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Monday, 19 September 1994
Page: 949

(Question No. 1594)


Senator Margetts asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 9 August 1994:

  (1) Does the Minister have, or have available, detailed knowledge via the Australian representative on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of directors of the tests which the IAEA has wanted to carry out on the fuel elements discharged from the core of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in late May/early June 1994.

  (2) Did IAEA spokesperson Mr Berhanykun Andemicael state that IAEA inspectors were in fact present while the reactor was discharged, and that the inspectors `had been able to assess the number of fuel rods that had been removed', while the whole process was monitored by IAEA surveillance cameras.

  (3) Is the Australian IAEA board representative aware of the details of the surveillance mechanisms currently applying to the fuel discharged from the Yongbyon plant; if so, please detail what those mechanisms are.

  (4) Please detail the current state of the fuel from the Yongbyon plant and the mechanisms for its surveillance.

  (5) (a) Did the IAEA want to "fingerprint" some of the fuel pins to ensure that they were the same ones it would inspect later, and (b) is such "fingerprinting" ever carried out or has it been carried out at Lucas Heights; if not, why not.

  (6) Has fingerprinting ever been carried out on any other reactor, if so, please supply details.

  (7) Did the IAEA want to carry out non-destructive sampling on a `random sample' of 10 percent of the Yongbyon GCR's fuel pins and did they want to tag and sample the whole of a radial cross-section of the reactor fuel pins.

  (8) Allowing for the obvious technical differences in core geometry between the Yongbyon gas-cooled reactor and the Lucas Heights plant: (a) has the IAEA ever performed non-destructive testing on any random sample of HIFAR fuel pins; and (b) has tagging and sampling of any radial cross-section of HIFAR's core ever been done.

  (9) Has such non-destructive testing and tagging and sampling been done on other reactors and is it a common safeguards procedure; if so, give details of where it has recently taken place.

  (10) Would such procedures be permitted and encouraged in future on the HIFAR reactor, even perhaps as a training procedure for IAEA personnel as well as an exercise in the demonstration of our own good faith.

  (11) Have safeguard accounting procedures of at least equal stringency been applied to Japan's processing facility at Rokkasho-Mura.

  (12) Please detail which safeguard accounting procedures have taken place at Rokkasho-Mura.

  (13) Can the Minister validate claims that North Korea may have extracted up to 12 kilograms of plutonium from the Yongbyon core in 1989 and that up to 70 kilograms of plutonium has been `lost' at the Rokkasho-Mura reprocessing plant.

  (14) How do the measures taken by the IAEA to account for the extraction of 12 kilograms of Yongbyon plutonium and 70 kilograms of `lost' Japanese plutonium compare.


Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) As a member of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Australia has access to the reports of the IAEA Director General to the Board on the IAEA's safeguards implementation activities in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Subject to the IAEA's obligation to protect safeguards-in-confidence information, these reports have included some information on the safeguards activities the Agency has requested permission to conduct on the fuel elements discharged from the core of the 5MW(e) nuclear reactor at the DPRK's Yongbyon nuclear complex in late May/early June 1994.

  (2) I am unable to confirm the precise content of the statement attributed to IAEA spokesperson Mr Berhanykun Andemicael concerning the specific safeguards activities conducted by inspectors during the fuel discharge process. However I can confirm that no obstacles were raised to the safeguards measures required to verify the non-diversion of the fuel discharged from the 5MW(e) reactor. This fuel is in storage under the Agency's surveillance and inspectors are currently present at the site.

  (3), (4) As noted in answer to (2) above, the fuel from the 5MW(e) reactor is under IAEA surveillance and inspectors are currently present at the site. The detail of surveillance mechanisms employed by the IAEA at any given safeguarded location is protected as safeguards-in-confidence information. The fuel has been fully discharged from the reactor and is being stored in a cooling pond. As the fuel's magnox cladding is susceptible to corrosion, the fuel cannot be stored for an extended period in the cooling pond. Depending on the quality of the water in the pond, the fuel will begin to deteriorate soon if it is not treated or moved to a more suitable storage facility. This is an important issue which is being discussed as part of the dialogue between the United States and the DPRK on the nuclear issue.

  (5) (a) The Agency sought the agreement of the DPRK to conduct certain specific safeguards measures during the core discharge operation to assess the history of the core, as part of the process of assessing the correctness and completeness of the DPRK's declaration of its nuclear material subject to safeguards. These measures involved selecting a representative sample of fuel rods, segregating them in baskets and securing them for later analysis. This analysis, known as non-destructive assay, in essence aims at comparing, inter alia, the actual burn-up of Uranium 235 and the presence of certain actinides and fission products in discharged fuel rods of known location in the reactor with what should be expected for a declared period and mode of operation. These measures were rejected by the DPRK and the original location of the fuel rods in the core can no longer be reconstructed.

  (b) Selection and segregation, or `fingerprinting', of spent fuel rods for non-destructive assay is a common safeguards technique and has been used by the IAEA on spent fuel from HIFAR at Lucas Heights. The spent fuel inventory at Lucas Heights is kept under containment and surveillance, and a sample is re-verified by IAEA non-destructive assay at each inspection. This process is assisted in the case of Lucas Heights as each HIFAR fuel element carries a unique identification number put on by the manufacturer which could be described as a form of `fingerprinting'.

  (6) As noted in answer to (5)(b) above, selection and segregation of spent fuel rods for non-destructive assay is a common safeguards technique. Information on specific facilities at which particular safeguards techniques might be used is protected by the IAEA as safeguards-in-confidence and can be released only by the government of the country concerned.

  (7) See answer to (5)(a) above.

  (8) (a) and (b) As noted in answer to (5)(b), non-destructive assay of previously identified or `tagged' spent fuel discharged from HIFAR's core has been conducted by the IAEA.

  (9) See answer to (6) above.

  (10) The safeguards procedures discussed above are permitted on the HIFAR reactor at Lucas Heights in compliance with Australia's safeguards obligations.

  (11) Yes. The safeguards procedures in place at all facilities in Japan comply with the safeguards standards applied by the IAEA to all non-nuclear weapon states with safeguards agreements signed pursuant to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Rokkasho-Mura facility in Japan is covered by Japan's safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

  (12) As noted under (6) above, information on particular safeguards techniques which might be used at specific facilities is protected by the IAEA as safeguards-in-confidence and can be released only by the government of the country concerned.

  (13) I am unable to validate any claims about the quantity of plutonium that the DPRK may have extracted from the Yongbyon reactor core in 1989. Verification of the correctness and completeness of the DPRK's declared inventory of nuclear materials, including plutonium extracted from Yongbyon spent fuel, is the objective of the process of routine and ad hoc inspections conducted by the IAEA. The IAEA has not yet been given the degree of access it needs to complete its verification activities. Verification of the DPRK's inventory by the IAEA is necessary before any measurable assessment can be made of the DPRK's past plutonium reprocessing activities.

  Seventy kilograms of plutonium has not been `lost' at the Rokkasho-Mura reprocessing plant. This plant is under construction and does not yet contain any nuclear material. The case which has attracted publicity refers to the Tokai Mura nuclear fuel fabrication plant. Over the last six years of operation, the fuel fabrication process has resulted in the accumulation of layers of plutonium powder in parts of the plant. Approximately 70kg of plutonium has been `held up' in this way by adhering to the inner wall of parts of the process area. Operations are underway to recover the material, but it is in any case fully accounted for by the IAEA, measured on a monthly basis, and under full safeguards.

  (14) The safeguards measures applied by the IAEA in all non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT are designed to attain the same assurances about the non-diversion of nuclear material to non-peaceful purposes. Of necessity they differ in detail between different types of nuclear facility, and so from country to country. In the case of the DPRK, as stated in answer to (13), the IAEA's safeguards activities are designed to verify the correctness and completeness of the DPRK's declared inventory of nuclear materials. The verified inventory would then establish the basis for ongoing safeguards. In the case of Japan, the material referred to is part of Japan's safeguarded inventory of nuclear material to which an array of safeguards techniques are applied for verification purposes.