Round-the-clock surveillance of Iran’s uranium-enrichment sites continues, despite coronavirus

Safeguards inspectors setting up a camera for round-the-clock surveillance of operations at the Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant in the Czech Republic. Image courtesy of D. Calma/IAEA

By Tariq Rauf

While George Moore is well-intentioned in his recent Bulletin article on the challenges of continuing on-site International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards in Iran at a time when the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in that country (see “One potential victim of coronavirus? Nuclear inspections in Iran”), it is important not to exaggerate the situation or raise false alarms. I base this statement upon my own experiences, as the former Head of Verification and Security Policy at the IAEA in Vienna, where I dealt with high-priority verification cases involving Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, South Korea, and Syria.

This is not the first time that the IAEA’s staff has faced novel, hazardous operating conditions. Agency staff continued to bravely perform their vital missions during the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents, working in highly radioactively contaminated environments. Both before and after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, IAEA inspectors continued their vital mission of nuclear verification there, under highly dangerous conditions. They also have conducted their safeguards missions in other conflict-ridden regions of the world without hesitation. IAEA staff has never been deterred to carry out their responsibilities for nuclear safeguards, safety, and security, even under extremely adverse conditions.

All IAEA operations are continuing during the outbreak of the coronavirus—also known as COVID-19—as the organization stated in its latest official notification . Indeed, safeguards inspections worldwide are continuing, if with some travel disruptions

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. And it is important to realize that while in-person, on-site agency inspections may suffer some possible disruption, the IAEA also relies heavily on a variety of installed on-site verification technologies that allow it to monitor nuclear activities remotely.

In recent years, the agency has increased its reliance on unattended containment, surveillance, and monitoring systems installed in sensitive nuclear facilities across the world—including in Iran. According to the organization’s latest “Safeguards Implementation Report,” which contains data for 2018 (the report for 2019 will be released in June this year), the agency had 1,563 cameras connected to 940 systems operating or ready to use at 277 facilities, including Iran—of which 881 were next generation surveillance systems (NGSS) installed in 29 states.

Read the full article on the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Tariq Rauf, board member of Atomic Reporters, is the former former Head of Verification and Security Policy, Office reporting to the Director General at the IAEA in Vienna, from 2002 to 2011.

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