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Sandia teaches nuclear safety course

Susan Pickering, left, senior manager of Sandia National Laboratories' Nuclear Energy Safety Technologies, discusses Sandia's work in nuclear safety with Anne Harrington of the National Nuclear Security Administration and Denis Flory of the International Atomic Energy Administration. Harrington and Flory toured Sandia's facilities on Monday. (Randy Montoya/Sandia National Laboratories)

Susan Pickering, left, senior manager of Sandia National Laboratories’ Nuclear Energy Safety Technologies, discusses Sandia’s work in nuclear safety with Anne Harrington of the National Nuclear Security Administration and Denis Flory of the International Atomic Energy Administration. Harrington and Flory toured Sandia’s facilities on Monday. (Randy Montoya/Sandia National Laboratories)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Measures for keeping nuclear materials out of the wrong hands can be as straightforward as a stout post beam designed to stop massive, speeding trucks in their tire tracks.

Or they can be as complex as fencing draped with a web of sensors so acute they can differentiate the movements of men from those of jackrabbits.

“For decades, Sandia has been developing systems and technologies for providing security to nuclear facilities,” Pablo Garcia, senior manager for the Global Nuclear Security and Nonproliferation Department at Sandia National Laboratories, said Monday. “The one thing to know is that no one system is perfect.”

Garcia said multiple systems and strategies are necessary to safeguard nuclear materials in nonmilitary facilities such as hospitals, clinics and nuclear power plants.

This may be the most important lesson learned by 44 nuclear operators and policy makers from 36 countries who on Monday started the three-week international training course on the physical protection of nuclear material and nuclear facilities. Sponsored by the National Nuclear Security Administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the class has been held at Sandia every 18 months since 1978. Since its inception, more than 800 people from 73 countries have taken the course, which is offered to participants only once.

A news conference Monday at Sandia’s Center for Global Security and Cooperation commemorated the fact that the class starting this week is the 25th in the course’s history.

Garcia provided an overview of security techniques and technologies as he showed visitors around a display area at the center.

“We work with vendors, hospitals and clinics to provide security for medical machines because we don’t want the bad guys to get these (nuclear) materials,” he said. “We have been doing this for decades for the Department of Energy, and we continue to work with facilities in the U.S. and other countries to provide security.”

Denis Flory of the IAEA and Anne Harrington of the NNSA both praised the course, which is taught by experts at Sandia.

“Look around this room and this facility to see why this course is offered here,” Harrington said, indicating the displays – exhibits, videos, diagrams – outlining the history of nuclear security. “You’re getting hands-on instruction by people who do this for a business.”

Harrington said that when the course began 37 years ago, the emphasis was on protecting nuclear materials from external threats.

“It used to be the outside threat that was the most serious threat,” she said. “Now we have to add to that the challenge of someone on the inside trying to get (nuclear) material out.”

Among the countries represented by students in this year’s class are Canada, Australia, France, Pakistan, Egypt and Mexico.

Julius Sabo, a security manager for a nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic, took the course in 2006. He was at Sandia on Monday in the role of guest lecturer for the security course.

“This is a great opportunity to learn with the best experts,” Sabo said. “This is grand, the highest level. This is the University of Nuclear Protection.”

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