Nuclear Safeguards in a Crisis: The VeSPoTec Table Top Exercise I

The Participants of the first VeSPoTec Table Top Exercise.

By Andreas Dürholt and Lukas Rademacher. On December 13 and 14, the VeSPoTec-Team welcomed nine technical experts from six different countries for a tabletop exercise on nuclear safeguards in Aachen. The exercise focused on the role that different types of safeguards-relevant information play for evaluating a State in the context of their safeguards obligations through a series of role-played discussions. 

After short introductions, the VeSPoTec members from Forschungszentrum Jülich introduced the scenario and facilitated the tabletop exercise. The scenario used the hypothetical State of Plutopia with a small nuclear fuel cycle (NFC), a comprehensive safeguards agreement (CSA) in place, but no additional protocol (AP) yet. The participants were divided into three groups. The first group formed the notional IAEA State Evaluation Group (SEG) for Plutopia, the second group represented the Plutopia State Authority (PSA), and the third group served as evaluators of the exercise. Three cases were considered: In the first case Plutopia wanted to acquire two Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Regarding this new nuclear facility, SEG and PSA had to agree on the additional safeguards-relevant information required for safeguarding the two SMRs in the scope of the CSA.  

The tabletop exercise was accompanied by a sociological study on the different strategies the groups employed to (not) share information and produce knowledge. At the end of the first day the participants visited the Christmas market in Aachen and had dinner together. 

During the Exercise.

On the second day the participants were regrouped for addressing the second and third case: The State of Plutopia, with the two SMRs now placed under safeguards according to its CSA, was in the process of ratifying the AP. SEG and PSA discussed how requirements and challenges in terms of safeguards-relevant information would change with the introduction of the AP, and which advantages the AP would have for both the IAEA and the State.  

Building on cases 1 and 2, in the final case the IAEA was in the process of reaching a broader conclusion (BC), when a crisis – a dangerous pandemic – occurred. SEG and PSA discussed how robust the previously introduced safeguards-relevant information were in this specific crisis, how this crisis would affect the further process of obtaining the BC, and how resilience of safeguards could be improved. 

All in all, the participants gave insightful and substantial inputs  in many respects. They found creative ideas to solve problems, and humorous situations occurred. After two days of work the Tabletop Exercise ended successfully, due to enthusiastic participants and engaged organizers. We sincerely thank everyone involved, and hope they not only learned a lot, but also had a good time! 


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