Advanced spying and monitoring technologies are most useful for figuring out whether Iran is cheating at secret, undeclared nuclear facilities. One tool the IAEA has access to is commercial, high-resolution satellite technology that can give them imagery of locations all across Iran.
“That capability has revolutionized the ability to find things that were once hidden in remote locations,” said Tom Shea, who worked at the IAEA for 24 years and helped establish nonproliferation safeguard procedures.
Satellites—like DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 orbiter—can be used to take photographs in the shortwave infrared spectra, for example, detecting a clandestine reactor that is putting off heat. Electro-optical and radar satellites could help complete the picture. (That’s one of the ways that the U.S was able to find Iran’s previously secret underground nuclear facility in 2009.
Another tool for finding clandestine sites is environmental sampling, which has improved to the point where inspectors can identify infinitesimally minute particles to find hidden nuclear facilities or sniff out misuse at declared facilities.
“You can detect individual atoms, very small samples, so it’s virtually impossible to hide that you’ve been doing nuclear activity in a room,” Persbo said.
And by using remote environmental technologies, the IAEA can engage in “wide area monitoring of ambient air and the ground… they can detect [nuclear activities] without going directly into certain areas,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director at the Arms Control Association.