International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
By Laura Gil
The largest-ever international exercise simulating the global emergency response to a nuclear accident took place this week, involving hundreds of participants from 82 countries and 11 international organizations. The exercise was developed in cooperation with authorities in Hungary, which acted as the accident state in the scenario.
“It is important to prepare for the worst, even while working to ensure it never happens,” said Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “Through exercises like this, we can evaluate our readiness in case of a nuclear accident and identify good practices and areas for improvement.”
The exercise began at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday 21 June. Over 36 hours, the IAEA worked in tandem with national authorities from around the world and international organizations to practice implementing the international framework for emergency preparedness and response. The exercise involved continuous 24/7 staffing at IAEA headquarters, with over 100 staff members working in shifts, and additional IAEA staff members involved in other roles, including testing various elements of the Agency’s Incident and Emergency System.
IAEA personnel answered simulated questions from national authorities from all over the world, while technical experts analysed incoming mock data and prepared periodic status summaries for sharing with emergency response teams worldwide.
Exercises such as this one aim to enhance cooperation during an emergency, ensure prompt exchange of information, test mechanisms for international assistance and practice the release of public information, Lentijo said.
The scenario was developed by Hungary’s Paks Nuclear Power Plant and the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority, and involved the loss of coolant and release of radioactive material. “We hope an accident of this type never happens, but nonetheless we have to be prepared for it,” said Arpad Vincze, Head of the Department of Nuclear Security, Non-proliferation and Emergency Management at the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority.
“It’s all about practice,” said exercise participant Yassine Chaari, an IAEA Safety Officer. “I worked on a late shift as a liaison officer and was in constant contact with Member States, updating them on the scenario.” Responders might work long hours but, as Chaari said, “it is an essential part of emergency preparedness.”
In coming weeks, the IAEA will compile feedback from participating countries and international organizations into a report. The report will identify good practices and areas that need to be improved to strengthen national and international preparedness to respond to nuclear and radiological emergencies of all kinds.
In the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency, the IAEA’s responsibilities and functions are as defined in accordance with its Statute, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (the Early Notification Convention), the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (the Assistance Convention) and relevant decisions of IAEA policy-making organs. Convention Exercises (ConvEx) take place to practice the operational arrangements for the implementation of these Conventions.