Nuclear Security Across the Borders
An emergency response exercise engages officials at the IAEA nuclear security seminar, Argonne National Laboratory. (Credit: Wedekind/IAEA)
They called it "Operation Jumpstart", and by the time the mock emergency exercise was over four hours later, 38 of the world's senior security officials breathed a collective sigh of relief. They had "survived" to live another day.
The exercise was an educational capstone of a multi-faceted IAEA seminar on nuclear security for managers and decision-makers held over a two week period at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, USA. Participating were senior officials from 17 countries.
Operation Jumpstart had grouped the men and women into four fictitious countries, and each had an assigned leadership role, from Prime Minister down. As explained by Argonne's Diane Naples, their joint mission was to work their way through a wave of scenarios involving airplane crashes, terrorist threats, and dirty bombs that tested their emergency response and readiness skills.
The groups did well, but not without some bumps, bruises, and missed opportunities along the way. "The situations are very challenging and difficult to handle, even though you know they are not real," said Mr. William Meehan, a senior officer at the IAEA heading the nuclear security seminar. "People take the exercise very seriously. It's excellent training."
The two week seminar - into its fourth consecutive year at Argonne - covers a targeted range of topics related to nuclear and radiological security from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Participants include officials in such fields as law enforcement, nuclear regulation, radiological safety, and customs and border control.
One important focus is on the international dimensions of nuclear security, the imperative of cooperation to identify and strengthen weak links, and the IAEA's role. IAEA Member States recently endorsed a nuclear security action plan for the next several years. (See Story Resources.) Another emphasis is on emergency response and preparedness, especially for terrorist-related events that once were unthinkable and for incidents or threats involving nuclear or radiological materials. A seminar highlight was a field trip to Loyola University's "Lifestar" health service equipped for rapid response and care of critically injured patients.
Mr. Genping Wu, a senior official in China’s customs ministry, found the sessions informative and timely. Not a nuclear or radiation expert, Mr. Wu said he thinks such seminars go a long way toward improving everyone's understanding of issues, policies, and practices for improving security. Other seminar participants were from Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Ecuador, South Africa, Iraq, Republic of Korea, Brazil, Panama, Mongolia, and the United States.