Zero Nuclear Weapons

Public Forum
November 13 and 14, 2009
Toronto, Canada

Nuclear Renaissance — Verification of Performance

Adele Buckley[1], Canadian Pugwash Group

XVII International Amaldi Conference
Hamburg, Germany, March 14 — 16 2008


Global demand for electricity virtually guarantees an increase in nuclear energy capacity. There are legitimate misgivings — increase in the threat of proliferation, generation of dangerous long-lived waste, no certainty about plant safety, and potential for nuclear terrorism. Today's control system is dangerous and inadequate to mandate sound operation, prevent accidents and apply full safeguards.

Every nuclear reactor must be seen as having a global presence, but there is not a binding agreement that requires international oversight of all nuclear reactors. The IAEA Additional Protocol for Application of Safeguards is directed solely at verifying that there are no activities leading to nuclear proliferation. The sound regulatory regime developed by IAEA relies on the expertise and reliability of national regulators, and is voluntary. The productive way forward is to promote universal adoption and enforcement of an international agreement on safety, security and safeguards.

Power utilities operate under a national regulatory system. Compliance with regulations, and demonstration of compliance by regular interaction with the regulatory agency is part of the cost of doing business. Where nuclear power is concerned, a regulatory system must include every nation, including Nuclear Weapons States, binding all to the same regime. The evident and legitimate regulatory agent is the IAEA. The time to begin is now, taking advantage of the lead time before new nuclear power plants come on -line, working in parallel on new verification protocols and the terms of an international treaty. Workable, stringent processes have been developed to meet the needs for verification and inspection for environmental technologies. Models from this domain may provide cross-fertilization for improvement of inspection and verification under IAEA. For unassailable credibility, the regulatory authority and inspection team interacting with a specific plant must be a true third-party to it. Resources available to individual national regulators vary greatly, and therefore IAEA will be required to provide training and support, possibly through designated subcontractors within each country. As in environmental regulatory compliance a system of "user-payment" is the only viable financial model.

It is vital for the international community to work toward a legally binding international regime that addresses all factors. To this end, governments, institutions, the private sector and civil society must take up their respective responsibilities.

1.0 Nuclear Renaissance

Every nuclear reactor has a global presence; a problem or an accident anywhere in the world can have short and long term effects far beyond the borders of the country of origin. Access to energy is a key to development and prosperity, and nuclear-generated electric power is a favoured choice for the future energy mix of India, China, U.S. and others. This has been labeled as the nuclear renaissance, and will lead from over 400 reactors today to an estimated 500 — 600 nuclear reactors, even taking into account retirement of some reactors. Finland is building a 1600 MW reactor; Ontario Power Generation (Canada) is soliciting proposals for new nuclear power.

There are legitimate misgivings — increase in the threat of proliferation, generation of dangerous long-lived waste, availability of sufficient cooling water, no certainty about plant safety, and potential for nuclear terrorism. Considering cradle to grave true costs, it is extremely expensive. Further, taking into account the entire life cycle of nuclear power, the greenhouse gas emissions (much-touted as "zero") are several times higher than would be obtained by renewable energy.

Like it or not, the reality is that the nuclear energy renaissance is underway, without significant progress in the degree of physical protection against terrorism or the guarantee that safeguards are sufficient. Though improvements have occurred, nuclear safety has been an issue since the beginning. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its most active member states recognized this and staged a major international meeting, participants from 57 countries, in Moscow in Feb 27-Mar 3, 2006 on "Effective Nuclear Regulatory Systems: Facing Safety and Security Challenges"; proceedings[2] were published in Sept., 2006. The paper on behalf of the Chinese National Nuclear Safety Administration[3] says "According to the national nuclear development program, nuclear electricity supply capacity will reach 40 GW(e) by 2020....,,, it will be necessary to build two or three 1000 MW(3) units every year."

IAEA has held international conferences on strategies critical to nuclear safety, beginning in 1991. The Convention on Nuclear Safety has 56 contracting parties, and "Conference on Effective Nuclear Regulatory Systems..." in 2006 showed that the regulators know what is required, but they must "walk the walk", not just "talk the talk". The next such conference will be in three years. This pace is much too slow.

Of particular note is the conference keynote address by Dr. El Baradei where he said "...every regulatory body has a unique design, based on national laws and the industry it must two regulatory bodies have the same enforcement tools at their disposal. ...civil society and public at large are increasingly recognized as important stakeholders in the work of the regulatory body."

This paper discusses the urgent need for continuous improvement and enforcement in the global nuclear regulatory system, and proposes verification methodologies that may assist in this. It also calls for the effort of the nuclear disarmament movement to support rapid and credible implementation and enforcement.

2.0 Failure to Assure Safety — An Example

There are a number of nuclear power plants in the northeastern United States that are very close to large population centres, and where an accident could have consequences for many persons in that area of the United States and Canada. Although the national regulatory system in the United States is well structured, the intent to enforce safety seems lacking, and there have been recent protests from citizens and other governmental authorities. In November, 2007 the New York Attorney General[4] and five other state Attorney Generals submitted a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) expressing concern "..NRC's failure to address safety issues including ...seismic activity in the relicensing of nuclear power plants is irresponsible" . Citizens petitioned[5] to halt flaws in nuclear plant relicensing when a U.S. Federal Audit showed that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff did not verify the authenticity of technical safety information submitted by nuclear power plant operators. The Office of the Inspector General stated it was ..."difficult to distinguish between licensee-provided data and NRC staff's independent assessment methodology and conclusion".

If these failures to ensure safety occur in a rich, developed country, would it not be even more likely that new users of nuclear power will tend to "cut corners" and compromise safety?

3.0 The Current Role of IAEA

The IAEA's mandate[6], dating from 1956 and whose Statute was last changed in 1963, says that all states that are member states of the United Nations, can be members[7] of the Agency, providing that they fulfill their obligations in good faith. IAEA has a strong internal structure and an expert professional staff. Where nuclear energy is concerned, the IAEA's role is to be a provider of expert guidance, developer of safety and security standards[8] (available for adoption by national regulatory agencies), sponsor of international conventions and supporter of new science and technology.

IAEA's Additional Protocol[9] ...for the Application of Safeguards is directed solely at verifying that there are no activities leading to nuclear proliferation. Only the NNWS (Non Nuclear Weapons States) are required to allow IAEA to enter their facilities containing nuclear materials for inspection and verification. IAEA INFCIRC/193 defines the terms and conditions of a safeguards activity in Article 7.

  1. In implementing safeguards under this Agreement, full account shall be taken of technological development in the field of safeguards, and every effort shall be made to ensure optimum cost-effectiveness and the application of the principle of safeguarding effectively the flow of nuclear material subject to safeguards under this Agreement by use of instruments and other techniques at certain strategic points to the extent that present or future technology permits.
  2. In order to ensure optimum cost-effectiveness, use shall be made, for example, of such means as:
    1. Containment as a means of defining material balance areas for accounting purposes;
    2. Statistical techniques and random sampling in evaluating the flow of nuclear material;
    3. Concentration of verification procedures on those stages in the nuclear fuel cycle involving the production, processing, use or storage of nuclear material from which nuclear weapons or other nuclear.

The Euratom safeguards[10] are applied in conjunction with those of the International Atomic Energy Agency under tripartite agreements concluded between the Member States, the Community and the IAEA. The Euratom Treaty introduces an extremely comprehensive and strict system of safeguards to ensure that civil nuclear materials are not diverted from the civil use declared by the Member States. The EU has exclusive powers in this domain, which it exercises through of a team of 300 inspectors who enforce the Euratom safeguards throughout the EU.

Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) have no obligation to implement safeguards, and three out of the five NWS do not have safeguards inspection. However, to assist IAEA, Britain and France voluntarily participate[11] in safeguards inspection. This safeguards work is especially valuable for reprocessing plants, and assists in the developing methodology for safeguards procedures for the NNWS. United States and Russia have not volunteered for safeguards inspection; one reason offered is that it would be very expensive.

Signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that have nuclear materials for peaceful uses expect to be examined under the safeguards regime, because IAEA has an operational role with respect to Safeguards. It has authority as the responsible international inspection agency, and, from time to time, it reports non-compliance to the Security Council. However, IAEA has no comparable operational role where nuclear safety is concerned, and the same is true regarding physical protection against terrorism, so that is where the weakness of the international system lies. It is a useful precedent that IAEA delegates safeguards inspection to Euratom, as it could extend its authority through similar tripartite agreements to deal with nuclear safety.

3.1 Multilateral Nuclear Approaches and GNEP

When it became evident that a number of states would be considering means to develop their own nuclear energy capability, and in particular their own fuel cycle facilities, the IAEA appointed an expert group to consider Multilateral Nuclear Approaches (MNAs). These deliberations were reported in IAEA INFCIRC/640, February 2005. The two dominant factors:

  1. Assurance of non-proliferation, and
  2. Assurance of supply and services

A multilateral approach to non-proliferation would reduce the risk by requiring the presence of a multinational team to prevent such actions as theft of fissile material, diffusion of sensitive technologies to unauthorized entities, or development of clandestine parallel programs. However, the risk remains that the host country would expel multinational staff, and terminate its safeguards agreement under the NPT. Assurance of supply could be acceptable, but there would need to be strong incentives for the host country to give up this degree of sovereignty. A most critical step noted by the expert group is devising effective mechanisms for assurances of supply of material and services, commercially competitive, free of monopolies, of political constraints, and including backup sources of supply.

At the subsequent G8 meeting in 2006, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Presidents Bush and Putin endorsed the GNEP (Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) for promotion of additional use of nuclear energy and for a plan to prevent proliferation by having a centralized nuclear fuel supply. The January/ February 2008 report from GNEP Watch[12]: Developments in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership" has the headline — Canada and South Korea join the GNEP as the US Congress Scales it Back.

4.0 Proposal for a Universal System of Inspection and Verification

We need a new, and universal, regulatory system directed solely at all aspects of nuclear energy for peaceful uses. This would include:

The system would include ways of sharing expertise internationally. It would incorporate, enlarge and support the work of IAEA.

An expert team would design a General Inspection and Verification Protocol. All signatories to an international agreement would commit to working within the framework, which would incorporate international standards. Technology Specific Verification Protocols would be necessary to deal with specifics of the inspection and verification. This would accommodate all technical elements of all types of nuclear technology, existing and future, as deployed throughout the world.

An international agreement to inspect and verify would not be reliant on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, nor would it require that those countries presently outside it join the NPT regime. This would be a legally binding agreement. Such an agreement could provide the opportunity to limit the power of the GNEP (Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) to modify international nuclear trade rules to accommodate situations like the proposed deal between U.S. and India.

4.1 Credibility and Safety through Third Party Verification

The only viable system of inspection is one which has the absolute confidence of all members of the international community. This requires involvement of recognized certifiable experts in nuclear power plant technology, and in the methodology of inspection and verification. The vital characteristic, in addition to expertise, is that the inspection team must be a third party[14] to

International law must be recognized and enforced by the government. The government is the regulator, and often is also the owner, and therefore would be in a conflict of interest position as the inspecting agency. It is particularly desirable that the inspection team should have no link to the government of the country. This is a more onerous demand than the requirement for other types of electricity generators (e.g. coal-fired plants) but it is vital to the achievement of international credibility for the system. Pragmatically, true third party verification would probably be achieved incrementally, especially in countries without a democratic government.

A regular, periodic inspection of every plant and every nuclear reactor in a massive task, and could not be carried out by the IAEA staff alone with its own resources. Therefore, the IAEA would be obliged to train and authorize others to carry out protocols of inspection that were authorized by IAEA. These protocols would be highly technical and so would the level of expertise within the group of authorized subcontractors to IAEA

Implementing such an inspection system would require expansion of IAEA, so that it could manage the inspection/verification system. The means of funding is proposed in a later section.

4.2 Verification Models from other Sectors

It is time for the nuclear electricity generating plant to enter the mainstream of the regulatory system for electricity generators. There are legal requirements (regulations) that the plant must fulfill and there are voluntary standards. Both of these categories have their national and international levels However, it is hard to ascertain whether or not there are true international standards for nuclear plants, and, in any case, compliance is voluntary. National standards vary greatly, but ideally should be as good or better than those modeled by IAEA safety standards.

Citizens have been encouraged to believe that nuclear power is an important energy solution to combat climate change. From this viewpoint, nuclear energy is a technology that may create an environmental benefit. However, how can the population be assured of reliable and safe performance of the technology? National regulators and their nuclear operators could consider procedures and programs that have been developed to meet the need for verification of performance of environmental technology, and for verification of emissions reduction for greenhouse gases. Examining workable rigorous processes from another domain may provide cross-fertilization for improvement of inspection and verification by IAEA.

4.3 Model One: Environmental Technology Verification (ETV)

For assurance of environmental performance, some countries have established a generic system that gives systematic and documented proof of a technology as being sound in terms of its claims of operation within its individual environment.

§ Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) (Operating under the US EPA[15])[16]:

The following information is extracted (and condensed) from the US ETV website — "In the 1990s, the US EPA recognized that the lack of an organized and ongoing program to produce independent, credible performance data would be a major impediment to the development and use of innovative environmental technology. Thus, the US ETV program, established in 1995, is a program to accelerate the implementation of environmental technology through objective verification and reporting of technology performance. The Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Program develops testing protocols and verifies the performance of innovative technologies. Such data are needed by technology buyers and permitters, both in the United States and abroad, to make informed technology decisions. Since its inception in 1995, ETV has verified almost 400 technologies and developed more than 85 protocols. The goal of ETV is to provide credible performance data for commercial-ready technologies to speed their implementation for the benefit of purchasers, permitters, vendors and the public.

The ETV Program operates mainly through cooperative agreements between EPA and private nonprofit testing and evaluation organizations. These ETV verification organizations work with EPA technology experts to create efficient and quality-assured procedures that verify the performance of innovative technologies. Vendors and others in the private sector, as well as federal, state and local government agencies, cost-share with EPA to complete priority ETV protocols and verifications. The efforts of ETV centers are guided by the expertise of stakeholder groups."

Want to Know More About the Program

§ ETV Canada[17] - Environmental Technology Verification (operated by ETV Canada and OCETA[18] under license from Environment Canada) The following information is extracted from their website:

"ETV Canada offers an assessment process for verifying the claims associated with projects and programs, as well as technologies and technological processes. ETV verification provides the marketplace with the assurance that environmental performance claims are valid, credible and supported by quality independent test data and information. A comprehensive 3-part strategy for ETV Canada has been implemented

1. Technology Verification

§ Working closely with technology innovators and qualified verification organizations

2. Performance Benchmarking

§ Based on the development of credible stakeholder-driven performance criteria and the transparent reporting of performance information

3. International Harmonization of Protocols and Test Methods

§ Building on the established ETV Generic Verification and Test Protocol and related decision-support tools"

The model presented by ETV Canada is comprehensive in that it addresses a range of processes and classifies inspection and verification in a way that the entire nuclear power industry could use to verify safety, and presence of technical systems to prevent damage from terrorism.

§ European Union (EU): A consortium, is conducting a Specifically Targeted Research Project for developing an ETV system for the European Union. The EU is proceeding with this work because environmental technology verification [ETV] is recognized for its importance in most highly-industrialized countries, e.g. the United States, Japan, and Canada. The Environmental Technologies Action Plan for the European Union [COM(2004) 38 final] called for the development of a European ETV system. At present the PROMOTE consortium is conducting a Specifically Targeted Research Project for developing an ETV system. PROMOTE receives financial support by the 6th Framework Programme of the EU.[19]

§ China is adopting a system of ETV that has its roots in the Canadian ETV system. China began a process of adaptation after a program of assistance provided by CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency. Other countries, e.g. South Korea, are at various stages of implementing ETV.

§ Harmonization: international discussions have been ongoing for several years, so that acceptance in one jurisdiction would be recognized in all. The third international conference on harmonization of EPV (Environmental Performance Verification), in France, November 2007, emphasized inclusion of developing countries and had participants representing international organizations such as UNEP and OECD. EPV systems originating in North America (US EPA and ETV Canada) were held up as models.

4.4 Model Two: Carbon Emissions Trading System

Cap-and-Trade Emissions Trading puts a significant price per tonne on emitted carbon dioxide — ranging from $15 to $30 and higher, and the financial transactions that are already taking place have potentially large monetary value. A rigorous and credible system of verification is therefore an essential element for success in using this as a tool to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions (resulting in climate change). In this situation, the presence of expert third party verifiers is essential. All stages of a project are subject to internationally agreed quantitation methodologies (originating with IPCC[20]) for calculating all emissions associated with it — e.g. for manufacturing components, transportation to the site of operation, actual energy-consuming operation of the project. The business-as-usual situation, the baseline, is compared to the proposed emissions reduction, and emission credits are then calculated before, during and after a project. There are two major stages:

1. VALIDATION — before commencement of a project: independent review of carbon emissions savings to be achieved. At this point there should be also an element that requires Production and use of a Monitoring Plan, so that all participants agree on how the emissions data is to be generated and recorded.

2. VERIFICATION — independent review of data and information collected during the project, to establish actual savings of Greenhouse Gas in the project compared to the pre-project Baseline

The greenhouse gas verification process must be unassailable in its credibility, and for that reason the examinations of the validation and verification agencies must be meticulous. This is costly, and can only be justified for as a venture involving trading between corporations that are major emitters and major emissions reducers.

4.5 Model Three: Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty (FMCT)

FMCT, when and if it comes into force, signals a major step toward nuclear disarmament. Also, the treaty would require a comprehensive regime of inspection and verification, involving all countries that have any of the range of materials classified as fissile materials; the evident inspection and verification authority is IAEA. This would be an inspection system for both nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states. Thus, it would set in place a precedent for universality which could be a model, and could be extended to apply to inspection and verification of all aspects of nuclear power generation.

5.0 Resources and Funds

As expressed by Louise Frechette, former UN deputy secretary-general, distinguished fellow at CIGI[21], in the Globe and Mail, Oct 26, 2007, there is a problem with resources and funds:

"The IAEA suffers from a chronic shortage of resources to carry out all its responsibilities under the NPT and related conventions. It can barely cope with its inspection and technical assistance workload as it is and would be hard pressed to meet the needs arising from a nuclear renaissance."

IAEA, the appropriate management entity, must have authority not only over proliferation safeguards, but also over safety and terrorism prevention. IAEA, while retaining oversight, must train and authorize subsidiary organizations. Thus

IAEA requires increased funding, and as in environmental regulatory compliance, a system of "user-payment" is the only viable financial model

6.0 The Task for the International Community prior to Opening of New Nuclear Power Plants

It is evident from the history of developing the programs cited here as potential models that a number of years are required for planning and implementation. Present planning would see nuclear power plants come on stream only after a lengthy process of permitting, designing, building and commissioning, so that it will be well into the next decade before new nuclear reactors are present on the global scene.

There should be two parallel activities:

  1. In preparation for new international agreements on stronger measures for inspection and verification, BEGIN NOW TO PREPARE VERIFICATION PROTOCOLS. For this purpose, it would make sense to assemble an expert international team for this work [example: IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change].
  2. NEGOTIATIONS SHOULD BEGIN NOW. The structure and details of a new universal international regulatory standard require an expert international team, and it should be identified, commissioned and begin its work.

The international community has to work in concert, beginning now, to produce a legally binding system that addresses all factors relating to the nuclear renaissance. Governments, institutions, the private sector and civil society must take up their respective responsibilities. Within civil society, the nuclear disarmament movement would have special empathy for this mission, and should participate vigourously.


[1] Formerly, Vice President Technology and Research, Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology Advancement (OCETA)
[2] STI/PUB/1272, 331 pp.; 20 figures; 2006, ISBN 92-0-110606-8
[3] G. Li, X. Hao, B, Tang, Nuclear Safety Regulations and Review of New Nuclear Power Plants in China, p. 255, Proceedings "Effective Nuclear Regulatory Systems…" IAEA STI/PUB/1272
[4] Environmental News Service (ENS) Nov 16, 2007
[5] Environmental News Service Jan 3, 2008
[8] International Commissions on Radiological Protection (ICRP) is the authoritative organization to publish nuclear safety ( radiological protection) goals which are the bases of IAEA safety guidelines
[9] Model Protocol Additional to the Agreement(s) between States(s) and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards, INFCIRC/540
[11] Personal communication, Professor John Simpson, Mountbatten Centre for International Studies, University of Southampton
[12] Report prepared monthly by Miles Pomper in Washington DC, for the CIGI Nuclear Energy Futures Project.
[13] Strategies for disposal of nuclear waste have created many years of controversy, because, in addition to low-level radioactive waste, the waste product of nuclear energy production is highly radioactive and long-lived. Nevertheless, the technical community has accepted the viability of secure centralized storage in a deep geological repository. No country has yet implemented such storage. In Canada, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization ( was given a mandate by the Government of Canada, reviewed every aspect of the situation with the input of world renowned experts, and issued a report in November 2005 (The Government of Canada is beginning to take action on the report.) The central recommendation is adaptive phased management of the waste, with use of a deep geological repository. Adaptive management gives the flexibility to adapt to experience gained in earlier years of waste storage, and, most importantly, to also adapt to societal and technological changes. During the Phase I program, there is provision for an optional step — relatively shallow storage with opportunity for retrievability, followed by later deep storage. There would be continuous monitoring, sequential and collaborative decision making. NWMO says that such storage could only be implemented, in Phase 1, at the earliest in 2035, and the final deep storage could be operational by 2065. While this work seems thorough and rational, the delay in starting and the proposed time scale requires that more information be available to the ordinary informed citizen. It is not known whether or not IAEA considers nuclear waste disposal a priority. The regime of certification and inspection of nuclear waste storage sites would be best managed by a user-pay type of system, so that there is an ongoing method of financing the continuous monitoring required for such sites.
[14] Third party means absence of conflict of interest, so that there is no organizational, government, or any link whatsoever between the inspection team and the plant under inspection.
[15] United States Environmental Protection Agency
[18] OCETA Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology Advancement
[19] N012 CWA Business Plan 07 Mai 2007
[20] IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, operating with a mandate from the United Nations
[21] Centre for International Governance Innovation