to:
- further empower the IAEA to continue its important work
- establish an accountability framework on nuclear security that builds confidence between nations beyond 2014
- find mechanisms to foster co-operation between governments, industry and non-government organisations.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and United States President Barack Obama at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit (Photo: Howard Moffat, Auspic)
ASNO plans to work with key stakeholders domestically and internationally to further develop these ideas.
Australia Supports Efforts to Strengthen the Chemical Weapons Ban: Challenge Inspections as a Means to Deter Non-Compliance
The floods which threatened to swamp Bangkok in late October 2011 did not lessen the resolve of the Technical Secretariat (TS) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and Thailand to press ahead with a field exercise to test preparedness to conduct a challenge inspection under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and to identify areas for improvement of the OPCW's capability.
With the support of European Union funds, the challenge inspection field exercise took place from 31 October to 4 November 2011 at an industrial chemical plant south-east of Bangkok, and after two years of detailed planning. Australia welcomed the TS invitation to take on the role of the Requesting State Party (RSP) in the first such exercise to be hosted in Asia and the sixth conducted jointly with the OPCW. The Hague Embassy provided significant support which included Australia's Ambassador to Netherlands, Neil Mules, handing over the fictitious challenge inspection request to the OPCW Director-General in The Hague which triggered the commencement of headquarters' preparations. ASNO and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) assisted the OPCW in planning the exercise scenario, Dr Josy Meyer of ASNO played the role of the Requesting State Observer (RSO) and DSTO provided 'reach-back' support during the conduct of the exercise.
The exercise tested a broad range of activities including: OPCW headquarter activities, point-of-entry procedures, inspected perimeter negotiations, perimeter monitoring, inspection activities including sampling and analysis, handling media, and development of the final inspection report. Several of these activities had never been tested before in any previous OPCW exercise. Lessons identified and recommendations made by the independent evaluation team were included in an extensive report, which the TS will address through future training activities.
The RSO role was challenging and illuminating; Dr Meyer was given adequate access to observe most inspection activities and to make recommendations to the TS inspection team to ensure that the fictitious concerns raised by the RSP were effectively addressed and in accordance with the Convention. Australia's Ambassador to Thailand, James Wise's closing remarks at the observer's program reiterated the importance of the challenge inspection mechanism, which aims to deter member countries from considering developing chemical weapons in violation of their treaty obligations, and Australia's support for the work of the OPCW through such exercises. Further information and video footage is available on the OPCW website (www.opcw.org).
Key challenges for the TS will be how to ensure the availability of a suitable inspection team leader and the necessary numbers of appropriately trained inspectors at the time of a challenge inspection request. It was also clear that more work needed to be done to ensure greater effectiveness of the mission planning team at the OPCW headquarters which supports and provides guidance to the Inspection Team.
Challenge inspections may be initiated only at the request of a State Party to the Director-General of the OPCW under Article IX of the C WC for the sole purpose of clarifying and resolving any questions concerning another State Parties' possible non-compliance, and will proceed unless blocked by a three-quarter majority vote by the OPCW Executive Council. In contrast, routine inspections occur regularly, currently at a rate of 219 per year, at declared chemical industry and defence facilities around the world to check States Parties' declarations of chemical activities of relevance to the Convention.
Any request for a challenge inspection would not be taken lightly, even though the purpose of the inspection is a technical transparency measure whereby TS inspectors collect facts relevant to the concerns raised by the RSP. The OPCW Executive Council is responsible for drawing any conclusions from the final inspection report, as to whether there had been any evidence of non-compliance by the inspected State Party or whether the claims by the RSP could be considered unfounded.
The fact that no actual challenge inspections have taken place in the 15 years since entry-into-force of the CWC could be indicative that no significant non-compliance issues have arisen; or that requests for clarification have been resolved through bilateral consultations (in accordance with Article IX provisions) or a result of States Parties' reluctance to use this measure due to their own national considerations. Nonetheless, the challenge inspection option remains available to States Parties should the need arise. The resulting potential political and public interest that a challenge inspection would generate warrants contingency planning and preparations by all stakeholders concerned. Still many States Parties are not well prepared to receive a challenge inspection.
Periodic exercises in the field as well as table-top exercises and other ongoing training for inspectors take on a special importance given the lack of real-life experience and the loss of specialist knowledge through staff turnover. Therefore Australia will continue to support efforts by the OPCW and States Parties to maintain a high standard of readiness to conduct an effective challenge inspection.
OPCW Inspection Team, evaluators, exercise planners and the Requesting State Observer (ASNO) together with Ambassador Üzümcü, Director-General of the OPCW (Photo: OPCW)
The CWC is considered by world standards to be a model multilateral and non-discriminatory disarmament instrument. The CWC mandates the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. It also prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by all States Parties. At 30 June 2012, 52,246 metric tonnes, or 75 per cent, of the world's declared stockpile of 69,430 metric tonnes of Category 1 chemical weapons had been destroyed under strict verification by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The 15-year anniversary of the entry into force of the CWC occurred on 29 April 2012. This occasion will be celebrated by two events. The first is a high-level meeting co-chaired by United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon and Director-General OPCW, Ambassador Üzümcü, on 1 October 2012 as part of the UN General Assembly's 67th session in New York. The second is a panel discussion on multilateral arms control and disarmament to be held in The Hague on 3 September 2012 with invitations extending to think-tanks and non-government organisations as a way of injecting fresh ideas for discussions on the future of the CWC.
The CWC entered into force on 29 April 1997 and now has 188 member countries. A key objective of the Convention, which is to destroy all declared chemical weapons stockpiles no later than 15 years after entry into force, was not met, much to the disappointment of States Parties. Chemical weapon (CW) possessor States have nonetheless made substantial progress in eliminating their CW stockpiles and have expressed renewed commitment to this significant and costly task.
Speculation and fears about how the passing of the CWC's final destruction deadline would be handled have dissipated in part by a Conference Decision that required remaining CW possessor States (the Russian Federation, the United States and Libya) to establish their estimated planned CW destruction completion dates, namely, December 2015, September 2023 and December 2016, respectively. This concession was made subject to additional reporting, transparency measures and ongoing verification by the OPCW Technical Secretariat (TS). Iraq is a special case, as it has declared remnants of chemicals weapons stockpiles remaining from the days of the United Nations Special Commission. These remnants remain securely stored in two bunkers which have yet to be characterised and destroyed with the assistance of the TS.
The discovery of undeclared chemical weapons in Libya, as well as civil unrest in the non-State Party Syria, which has sparked grave fears of the possible use of chemical weapons, has brought into focus the importance of universality of this Convention. Equally, such events foster a greater appreciation of the benefits of the OPCW that oversees the implementation of the CWC. Access to a professional, independent organisation such as this, with appropriate technical expertise capable of assisting a member country when it is faced with the threat or use of CW or investigating alleged use of CW in a non-State Party when requested by the UN, is paramount. Given the recent downsizing of the OPCW's inspectorate due to the reduced requirement for verification of destruction, Australia is concerned to ensure that this expertise remains available to the Technical Secretariat, either in-house or through access to appropriately trained and experienced inspectors outside the OPCW.
A change in the OPCW's major focus from destruction to non-proliferation of chemical weapons will occur over the next 3–4 years given Russia's estimated completion date of December 2015 for its remaining demilitarisation activities and the gap of some years before the construction of new CW Destruction Facilities in the United States are complete. In the meantime, this provides an opportunity to consider how the Organisation should be positioned in the future to address changing circumstances and needs. The report by the advisory panel on the future priorities of the OPCW and the expert paper with proposals for the restructuring of the OPCW form a good basis for further discussions to carve out a clear and constructive path ahead during a time of fiscal constraints and global security risks. Australia is concerned to ensure that the OPCW continues to have the financial and human resources available to fulfil its core functions and in particular the verification requirements of the Convention.
In relation to the parallel aim of the Convention to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons, the OPCW has conducted 2,203 inspections of 5,305 declared chemical and defence facilities in 80 States Parties to verify their declarations. This achievement together with the absence of any challenge inspection requests provides an increasing measure of confidence that States Parties are not diverting chemicals for the production of chemical weapons in contravention of their treaty obligations. Despite this, member countries cannot afford to remain complacent when 100 States Parties still have not confirmed that their legislation covers all key areas of the Convention as required under Article VII, and some of these have yet to identify, regulate and declare all relevant chemical facilities in accordance with Article VI. Legislation is critical to ensuring the CW ban is enforced to the extent possible in all member countries and comprehensive declarations create a more level playing field and fairer distribution of inspection load among those States Parties with developed chemical industry sectors.
Australia remains at the forefront of efforts to support multilateral disarmament instruments and the CWC is no exception. Australia will continue to work towards enhancing the effectiveness of the CWC especially through contributing to discussions of the Open-ended Working Group in preparation for the 3rd Review Conference on 8–19 April 2013. Australia's focus will be on measures to strengthen non-proliferation of chemical weapons through the promotion of effective trade controls (including through the Australia Group) and law enforcement measures to prevent and combat illicit trafficking and brokering of chemical weapons and of dual use materials and equipment that could be used for CW purposes, strengthened and improved efficiency of verification especially through directing inspections more consistently towards facilities of high relevance to the CWC, and evaluation of how the inspections of "other chemical production facilities" might be impacted by developments in science and technology, including the increasing convergence of biology and chemistry.
Statistics related to Australia's exports of Uranium Ore Concentrates (UOC) are listed in Table 1 below.
|Total Australian UOC exports 2011–12||6 917 tonnes|
|Value Australian UOC exports||A$607 million|
|Australian exports as % world uranium requirements||~11.0%|
|No. of reactors (1000 MWe) these exports could power||~38|
|Power generated by these exports||~217 TWh|
|Expressed as percentage of total Australian electricity production||~82%|
Australia's Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR) of uranium recoverable at costs of less than US$130 per kilogram uranium were estimated to be 1,158,000 tonnes uranium as at December 2010, which represents 33 per cent of world resources in this category. This is based on estimates for Australia by Geoscience Australia in Australia's Identified Mineral Resources 2011 and for other countries as reported by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency in 'Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand'. In 2011, the Olympic Dam and Ranger mines were, respectively, the world's second largest (6 per cent of world uranium production) and fifth largest (4 per cent of world uranium production) uranium producers. Overall, Australia is the third largest uranium producer after Kazakhstan and Canada.
Worldwide, uranium mining currently provides about 85 per cent of global industry requirements, with the balance coming from down-blending of excess weapons material, stockpiles and reprocessing. In 2011 world uranium consumption decreased due to lower consumption in Japan and Germany associated with the closure of nuclear capacity following the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear accident. It is anticipated that world uranium consumption will increase in 2012 due to commissioning of new nuclear generating capacity in China, India, the Russian Federation and Taiwan. Over the longer term uranium spot prices are expected to be strong due to the forecast increase in nuclear power worldwide, and uncertainty surrounding the possible extension of the US–Russia Megatons to Megawatts program, due to expire in 2013. New mines will be necessary to meet current, as well as future increases in demand.
Australia's nuclear safeguards policy
The Australian Government's uranium policy limits the export of Australian uranium to countries that are a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), have an Additional Protocol in force and are within Australia's network of bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements. These bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements are designed to ensure that IAEA safeguards and appropriate nuclear security are applied, as well as a number of supplementary conditions. Nuclear material subject to the provisions of an Australian nuclear cooperation agreement is known as Australian Obligated Nuclear Material (AONM). The obligations of Australia's agreements apply to uranium as it moves through the different stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, and to nuclear material generated through the use of that uranium.
All Australia's safeguards agreements contain treaty-level assurances that AONM will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and will be covered by safeguards arrangements under each country's safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
In the case of non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS), it is a minimum requirement that IAEA safeguards apply to all existing and future nuclear material and activities in that country. In the case of nuclear-weapon states (NWS), AONM must be covered by safeguards arrangements under that country's safeguards agreement with the IAEA, and is limited to use for civil (i.e. non-military) purposes.
The principal conditions for the use of AONM set out in Australia's safeguards agreements are:
- AONM will be used only for peaceful purposes and will not be diverted to military or explosive purposes (here military purpose includes: nuclear weapons; any nuclear explosive device; military nuclear reactors; military propulsion; depleted uranium munitions, and tritium production for nuclear weapons)
- IAEA safeguards will apply
- Australia's prior consent must be sought for transfers to third parties, enrichment to 20% or more in the isotope 235U and reprocessing
- fallback safeguards or contingency arrangements will apply if for any reason NPT or IAEA safeguards cease to apply in the country concerned
- internationally agreed standards of physical security will be applied to nuclear material in the country concerned
- detailed administrative arrangements are applied between ASNO and its counterpart organisation, setting out the procedures to apply in accounting for AONM
- regular consultations on the operation of the agreement are undertaken
- provision is made for the removal of AONM in the event of a breach of the agreement.
Australia currently has 22 nuclear safeguards agreements in force, covering 39 countries plus Taiwan (see Appendix B).
Accounting for Australian uranium
Australia's bilateral partners holding AONM are required to maintain detailed records of transactions involving AONM. In addition, counterpart organisations in bilateral partner countries are required to submit regular reports, consent requests, transfer and receipt documentation to ASNO. ASNO accounts for AONM on the basis of information and knowledge including:
- reports from each bilateral partner
- shipping and transfer documentation
- calculations of process losses and nuclear consumption, and nuclear production
- knowledge of the fuel cycle in each country
- regular reconciliation and bilateral visits to counterparts
- regular liaison with counterpart organisations and with industry
- IAEA safeguards activities and IAEA conclusions on each country.
Australia's uranium transhipment security policy
For countries with which Australia does not have a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement in force, but through which Australian uranium ore concentrates (UOC) are transhipped, there must be arrangements in place with such states to ensure the security of UOC during transhipment. If the state is:
- a party to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)
- has adopted the IAEA's Additional Protocol on strengthened safeguards
- and acts in accordance with these agreements;
then arrangements on appropriate security can be set out in an instrument with less than treaty status. Any such arrangement of this kind would be subject to risk assessment of port security.
For states that do not meet the above requirements, treaty-level arrangements on appropriate security may instead be required.
A characteristic of the nuclear fuel cycle is the international interdependence of facility operators and power utilities. It is unusual for a country to be entirely self-contained in the processing of uranium for civil use. Even in the nuclear-weapon states, power utilities will often go to other countries seeking the most favourable terms for uranium processing and enrichment. It would not be unusual, for example, for a Japanese utility buying Australian uranium to have the uranium converted to uranium hexafluoride in Canada, enriched in France, fabricated into fuel in Japan and reprocessed in the United Kingdom.
The international flow of nuclear material means that nuclear materials are routinely mixed during processes such as conversion and enrichment and as such cannot be separated by origin thereafter. Therefore, tracking of individual uranium atoms is impossible. Since nuclear material is fungible – that is, any given atom is the same as any other – a uranium exporter is able to ensure its exports do not contribute to military applications by applying safeguards obligations to the overall quantity of material it exports. This practice of tracking quantities rather than atoms has led to the establishment of universal conventions for the industry, known as the principles of equivalence and proportionality. The equivalence principle provides that where AONM loses its separate identity because of process characteristics (e.g. mixing), an equivalent quantity of that material is designated as AONM. These equivalent quantities may be derived by calculation, measurement or from operating plant parameters. The equivalence principle does not permit substitution by a lower quality material. The proportionality principle provides that where AONM is mixed with other nuclear material and is then processed or irradiated, a corresponding proportion of the resulting material will be regarded as AONM.
 This includes six new countries that attended for the first time: Denmark, Lithuania, Hungary, Gabon, Azerbaijan, Romania
 Outcomes from the Seoul summit can be found on the Seoul Summit web-site (http://www.thenuclearsecuritysummit.org/eng_main/main.jsp)
 Paragraph 16 of Part IV(A) of the Verification Annex to the CWC determines that for the purposes of destruction of declared chemical weapons they are divided into the following categories: Category 1: chemical weapons on the basis of Schedule 1 chemicals and their parts and components; Category 2: chemical weapons on the basis of all other chemicals and their parts and components; Category 3: unfilled munitions and devices, and equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with employment of chemical weapons.
 The eight states not yet party to the CWC are Myanmar, Israel (signed but not ratified), Syria, Egypt, DPRK, Angola, Somalia and South Sudan.
 For more information on the status of declarations and inspections in Australia refer to Output 1.5 on p. 76.
 Based on 2012 world requirements of 62,934 tonnes uranium (World Nuclear Association's World Uranium Mining, May 2012).
 Based on a comparison of TWh of nuclear electricity generation and uranium required, for countries eligible to use AONM. Source: World Nuclear Association's "World Nuclear Power Reactors and Uranium Requirements", www.world-nuclear.org/info/reactors (July 2012).
 Australia's gross electricity generation in 2011–12 is estimated to be 265 TWh. Source: Australian Energy, National and State Projections to 2029–30 – Statistical Tables, ABARE Research Report March 2010.
 On 4 December 2011, the Australian Labor Party changed its National Platform to support an India-specific exception with regards to being a Party to the NPT.
 Australia has given reprocessing consent on a programmatic basis to EURATOM and Japan. Separated Australian-obligated plutonium is intended for blending with uranium into mixed oxide fuel (MOX) for further use for nuclear power generation.
 Twenty-seven of the countries making up this total are European Union member states.
 See page 26 of ASNO's 2008-09 Annual Report for more details on the establishment of this policy.
Director General ASNO Robert Floyd and Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano