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Enhancing Information Exchange for Emergency Preparedness and Response

(Left to right) Elena Buglova, Head of the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre, Carl-Magnus Larsson, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, the meeting's Chair, and Juan Carlos Lentijo, Deputy Director General, Head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, at the opening session of the eighth meeting of the representatives of competent authorities under the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency. (Photo: W. Gruenwald/IAEA) 

The use of the latest online emergency preparedness and response (EPR) tools and information sharing on national arrangements, capabilities and best practices were among the topics discussed at the eighth meeting of the representatives of competent authorities under the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, held at IAEA headquarters last week.

Having robust emergency response systems in place enhances public trust in the peaceful use of nuclear and radiation technologies, and the IAEA is the global focal point for coordinating international communication, assistance and response to nuclear and radiological emergencies.

"The common challenge is to capture and disseminate the experience from the relatively few nuclear emergencies, so that all of us can learn from it and build upon it in preparing for possible future emergencies that might occur," said Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of Department of Nuclear Safety and Security.

Recommendations emerging from the meeting pointed to the importance of implementing the IAEA Safety Requirements on Preparedness and Response for a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency, improving communication with the public, enhancing EPR training programmes, establishing specialised capacity building centres and sharing lessons learned from IAEA and national EPR exercises that test response capabilities.

Strengthening EPR tools

Participants discussed the various online EPR tools available. These include  the EPR Information Management System (EPRIMS), a self-assessment tool launched last year for States to review their emergency preparedness, the Unified System for Information Exchange in Incidents and Emergencies (USIE), a secure web-based platform for communicating information related to nuclear or radiological emergencies and the International Radiation Monitoring Information System (IRMIS), which visualises and maps radiation monitoring data, were highlighted for their role in reinforcing global EPR.

Representatives of competent authorities encouraged IAEA Member States to populate EPRIMS with information to be used in preparedness for and during an emergency, including technical data about nuclear power plants. They also agreed to the need to regularly update the USIE to facilitate the swift exchange of short messages on the latest available information.

Participants also examined the various approaches in emergency preparedness and response to assess where improvements were required in their own national EPR programmes and to examine where greater global harmonisation is needed.  Carl-Magnus Larsson, Chair of this meeting and Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said: "The necessity of a coherent approach to dealing with incidents and emergencies, whether they are triggered by safety or security events, and the need to avoid fragmentation in how to deal with the prevention, preparedness and response to such events is vital."

Plan, prepare, and respond: global efforts

National response arrangements need to be in line with IAEA safety standards and best practices to address the global efforts to harmonize EPR.

While the Early Notification Convention requires States Parties to notify other States and the IAEA of any nuclear accident that may have transboundary radiological consequences, the Convention on Assistance sets out arrangements for international assistance and support in the event of nuclear accidents or radiological emergencies.

Improve public communication

During the meeting, interaction with the public on EPR, including on factual details using specific terms, was raised. Terms such as 'hazard', 'risk' and 'safe' can be interpreted differently, and it was agreed that the IAEA continue to develop guidance on the use of appropriate systems that may assist in putting consequences of nuclear and radiological emergencies in perspective.

Further, participants encouraged national authorities to recognise the expectations of both the media and the public in an emergency when developing concrete public communication arrangements.

Other issues raised included guidance on strengthening long-term planning of EPR exercises in Member States and the registration of their national assistance capabilities into the IAEA's Response and Assistance Network (RANET). The information provided to RANET is used to provide international assistance following a nuclear or radiological emergency upon request.

Over 160 participants from 81 countries and six international organizations attended last week's meeting. The next meeting of the representatives of competent authorities is scheduled for 2018.

The necessity of a coherent approach to dealing with incidents and emergencies, whether they are triggered by safety or security events, and the need to avoid fragmentation in how to deal with the prevention, preparedness and response to such events are vital.
Carl-Magnus Larsson, Chief Executive Officer, Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, Australia