Livermore works with U.S. agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency to strengthen safeguards that detect and deter the misuse of peaceful nuclear materials and technology.
Nuclear technology serves peaceful purposes ranging from generating electric power to producing radioisotopes for medical diagnostics and cancer treatment. However, the technology’s dual-use nature poses unique risks, including the danger that rogue states might misuse it for the development of nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is charged with implementing a system of technical measures—called safeguards—to verify that states comply with their international obligations to use nuclear material and facilities for peaceful purposes only. Livermore’s technological expertise in such areas as radiation detection technology, nuclear chemistry, and nuclear forensics provide the foundation of its ongoing efforts to support and contribute to the IAEA’s safeguards mission.
Under the guidance of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), Livermore provides innovative technology to meet safeguards needs, analyzes safeguards environmental samples that may contain clues to clandestine nuclear activity, cooperates with partner countries to promote effective safeguards, trains future safeguards experts, and advises the U.S. government on challenges facing the safeguards regime. The Laboratory’s international safeguards work meets its security mission to reduce the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.
Building on its scientific and technical expertise, Livermore develops advanced nuclear measurement and monitoring technology, such as field-portable detection tools to help inspectors verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities, ultrawideband radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags for use in nuclear-facility environments, and methods for verifying spent nuclear fuel. The Laboratory also has supported various projects dedicated to verifying nuclear material at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima reactors in Japan.
Environmental sampling is one of the most powerful safeguards measures available to IAEA inspectors for detecting trace evidence of undeclared nuclear activities. Livermore’s clean laboratories are equipped with state-of-the-art mass spectrometry capabilities, and Lawrence Livermore is one of four U.S. laboratories certified to perform bulk analysis of IAEA environmental swipe samples. The Laboratory also plays an important role in advancing the state of the international nuclear forensics field. With support from the Department of Energy/ NNSA, we developed and made available to the IAEA a database on trace impurities and other characteristics of uranium ore concentrates and uranium compounds worldwide. This capability helps the IAEA confirm the origin of uranium materials and match unknown uranium samples to their most likely source.
Through the NNSA’s International Nuclear Safeguards and Engagement Program (INSEP), the Laboratory works with international partners to enhance safeguards implementation at all stages of civil nuclear development. We work with developing countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia to strengthen their capacity to meet safeguards obligations, and we work closely with advanced countries to test new safeguards technologies in their facilities.
The Laboratory actively recruits, educates, and trains the next generation of international safeguards professionals. Since 2008, more than 300 graduate students and young professionals have completed our short course on international safeguards, which is conducted in collaboration with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. We have hosted more than 75 graduate-student interns working on safeguards-related projects, with nearly half going on to pursue careers in safeguards and nonproliferation. Policy Analysis Supports U.S. Decision Making on Safeguards The Laboratory supports NNSA and other U.S government agencies on safeguards policy issues facing the IAEA. LLNL provides assessments and advice to NNSA, the Department of State, and other sponsors on a wide range of matters, such as how to best strengthen the IAEA in pursuing various cases of suspected noncompliance, integrate new information analysis technologies into IAEA safeguards work processes, and allocate its limited safeguards resources in an efficient but nondiscriminatory manner.