IAEA Workshop in Fukushima Prefecture Strengthens Agency's Emergency Response Network

Experts measure radiation as part of an IAEA workshop exercise in the evacuated zone around TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 29 May 2013. (Photo: S. Lööf, IAEA)

The tall grass growing in uneven tufts would hamper any match on this football field. But there are no players here - instead, experts using sophisticated equipment to measure radiation levels are gathered around stations marked with numbered flags. Others are marching determinedly in a grid pattern, carrying backpacks with equipment that measures radiation levels every few seconds.

The experts are working with focus yet quickly - there are many stations set up on this field, located in the area that remains evacuated following the March 2011 accident at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and their programme includes several other locations.

More than 40 experts from 18 countries spent two days taking measurements in the evacuated areas as part of an IAEA Response and Assistance Network (RANET) workshop held in late May 2013 in Fukushima Prefecture. One of the objectives of the workshop was to compare the results of measurements done by different teams with the final goal to further strengthen their technical capabilities and ability to work together.

RANET is a network currently comprising 22 countries through which the IAEA can facilitate the provision of expert support and equipment on request for assistance under the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency.

International Cooperation

During the workshop, RANET teams conducted radiation measurements independently and together in the field - much like they would after a nuclear or radiological incident or emergency. Some teams used their data collected to create radiation maps, which in an emergency would be needed to make decisions to protect the public. By comparing the various teams' results, the IAEA gained insights that will help them further improve their readiness to deploy RANET teams when needed.

Karl Östlund, a participant from the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, was impressed at the end of the four-day workshop, saying that a main lesson was that "different teams from different countries really could work together."

Participants brought their own detectors to measure radiation levels, meaning that several different systems were used during the workshop. Several teams used hand-held, backpack and vehicle-based equipment, while the French Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute, IRSN, brought a trolley loaded with a detector that measured radiation levels as it was pushed around the areas to be measured.

That system worked quite well, said IRSN's Rodolfo Gurriaran. He also emphasised the importance of being thoroughly prepared.

"Connectivity can fail - and it did fail, but we had spares and could continue working," he said.

Strengthening Emergency Preparedness and Response

Pat Kenny, IAEA RANET Officer who served as the workshop's scientific secretary, said the workshop helped strengthen the network's emergency preparedness and response capability.

"The unique environment of Fukushima Prefecture provided an opportunity for the experts to get a realistic idea of how it is to work in a post-accident situation," he said. "This workshop and others we are planning help us ensure that RANET can continue to be used effectively to provide assistance upon request should there be an emergency despite all prevention efforts."

The workshop, conducted from the newly designated IAEA RANET Capacity Building Centre in the city of Fukushima, formed part of the IAEA's work to further strengthen international emergency preparedness and response as guided by the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety that was unanimously endorsed by IAEA Member States in September 2011.

Last update: 2 November 2014