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Action at Sea: Transport Security Exercise Conducted Off the Coast of Sweden

Swedish nuclear transport security exercise

Off the coast of Sweden this week, national authorities conducted an exercise on security while transporting spent nuclear fuel as part of a joint project with the IAEA to test and evaluate a new IAEA guide on planning, conducting and evaluating transport security exercises. (Photos: Swedish Police)

Like an action movie set, ships, helicopters and uniformed people set the scene off the coast of Sweden this week as national authorities conducted an exercise on security while transporting spent nuclear fuel. The exercise was part of a joint project with the IAEA to test and evaluate a new IAEA guide on planning, conducting and evaluating transport security exercises. The test subject and model was the security framework of Sweden’s national nuclear transport system, which regularly ships used fuel from power plants along the coast to the country’s interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.

“In addition to supporting the IAEA in the development of the exercise guide, the field exercise provided an excellent opportunity for training in a realistic situation not only for the regulatory authority, the coast guard and the police counter terrorist unit, but also for the company responsible for transport operations,” said Tommy Nielsen, the exercise director from the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. “This exercise was also a chance for Sweden to further improve its national transport security system.”

The IAEA reviewed Sweden’s nuclear transport security system in 2011 and provided advice on implementing international standards and IAEA guidance on the physical protection of nuclear and other radioactive material and associated facilities, including good practices, recommendations for improvement and follow-up activities. Sweden subsequently became closely involved with the IAEA in the development of the exercise guide.

A scenario at sea

The field exercise was a full-scale, comprehensive scenario involving national authorities overseeing the M/S Sigrid, a purpose-built vessel, carrying a shipment of fake spent nuclear fuel from the Forsmark nuclear power plant. The scenario unfolded as the vessel headed south to an interim storage facility and was intercepted by an unidentified armed group, which took control of the vessel and forced the crew to comply with their instructions.

Authorities jumped into action.

Relying on their prepared plans and extensive training, key personnel from the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, national police, the coast guard and the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company worked together to regain control of the vessel. Their plans were carefully designed around national regulations and training, as well as IAEA nuclear transport security guidelines and preparatory exercises. The strategy also relied on results from a tabletop, discussion-based exercise with around 100 participants and observers held earlier in February as part of the exercise preparations.

With close coordination and quick thinking, authorities successfully overcame the attacking group and regained control of the vessel.

Events such as this exercise help raise security standards across States and contribute towards a consistent, safe and secure approach to the transport of nuclear material.
Steve Skelton, Principal Inspector, United Kingdom Office for Nuclear Regulation

“To be able to exercise under realistic conditions is of critical importance for my personnel,” said Göran Kessell, Superintendent of the Swedish police. “The cooperation with the coast guard and the support from other stakeholders was key for us to plan our operation and to successfully regain control of the vessel at the open sea.”

Throughout the day, real-time progress updates from the field were sent to observers from the IAEA and 15 countries who gathered in a nearby facility on shore to follow and discuss the exercise. The more than 40 international participants had a chance to learn about these types of exercises, to see the resources involved, and to hear first-hand accounts about the exercise and its preparation process.

“Events such as this exercise help raise security standards across States and contribute towards a consistent, safe and secure approach to the transport of nuclear material. We welcome the chance to learn and share good practice in an international forum. The United Kingdom is grateful to Sweden and the IAEA for the opportunity to observe the exercise,” said Steve Skelton, Principal Inspector from the United Kingdom Office for Nuclear Regulation.

The day before the exercise, participants visited the port at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant on the country’s eastern coast and also saw the Swedish spent nuclear fuel transportation system, including the M/S Sigrid and boats from the coast guard. During the post-exercise debriefing, participants toured the police situation room and the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority’s Emergency and Response Centre to hear more about the experiences from personnel directly involved in the exercise.

A timely and handy exercise guide

Results from the pilot exercise held from 5 to 7 May will be used to improve the IAEA guide, complementing the results of the field exercise and the input from experts from several Member States and other partner organizations. The guide will provide comprehensive guidance information, including planning worksheets for three types of model exercises, that will help States to properly test, validate and implement their national nuclear transport security plans and arrangements, including interagency coordination in line with international instruments and IAEA guidance.

“The transport security exercise guide will be an important tool for the IAEA to assist States, upon request, in the practical implementation of IAEA transport security recommendations and guidance,” said Khammar Mrabit, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security. “Table top exercises and field exercises should be utilized to test and validate transport security plans. No plan is better than the one that is exercised and tested. The Agency is ready to continue assisting States in this regard.”

Last update: 26 July 2017

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