Part of the challenges to the creation of responsible nuclear energy programs—including new, novel activities within the nuclear fuel cycle (NFC)—lies in evaluating safety, security, and safeguards (or, nonproliferation) mechanisms. While traditionally implemented and evaluated independently across NFC activities, recent calls from the global community suggest the need for an “all hazards” approach to developing responsible nuclear energy programs. Yet, such an “all hazards” approach necessarily includes a complex, dynamic, and interdependent set of risks and threats to the responsible implementation of NFC activities.
Recent complex systems engineering research has argued that properties such as security (and safety) emerge from interactions between technical, human, and organizational components within systems. For NFC activities specifically, these insights suggest a benefit from evaluating risk complexity across and between safety, safeguards, and security. Such an interdependent analytical framework would help identify gaps, interdependencies, conflicts, and leverage points across traditional safety, security, and safeguards approaches. A better understanding of these security/safety (and safeguards) interfaces could also better align analysis and design with real-world operational uncertainties and better describe the risk complexity associated with new, novel NFC activities.
In response, Sandia National Laboratories’ (Sandia) Mitigating International Nuclear Energy Risks (MINER) Program has explored the application of systems theory principles (e.g., emergent behaviors) and complex systems engineering concepts (e.g., multidomain interdependence) to better understand and address these risks and threats. Sandia’s MINER research perspective reframes the discussion around the risk complexity of NFC activities to address interdependencies between safety, safeguards, and security. This Sandia research explored the safety, safeguards, and security risks of three different nuclear sector-related activities—international spent nuclear fuel transportation, small modular reactors, and portable nuclear power reactors—to investigate the complex and dynamic risk related to an “all-hazards” approach. This paper summarizes the technically rigorous analysis of the safety, safeguards, and security risks of these three NFC activities and introduces a systems-theoretic approach for exploring interdependencies between the technical evaluations.
Evaluating these different NFC activities showed that a systems-theoretic approach can better identify interdependencies, conflicts, gaps and leverage points across traditional safety, security, and safeguards risk mitigation strategies than traditional approaches. This analytical perspective supports popular safety, security, and safeguards “by-design” proposals for NFC activities and has helped identify key implications for NFC activities at these interfaces. As a result, “all hazards”-based mitigation strategies from applying systems theoretic principles and complex systems engineering concepts can be (1) designed to better capture interdependencies at the security/safety (and safeguards) interfaces, (2) implemented to better align with real-world uncertainties, and (3) evaluated as a “systems-level” whole to better develop responsible nuclear energy programs. These conclusions and implications serve as waypoints for completing next steps toward advancing the technical understanding of safety, safeguards, and security for new, novel NFC activities.
SAND2019-6134A Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory managed and operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC., a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International, Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-NA-0003525.