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INL trains inspectors to identify nuclear weaponization

It’s a timely question: How do you keep nuclear materials out of the wrong hands?

On Monday, in our own backyard, nuclear experts from around the world learned how to identify misuse of nuclear materials.

It’s part of a major education initiative by the sponsored by the National Nuclear Security Administration . Nations approved to use nuclear technology for energy applications are to abide by the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, an agreement ensuring the member nation will not weaponize its nuclear fuel.

“Frankly, it’s a bargain you make,” said INL senior proliferation expert Mark Schanfein. “When you sign up for that treaty, you’re agreeing to do good things, not bad things.”

Schanfein is building the next generation of nuclear facility inspectors.

“We’ll have multiple cameras looking at the same thing,” he said, sweeping the room with his hand.

Cameras and sensors — high tech monitoring equipment worth millions of dollars — fill the room. Right now students from all over the world are training hands on with International Atomic Energy Agency technology meant to throw up red flags if nuclear materials or fuels are misused at a member facility.

“It’s another thing to understand the facility, how is it designed?” said Schanfein.

On Tuesday, students move to the most real-world classroom of all — INL’s Advanced Test Reactor. With building schematics in hand, teams will run a mock inspection at the facility.

“They’re going to tour the facility and do what we call a design information verification,” said Schanfein. “They’re going to look at what the operator declared, they’re going to tour through the facility, they’re going to measure lengths and distances and ask a lot of questions.”

If their training has worked, students like ISU nuclear engineering professor Jason Harris should be able to find the misuse built into the exercise. One of the program’s goals is to build a new workforce of nuclear inspectors, and Harris says many of those folks could be in his ISU classrooms.

“It really does help complete the link between INL and ISU, developing expertise,” said Harris.

The IEA pays for the course for qualified students who come from all over the country — even other national labs — to learn about nuclear inspection

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