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A Test of International Cooperation in Emergency Preparedness at Sea


Over 350 participants from seven European countries participated in Norway’s largest nuclear emergency exercise Arctic REIHN to enhance preparedness for a nuclear accident at sea. Here, decontamination procedures are exercised. (Photo: Raymond Engmark/DSB)

Over 350 rescue workers and experts from seven countries, as well as participants from the IAEA and the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM), participated in the largest maritime nuclear emergency preparedness field exercise ever held in Europe. The exercise, which forms a part of the Arctic Radiation Exercise in High North 2023, or "Arctic Reihn", was launched in Norway, 9 May 2023, and took place over three days in Bodø, northern Norway.

The large scale radiation monitoring exercise aimed to activate and test the assistance mechanisms set up through the IAEA Response and Assistance Network (RANET) and the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. This is the first time these two assistance mechanisms for nuclear and radiological emergencies have been activated together in an exercise.

Many ships in the Arctic region have nuclear propulsion or carry cargo that includes radioactive matter and plans to launch commercial cargo ships powered by small modular reactors are under consideration. At the same time, resources in the Arctic can be few and far between, and in some cases the closest emergency responders may be located across international borders. As experts anticipate that the number of nuclear-powered military, commercial and passenger vessels in the Arctic will continue to increase, there is increasing interest in to strengthen arrangements for international assistance in radiation measurements and decontamination if any accidents would occur.

“The risk of nuclear maritime accidents is real,” Astrid Liland, Director, Department of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA) said. "These events could happen anywhere in open waters or along the coast. In Arctic areas, it could be particularly challenging to manage such accidents as resources are scarce and often far apart, the climate is harsh, and there are dark, Polar nights during part of the year. By working together and sharing expertise, the participants hope to ensure that they are fully prepared to respond to any such accidents should they occur.”

The scenario for the Arctic REIHN nuclear emergency exercise involved an accident aboard a nuclear-powered vessel in the Arctic Circle. (Photo: Raymond Engmark/DSB)

Hosted by the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB), the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA), the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA), and the Joint Rescue Coordination Center-Northern Norway (JRCC NN), the Arctic Reihn emergency exercise tests the local, regional, national and international response to a simulated maritime accident involving a nuclear-powered vessel.

As part of the exercise, three-person field team from the IAEA, together with teams from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden, conducted radiation monitoring surveys to establish which areas may have been “contaminated” by the releases from the “damaged” ship. In addition, the IAEA International Radiation Monitoring Information system (IRMIS) was used to assess the radiological situation.

“With the assistance capabilities provided through the IAEA’s RANET, countries are able to ask for and provide assistance to each other, should such an accident ever occur,” Carlos Torres Vidal, Director of the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre said. “It is of utmost importance that these capabilities are exercised. This Arctic Reihn exercise will provide lessons learned and much needed experience that will be valuable to enhance emergency preparedness development in the region and in Europe as a whole,” he said.

The IAEA’s RANET offers global support with radiological measurements, medical advice or treatment, and specialized equipment to help to mitigate the consequences of nuclear or radiological emergencies for human health, the environment, and societies. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism aims to strengthen cooperation between the EU countries and nine participating countries in civil protection to improve prevention, preparedness and response to disasters.

The field component of the exercise involved a number of international assistance mechanisms, including three emergency communication systems: the Common Emergency Communication and Information System (CECIS), SafeSeaNet and the European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange (ECURIE). The Unified System for Information Exchange (USIE), the secure website maintained by the IAEA to enable countries to exchange urgent notifications and follow-up information during an emergency, was also involved.  

The Arctic Reihn, of which this exercise is a part, was launched on 25 April 2023, and will continue through June, to test, verify and further develop emergency preparedness and response in the case of a nuclear or radiological accident in the Arctic.

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