Research and development activities are performed at the JRC to provide efficient and effective technologies to ensure that current and future nuclear fuel systems can be properly safeguarded and the EU obligations under non-proliferation treaties are met. The JRC contributes to the development of advanced methodological approaches, including safeguards by design, verification of absence of undeclared activities and/or facilities by trace/particle analysis (with a link to nuclear forensics), providing metrological and in-field tools for the investigative inspector.
The JRC’s activities support virtually all aspects of nuclear safeguards. It provides enabling research, technology, instruments, technical services and training for nuclear safeguards, non-proliferation and nuclear security, including the verification of treaties and agreements. Research activities include development of analytical techniques and nuclear material measurements, of accurate methods and standards for non-destructive, destructive and ultra-trace analysis (including particle analyses), as well as reference materials and interlaboratory comparisons. Activities range from nuclear non-destructive analysis and process monitoring (modelling/data authentication/remote control) to containment and surveillance, verification and detection technologies, including the proliferation assessment of new reactor systems, border monitoring and the specialist analysis of open-source information and satellite imagery.
The JRC performs highly sensitive trace analysis for the detection of clandestine nuclear activities and for the identification of seized materials from illicit trafficking. The JRC operates also the on-site laboratories at reprocessing plants in the nuclear sites of Sellafield (UK) and La Hague (France), providing nuclear inspectors with near-real time analytical results. The JRC's reference materials provide the necessary quality control tools for fissile material control of irradiated nuclear fuel at the on-site laboratories. The throughput of these two plants represents 80% of the world's reprocessed spent nuclear fuel, which is verified by European Commission inspectors supported by JRC scientists in these facilities, to assure compliance with nuclear safeguards.
3D Verification Technologies for Nuclear Safeguards
The JRC carries out research and system development supporting nuclear safeguards inspectors during their in-field verification activities.
The R&D activities address image and laser-based identification and verification systems for containment and surveillance; video review systems; and augmented and mixed reality systems. The activities encompass the entire development life cycle from underpinning research and implementation to field deployment. Selected projects are briefly described hereafter:
3D Laser Scanning
Laser scanners generate large amounts of highly accurate 3D data and require advanced software tools for specific application cases. JRC’s in-house processing software enables the inspector to efficiently create as-built maps of nuclear facilities that are used for verifying the design information provided by the facility operator and to monitor changes over time.
JRC also developed a Mobile Laser Scanning Platform (MLSP) which is based on Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). Additionally, to efficient 3D mapping, it provides location information inside nuclear facilities and allows nuclear inspectors to associate all measurements and observations made during an inspection with the corresponding location inside the nuclear facility and thus facilitate subsequent analysis and future inspections. The mapping and localization capabilities form the basis for Augmented and Virtual Reality applications.
Real-time 3D sensors continuously acquire depth information and can be used to complement standard video surveillance systems. JRC’s software analyses the data for relevant events, e.g., changes and movements in a specific area and tracks the objects of interest (e.g., nuclear material containers). Since the analysis software works on measurements in 3D space, event detection is much more robust than optical video surveillance (which is influenced by ambient light conditions) and can be restricted to a pre-defined area of interest (intrusion zone). Multiple 3D sensors can be deployed to cover large areas and they can be integrated with other sensor types (e.g., optical cameras or radiation detectors) to provide an integrated verification approach.
3D Identification and Containment
Using 3D laser triangulation, JRC develops systems for the identification and containment of nuclear material containers. Laser triangulation can measure the surface geometry of an object with an accuracy of several micrometers and therefore allows acquiring a unique fingerprint of the containers. For example, the Laser Mapping for Containment Verification (LMCV) system was developed to verify Dry Storage Casks for spent nuclear fuel. It maps the surface geometry of the weld connecting the lid and the main container body to uniquely identify the container and verify the integrity of the weld.
Metrological tools for safeguard activities
The JRC organises interlaboratory comparisons for conformity assessment for the IAEA Network of Analytical Laboratories (NWAL) and other laboratories in the field.
These quality control programmes are under the accredited aim at the analysis of uranium and plutonium containing materials and nuclear signatures in the environment. Samples are prepared and certified at the JRC and sent ‘blind’ to participating laboratories who send in their measured results, which are evaluated according to international guidelines in comparison to the independent external certified reference values with demonstrated metrological traceability and uncertainty.
The JRC started the Regular European Interlaboratory Measurement Evaluation Programme (REIMEP) over 20 years ago for carrying out external control of the quality of the measurements of the nuclear fuel cycle materials. A similar programme ‘Nuclear Signatures Interlaboratory Measurement Evaluation Programme’ (NUSIMEP) was established in 1996 for measurement of the typically small amounts of nuclear materials in environmental samples. Recently the JRC has successfully extended the range of certified environmental test samples by providing NUSIMEP comparisons on uranium particles.