August 4, 2023
Staff Accomplishment

Earning Joules for Nuclear Safeguards Technologies

Composite image featuring two photos of Dr. Young Ham presenting the Joule Award to members of the PNNL UCVS and IFAS teams.

Dr. Young Ham presents the Joule Award for the PNNL UCVS team to Mital Zalavadia (left photo) and to Riane Stene for the IFAS team.

(Photo: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

On behalf of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), Dr. Young Ham recently presented two Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) teams with 2022 Joule Awards for the Unattended Cylinder Verification System (UCVS) and the In-field Alpha Spectrometry (IFAS) system.

Joule Awards are named after English physicist James Prescott Joule and his namesake unit, the joule, which represents the mechanical equivalent of heat. The NNSA Office of International Safeguards presents the Joule Awards to national laboratories and researchers who help the NNSA reach a metric that is reportable to Congress for transferring at least five technologies each year to international partners, in this case the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

These technologies have the potential to help the IAEA increase the efficiency and effectiveness of independent nuclear material measurements, which contribute to the IAEA process of concluding that IAEA Member State declarations about nuclear material use are correct and complete, and the States are therefore honoring their safeguards obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

One award was for the UCVS, a first-of-its-kind automated system that provides an independent measurement of the uranium enrichment, uranium-235 mass, and total weight of uranium hexafluoride (UF₆) cylinders used in gas centrifuge enrichment plants and other UF₆ facilities around the world. A prototype UCVS system was sent to the IAEA from PNNL in 2021. This Joule Award was shared with Oak Ridge and Los Alamos national laboratories, which collaborated with PNNL on the UCVS.

Congratulations to PNNL’s UCVS team: Eric Smith, Mital Zalavadia, Eric Becker, Bill Bennett, Kevin Bensema, Nikhil Deshmukh, Rodrigo Guerrero, Frank Kearney, Brad Kelley, Jon Kulisek, Kevin Litke, Ben McDonald, Stuart Saslow, and Jennifer Webster. Team members Bob Cozad, Lindsay Todd, and Alia Green are no longer at PNNL.

PNNL received a second Joule Award for the IFAS system. This award was shared with Idaho National Laboratory. The system was developed to allow in-field collection and quick turnaround measurements of uranium-235 enrichment in UF6 samples. The system uses another Joule Award-winning technology from PNNL, the Single-Use Destructive Assay (SUDA) coupon, to collect samples during on-site inspections that IAEA conducts at gas centrifuge enrichment plants. The SUDA sampler converts gaseous UF6 into a solid, benign form of uranium, which allows safe handling. The SUDA coupon is then transferred to the IFAS, which measures alpha emissions from the uranium isotopes in the sample and calculates the uranium-235 enrichment.

Congratulations to the PNNL IFAS team: Rodrigo Guerrero, Darrell Mayberry, Timothy Pope, Amy Qiao, and Riane Stene.

Published: August 4, 2023