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First IAEA Technical Meeting Held Virtually to Review Safety Standards on Emergency Preparedness and Response


(Photo: K. Vargas/IAEA)

Over 100 emergency preparedness and response professionals from more than 50 countries met for the first virtual technical meeting to review the draft, discuss changes and identify areas for further improvement of the IAEA Safety Standards Series No. GS-G-2.1 ‘Arrangements for Preparedness for a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency’. This Safety Standard is the essential guidance IAEA Member States rely upon to establish and maintain adequate arrangements to respond to any nuclear or radiological emergency, be it safety or security related. The meeting was held from 20 to 24 July.

“A broad community engagement is essential in achieving the harmonization of national emergency preparedness and response arrangements,” said Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, in his opening remarks. Noting that this was the first technical meeting to be held virtually, Lentijo added: “The current conditions will not stop us from implementing our duty to continue strengthening national, regional and international emergency preparedness and response arrangements. On the contrary, these circumstances help reveal the gaps in existing […] arrangements and provide an opportunity to address specific issues — to improve global preparedness for an effective response to any nuclear or radiological emergency.”

The IAEA Safety Standards Series publication No. GS-G-2.1 was published in 2007 to provide guidance and recommendations to countries in applying the requirements contained in the IAEA Safety Standards Series publication No. GS-R-2 ‘Preparedness and Response for a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency’, issued in 2002 and later superseded by the IAEA Safety Standards Series publication No. GSR Part 7.

What is new?

The revised draft Safety Guide, GS-G-2.1, provides guidance and recommendations on a selected number of new general functional and infrastructural requirements described in GSR Part 7 and strengthens the guidance on those requirements that are already addressed in the current Safety Guide. The revised Safety Guide further elaborates on topics such as the emergency management system, the all-hazard approach, hazard assessment, the unified command and control system, emergency planning zones and distances, international assistance, plans and procedures, analysing emergencies and emergency response.

“Review of this Safety Guide is extremely important regarding the effective implementation of GSR Part 7 by Member States,” said Marcus Grzechnik, Director of the Monitoring and Emergency Response Section at the Australian nuclear regulator, ARPANSA, and Chair of the technical meeting. “While guidance is provided for the implementation of several GSR Part 7 requirements, the advice on the process of a hazard assessment is particularly anticipated for planning and preparedness for a nuclear or radiological emergency.”

These improvements were introduced considering recent developments and experience from responding to events such as the March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and emergencies involving stolen sources.

“Since the 2009 publication of IAEA Safety Standards Series No. GS-G-2.1, we have experienced events such as the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident, and we have conducted national exercises that have helped us learn about new requirements we need to take on board in the next version of the Safety Standards,” said Elena Buglova, Head of the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre.

The feedback received prior to and during the meeting showed that participants found changes in the current draft useful, comprehensive and practical. Some areas identified in the document required further improvements and clarification.

Adapting to the pandemic

While holding a virtual meeting involves new challenges, the IAEA decided to host it in order to ensure that the review process would continue. Immediate feedback mechanisms such as polls were introduced to make sure that participants could participate actively. In contrast to in-person technical meetings, these mechanisms opened the door to even more comments and allowed more experts to participate and share their experience throughout the meeting. The relevant pandemic challenges were also addressed in the discussions.

“Pandemic-related impacts on EPR matters were identified for possible inclusion in the Guide,” Grzechnik said. “These include the effects of reduced staff, remote working affecting the ability to respond, social distancing, and the possibility that off-site facilities, such as hospitals, may have a reduced capacity to respond to a nuclear or radiological emergency.”

The revision of the document in light of the global pandemic was key, participants concluded.

“New evidence from emergency events including the COVID-19 pandemic shows us that we need to review and modify this document,” said Syed Asraf Fahlawi Wafa Ghazi, emergency preparedness and response officer from Malaysia. “We are in the process of reviewing our standard operating procedures to integrate with the medical sector, which covers all threats and hazards.”

In addition to experts from Member States, representatives from the European Nuclear Installations Safety Standards Initiative (ENISS) and the World Nuclear Transport Institute (WNTI) joined virtually. “This technical meeting is important because we consider this guidance is essential for monitoring emergency preparedness and response for nuclear transport,” said Hirotaka Nojima, Specialist Advisor at WNTI.

After addressing the feedback collected during the technical meeting, the draft Safety Guide will begin a comprehensive process of review and approval by all IAEA Safety Standards Committees, Nuclear Security Guidance Committee and the IAEA Commission on Safety Standards.

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