IAEA collaborating on notification system to protect nuclear installations from natural hazards

Author

Joanne Liou

Source(s)
International Atomic Energy Agency
Nuclear power station in a field
mareksaroch.cz/Shutterstock

With little or no warning, nuclear installations around the world could be exposed to natural hazards, from floods and earthquakes to volcanic eruptions, wildfires and more. To assist nuclear power plants, research reactors and other facilities handling nuclear material in the response to these adverse external events, the IAEA is developing a system that will alert the Agency of such events that could potentially affect nuclear sites. The system would then trigger the Agency’s response and services offered. “Risks posed by natural hazards are increasing in frequency and intensity because of climate change,” said Paolo Contri, Head of the External Events Section at the IAEA. Climate change is affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Our new External Events Notification System will help countries prevent, mitigate and manage risks related to natural hazards,” Contri added.

The system, abbreviated as EENS, is being developed in collaboration with the University of Hawaii’s Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and Tenefit, an Internet application developer. PDC’s technologies and methodologies originated to help protect the Hawaiian Islands and vulnerable communities throughout the Pacific from natural hazards and have expanded over time to cover the world. “We understand the importance of monitoring, alerting and assessing risk, especially as we observe climate change phenomena and increased frequency and severity of natural hazards,” said PDC’s Deputy Executive Director Chris Chiesa.

The EENS will be based on PDC’s DisasterAWARE system, a multi-hazard monitoring and early warning platform. EENS will provide the IAEA access to hazard and impact information for timely reaction to events that could threaten the safety of nuclear facilities.

Monitoring hazards and assessing impact

The notification system will consist of two main modules: the Alert System and the External Event Damage Forecast. The DisasterAWARE system will feed the Alert System in real-time and monitor the globe for hazards that could impact nuclear facilities. The forecast module, which will receive information from the Alert System, will produce a preliminary estimate of the impact on nuclear facilities and populated areas. “The notification system will watch the globe in real-time to record the onset of significant external events, with trigger values on their severity and destructive potential,” Contri said.

A report, based on the damage forecast, will be sent to the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) within 30 minutes. The IEC is the global focal point for international emergency preparedness, communication and response to nuclear and radiological incidents and emergencies. The report will include a map and data sheet, describing characteristics of the hazard. “The EENS will provide timely assessment of impacts and allow the IAEA to organize and provide a timely response to hazards threatening nuclear installations,” Contri said.

This information is vital for the IEC to be able to swiftly offer its ”good offices” to support an affected country. Based on the Assistance Convention, the IEC extends this offer, for example, when an earthquake with a magnitude greater than 6.5 strikes a city with a population greater than 50 000. Countries may also require and request support to secure radioactive sources in hospitals and other buildings that could have been impacted.

In the case of a tsunami, for example, the report will include a propagation map, source of the tsunami and estimated arrival time to nuclear installation sites. “IAEA specialists will monitor the development of the event and, if applicable, will collect detailed information on damage to the affected nuclear sites and facilities,” Contri explained. This information will enable the IAEA to develop an assessment of the damage on installations that could guide the response for future events, he added. “Lessons learned and data gathered through the notification system will be shared with the nuclear community, confirmed by fact finding missions and further analyzed to steer our programmes and services.”

In the first phase of the EENS development, the notification system will be configured for two priority hazards – earthquakes and cyclones. The system will then be expanded to cover tornadoes, tsunamis, wildfires, floods and volcanic eruptions. The EENS is expected to be launched in 2022.

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