An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) team has completed a 11-day mission to the USA hosted by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The nine-person team reviewed the nuclear security regime for nuclear material and nuclear facilities. This included an assessment of the governmental organisations and legislation relevant to physical protection, the regulatory role and processes, procedures and practices for inspection and enforcement and the sustainability of the regime.

The team also made a comprehensive review of physical protection systems at a nuclear facility. As part of the review, the team visited the Sandia Pulsed Reactor Facility – Critical Experiments (SPRF/CX) at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This facility performs criticality benchmark experiments and hands-on safety training to support efficient and reliable nuclear operations.

The team – led by Kathleen Heppell-Masys, Vice-President of Nuclear Operations Oversight at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited – included experts from Argentina, Australia, Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Switzerland and the UK, as well as one IAEA staff member. They met in Washington DC and Albuquerque, New Mexico with representatives from the US DOE, NNSA, SNL and the Sandia Field Office among others.

This is the second time the US has requested an IPPAS mission, the first being in 2013. The US ratified the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) in 2015.

The team reported that the US has a robust nuclear security regime. The team made recommendations and suggestions aimed at supporting the US to further strengthen its nuclear security procedures and practices. Good practices were identified, which may be used by other IAEA member states to build long term improvement in global nuclear security.

“The IPPAS mission in the United States, conducted just before the International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS 2024), sets an example of national commitment towards nuclear security for countries to follow,” said Elena Buglova, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Security, during the closing session. “This commitment is also reflected in the country’s support for the IAEA’s nuclear security programme which has an immense impact on all member states. The openness and cooperation of the US authorities and the facility operator throughout the preparation phase and the mission itself are commendable”.

NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby said one of NNSA’s fundamental missions is to reduce global nuclear threats by preventing the theft and sabotage of nuclear materials and by responding to nuclear or radiological incidents both domestically and around the world. “As such, the IPPAS mission closely aligns with NNSA’s continued efforts to strengthen the global nuclear and radiological security regime,” she added.

Image: The IPPAS team visit the Sandia Pulsed Reactor Facility at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico (courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)