So the IAEA “announced”:http://iaea.org/newscenter/news/2011/cleanlabext.html a few days back that it has opened the Safeguards Clean Laboratory Extension, which is part of the Environmental Sample Laboratory located at SAL. That laboratory, as the IAEA “explains,”:http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/SV/Safeguards/analytical-services.html analyzes environmental samples in order to help “detect the absence of undeclared material and activities in” IAEA member-states.
This is distinct from the Nuclear Material Laboratory, which is also located at SAL and analyzes nuclear material samples collected from member-states’ declared nuclear facilities in order to “verify States’ nuclear material accountancy declarations.”
Anyway, the clean lab extension houses a new Large Geometry Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (LG-SIMS) which, according to the IAEA, is pretty amazing:
bq. If human vision were as acute as the LG-SIMS, we would be able to sort through millions of objects in the asteroid belt to detect a single tennis ball. This level of resolution is needed when the Clean Laboratory Extension is analysing minute particles whose weight is measured in “femtograms”. That unit is equivalent to a quadrillionth of a gram, roughly 10 000 times smaller than a grain of sand, or about the weight of a human cell. Such precise analysis allows forensic experts in Seibersdorf to determine a uranium isotope particle’s distinctive fingerprint. Those clues then yield information about where it was mined, how it was processed and to which level of enrichment.
That paragraph is IAEA-speak for “dog’s bollocks.”