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    1        Who we are

    One of the roles of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is to deter the proliferation of nuclear weapons. To do so, the IAEA applies various technical measures referred to as ‘safeguards’ to verify the correctness and the completeness of the declarations made by the Member States about their nuclear material and activities. The IAEA safeguards are an essential component of the international security system.

    The Division of Technical and Scientific Services (SGTS) is responsible for providing scientific, technical and logistics support within the IAEA, including design, development, testing, calibration, installation and maintenance of safeguards equipment. Within SGTS, essential objectives of the Technology Foresight activities are to identify and evaluate emerging technologies that improve the usability, effectiveness and efficiency of the instruments used in the field by inspectors, and to enhance the IAEA's capabilities to detect undeclared activities.

    Conducting in-field inspections forms the core of the IAEA’s nuclear verification activities and equipping inspectors with the appropriate tools is the key to effective nuclear safeguards. Over hundreds of types of equipment are used by the IAEA inspectors to verify the form, isotopic composition and quantity of nuclear material. More details about the life of the IAEA inspectors can be found online.


    2        What we do today

    Verification of nuclear material is paramount in the overall effectiveness of nuclear safeguards. The IAEA is trying to improve the verification process of spent nuclear fuel with advanced data processing techniques.

    A spent fuel assembly (SFA) can be approximated as a set of 3 m long fuel pins, each about 1 cm in diameter, filled with highly radioactive material. An example of a fuel assembly structure is shown in Figure 1 (right).

    The Passive Gamma Emission Tomography (PGET) instrument was developed by the IAEA, in collaboration with several Member States, for the verification of spent nuclear fuel. The PGET consists of an array of collimated gamma detectors (and two neutron detectors) that are rotated in the horizontal plane. The measurements are performed underwater, with an SFA placed in the centre of the toroidal shaped detector platform (see Figure 2 below).

    Figure 2. PGET system in the laboratory (left), deployed on the top of a spent-fuel rack with a fuel assembly in process of measurement (centre), and on a tripod at the bottom of a spent-fuel pond. A FORK detector can be seen in the foreground of the photo (right).

    The projection data (count rates in each detector at each rotation position) obtained from the rotation through a full 2π angular range (one complete revolution) is known as a sinogram (see Figure 3).

    Figure 3. The left image shows the collected sinogram; the right image is a resulting reconstruction.

    A cross-sectional image, showing a two-dimensional distribution of the gamma emitters (i.e. fuel pins) within the entire SFA, is reconstructed from the measured sinogram. In the reconstructed image, fuel pins appear as bright spots and missing pin locations appear as dark regions (see Figure 4). The reconstructed images are analysed for the missing pins as part of the verification process.

    Figure 4. Representative images collected by the PGET during testing at spent-fuel ponds. Tomographs are shown in the top row and a map of pin positions indicating missing-pin locations (red circles) is shown at the bottom. In the tomographs, the bright locations indicate higher gamma-ray activity and represent pins. The ‘holes’ in the pin maps are locations of control-rod or instrument channels in the assembly, which both appear as water-filled channels in the images. The pin container was declared to have 20 pins in a 6x6 lattice.

    3        What we want to improve

    Presently, the IAEA is able to reliably identify missing pins inside a SFA. However, the IAEA is unable to automatically determine the activity levels of individual pins from the PGET data with high levels of confidence. This becomes exceedingly difficult in certain cases, such as very compact fuel assemblies of fast neutron reactor fuel elements.

    The IAEA is seeking new image reconstruction processing techniques, resulting in a more accurate assessment of the locations and count of missing pins, and a more accurate calculation of the relative activities of individual pins.


    4        Phases of the challenge 



      Registrations open up to the submission deadline

      21 Jan - 9 June

      Training data available for download since 28 January. It will remain accessible up to the submission deadline.

      28 January - 31 May

      3.Competition and submission

      Competition data available for download on 3 June 2019. Deadline for submitting solution is 9 June 2019

      3-9 June 2019


      Evaluation of results by a panel of IAEA experts 10 June - 10 July

      5.Presentation and prize ceremony

      Invitation sent to the selected participants

      Technical meeting with demonstration of algorithms using new data and prize ceremony at the IAEA HQ

      By 31 July 2019

      September 2019

      6. Procurement

      •IAEA Request for Proposal

      •Financial Evaluation

      •Contract Award to selected participants

      Q4 2019

      4.1           Registration phase

      Participants need to register on the challenge website (, providing their contact details and indicating their intent to participate in the challenge (

      4.2           Training phase

      During the training phase, registered participants can access several training data sets, generated both from mockup fuel assemblies of 60Co pins and from actual spent fuel assemblies. Registered participants can experiment and optimize various processing techniques on increasingly difficult data sets to be reconstructed and analysed. At any time during the training phase, participants can:


      4.3           Competition and submission phase

      During the competition and submission phase, registered challenge participants are given new data sets consisting of sinograms with unknown geometry. Participants shall process the competition data sets and submit ( within one week the following deliverables, as per the instructions of the website:

      • reconstructed images from the competition data sets;
      • total and missing pin counts;
      • calculated relative pin activities; and
      • a technical report, in English language, describing the processing

      Reception of the submitted deliverables will be acknowledged by the IAEA.

      The Question/Answer page ( will be still accessible to registered participants during the competition phase, however only administrative questions will be answered, at the discretion of the IAEA.

      4.4           Evaluation phase

      During the evaluation phase, a panel of IAEA experts will evaluate the submitted deliverables using the following criteria:

      • reconstructed image quality (e.g. contrast, spatial resolution, image noise, artefacts);
      • accuracy of processing (pin count and activity levels);
      • computation speed and complexity of setup;
      • need for a-priori information in processing; and
      • innovative content of the

      The IAEA may request the participants to clarify or provide additional details as necessary.

      4.5           Presentation and prize ceremony phase

      Up to three participants will be selected by the panel of IAEA experts as the challenge laureate(s), provided the scientific content of the deliverables is found to be technically compliant. The challenge laureate(s) will be invited to the IAEA HQ in Vienna to present the technical reports, demonstrate the algorithms on additional data, and discuss the IAEA tomographic reconstruction/analysis needs.

      One laureate will be selected as the challenge winner and will receive the main prize in the amount of 10 000 EUR to cover the participation costs and travel expenses. Up to two challenge laureate(s) will receive supporting prize(s) of 3 000 EUR each.

      The prize(s) will be paid to the winner and the laureate(s) upon delivery of the technical report(s) and presentation(s) at the IAEA HQ in Vienna, Austria.

      All participates will be informed of their overall performance and ranking within the challenge at the conclusion of the Evaluation phase and in conjunction with the invitations to the challenge laureate(s).

      4.6         Procurement phase (Request for Proposal and Contracting):

      The IAEA will invite Participants to submit commercial proposals in accordance with IAEA procurement policy. The commercial proposals will be evaluated based on the final technical scores at the end of Stage 4 Evaluation as well as commercial acceptability of the Financial Proposal and Contractual compliance.

      A Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA a.k.a. IDIQ, Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity) will be awarded to the Bidders that submit the best value for money combining “cost and quality”.

      If applicable, selected participants shall transfer the software source-code to allow the IAEA to customize the solution on its own. The IAEA may award multiple Agreements related to this project.

      Get started! 
      Click on "Post Idea", register to the Unite Ideas website, and then post your draft or even just the title of your preliminary idea. You will be able to edit your idea until the last day of the phase.

      For any questions regarding the challenge, please contact Racquel Lovelace by creating your account on Unite Ideas.

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