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Facts on Safeguards by Design (SbD)

Safeguards of nuclear materials, i.e. regulatory oversight aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, ensures that nuclear materials and other nuclear products remain in their intended peaceful use. Nuclear safeguards, safety and security form the foundation for acceptability of use of nuclear energy. Key questions surrounding the implementation of safeguards are spreading knowledge of safeguards issues in the nuclear community and making the implementation itself more efficient. A powerful tool for working with these crucial issues is the Safeguards by Design (SbD) concept.

What is Safeguards by Design?

Safeguards by Design is an approach wherein early consideration of international safeguards is included in the design process of the construction, modification or decommissioning of a nuclear facility. SbD elevates nuclear safeguards from the level of inspection arrangements and surveillance procedures to being an integral design feature of the facility. It allows informed design choices that are the optimum confluence of economic, operational, safety and security factors, in addition to international safeguards.
 
From a broader international point of view, SbD is awareness in the nuclear design community of the needs of international safeguards, and specifically the potential impact of design decisions on safeguards implementation. From a national perspective, SbD promotes the role of safeguards requirements and obligations as an integral part of planning and construction, modification or decommissioning of a nuclear facility. It also facilitates the national safeguards measures by the state regulatory authority in the fulfilment of international obligations and national objectives.
 
In practice, successful SbD means the introduction of safeguards requirements as early in the procurement and design process of the facility as possible, usually in the bid specification. Typical SbD solutions are leaving room for safeguards inspection equipment in the facility, designing lighting to enable camera surveillance and including cabling for the safeguards monitoring equipment in the facility design. Ideally, the facility layout promotes the implementation of safeguards through, for example, minimizing the number of transfer routes for nuclear materials and physical separation and protection of safeguards equipment.

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Surveillance camera at nuclear power plant. Photo: Dean Calma / IAEA

Is Safeguards by Design only usable for new facilities in their design phase?

Because nuclear safeguards continue at a facility as long as there are nuclear materials and related activities present, SbD is an essential concept during the whole lifecycle of the facility. For SbD, the most important phase is, of course, the design and construction of the facility. However, in the SbD approach, the design process of each modification to the facility includes an assessment of how the modification affects the safeguardability of nuclear materials at the facility. The assessment should also consider whether the modification would enable a more effective safeguards implementation through, for example, better data collection and remote transmission capabilities. In the decommissioning phase, SbD involves planning the removal of nuclear material and dismantling of equipment in a way that enables continuous monitoring and inspector access.

Is Safeguards by Design a burden for the licence holder? Does SbD increase the cost of supervision and operator workload?

On the contrary, SbD can help the licence holder avoid extra costs and difficulties to fit in safeguards measures and equipment at a later stage of construction, operation or decommissioning. If the safeguards requirements are not included in the original bid specification for the facility, additional cost of installing them may fall on the operator and may be higher than expected as modifications to already-built structures may be needed. 
 
Future safeguards equipment can enable the authorities to decrease inspector presence if room has been left for them according to the SbD approach. The introduction of comprehensive remote monitoring systems at Finnish nuclear power plants has played a role in the reduction of the rate of inspections to those facilities.

How to implement Safeguards by Design? Are there tools for it?

The key to successful implementation of Safeguards by Design is early communication between the operator, the national regulator, and the IAEA. In Finland, the communication is initiated by the operator submitting to STUK and the European Commission preliminary design information of any new facility within 60 days of ratification of the decision-in-principle for the facility. The safeguards requirements and concepts which are incorporated into the facility specification are formulated in negotiations between the operator, STUK, the European Commission and the IAEA.