Monday, December 6, 2010

RMM Example #3: Nuclear Proliferation and Terrorism Risk Assessment.

In the U.S, the nuclear fuel cycle is termed 'one through' as nuclear fuel passes in nuclear power plant only once before being discarded. The debate on whether the country should be reprocessing some of these materials has been an ongoing discussion as early as the 1950's. The problematic is extremely complex and has many stakeholders at the table. A subset of the discussions include the fact that if the U.S. were to ever perform some reprocessing in their civilian fuel cycle, it would provide some grounds for other countries to do the same. For technical reasons, reprocessing is considered to be a good tool for proliferation because as soon as you allow for your nuclear fuel to be reprocessed, you  also open the door to the ability to extract material for "other purposes". Most countries are signatories of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and as you all know the IAEA is in charge of verifying compliance (all countries that are signatories are subject to yearly visits by IAEA staff) And so, a major technical effort in any type of Research and Development at the U.S. Department of Energy (and other countries that comply with the NPT) revolves around bringing technical solutions to some proliferation issues (as other proliferation issues are political in nature). As part of the recent DOE Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies Program Workshop, there was an interesting subsection of the meeting dedicated to Proliferation and Terrorism Risk Assessment. I am not a specialist of this particular area, so I will just feature the material presented there for illustration purposes as they all represents some issues commonly found in difficult to solve RMM examples. From the presentation introducing the assessment here were the Goals and Objectives of this sub-meeting:
Solicit views of a broad cross‐section of stakeholders on the following questions:
  • Would you favor an expanded R&D effort on proliferation and terrorism risk assessment? Why or why not?
  • In what ways have current methodologies been useful, how might R&D make them more effective?
  • If an expanded R&D program was initiated, what are promising areas for R&D, areas less worthwhile, and what mix of topics would best balance an expanded R&D portfolio?
  • If an expanded R&D program was initiated, what cautions and recommendations should DOE‐NE consider as the program is planned and implemented?
Panel presentations to stimulate the discussion will address:
  • Existing state‐of‐the‐art tools and methodologies for proliferation and terrorism risk assessment.
  • The potential impact of improved tools and methodologies as well as factors that should be carefully considered in their use and any further development efforts.
  • Identification of the challenges, areas for improvement, and gaps associated with broader utilization and acceptance of proliferation and terrorism risk assessment tools and methodologies.
  • Identification of promising opportunities for R&D. Broad discussion/input is essential, active participation of all session attendees will: Provide important perspectives on proliferation and terrorism risk assessment R&D and ultimately strengthen capabilities for supporting NE’s development of new reactor and fuel cycle technologies/concepts while minimizing proliferation and terrorism risks.

Why talk about this subject on RMM ? Well I was struck by the type of questions being asked to technical people as they looked like typical questions one would ask in the context of an RMM example.

In Robert Bari's presentation one can read:

"Conveying Results: In particular, what we know about what we do not know" sounded a little too much like the categories discussed in The Modeler's Known Unknowns and Unknown Knowns

In Proliferation Resistance and Proliferation Risk Analysis: Thoughts on a Path Forward by William S. Charlton, one can read:

I wonder about the type of modeling that goes into estimating uncertainties. Finally, in Bill Burchill's slides, one can read on the proliferation pathways the following:

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