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Nuclear Security at Major Public Events: IAEA Marks 18 Years of Helping Countries Address Security Threats


Mass numbers of people attend major public events. Nuclear security measures need to be applied in indoor and outdoor facilities, like meeting halls and stadiums. The IAEA trains security staff to use specialized radiation detection instruments, enabling them to identify radiation and assess the risk. (Photos: IAEA)

Whether it is an international sporting event, a political summit, or a high-profile conference and exhibition, all major public events require an overall security plan that includes nuclear security measures. Since the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, the IAEA has provided support for 68 events in 43 countries to enhance their readiness to counteract potential nuclear security threats.

At an event taking place today alongside the IAEA’s annual General Conference, delegates came together to mark the success of the Agency’s Programme on Nuclear Security at Major Public Events over the past 18 years and to discuss ways in which the IAEA can continue enhancing its support to strengthen countries’ capabilities in nuclear security when hosting events that draw media attention and public interest.

“The impact of the programme implementation goes beyond the duration of a major public event,” said Elena Buglova, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Security, at the event today. “We have seen many countries using this successful IAEA programme as the ‘starting point’ from which they can develop wider national nuclear security capabilities or enhance capabilities that already exist.”

During the event, participants learned about the IAEA’s support and assistance in this area, which includes equipment loans, training workshops, tabletop and field exercises, and technical visits by international experts. In the past six years, the IAEA has lent over 3500 items of radiation detection equipment to countries across the world as part of its major public events programme.

Highlighting the need for nuclear security considerations at major public events, Nigel Tottie, Head of the Institutional Response Infrastructure Unit of the IAEA's Division of Nuclear Security, said, “We advise host countries to consider the threats from nuclear and other radioactive material early on as part of their overall preparations and event security planning activities. The sooner they start planning their nuclear security measures, the better, as they will be able to make full use of the IAEA’s assistance programme in advance of the event.” Tottie moderated the event.

In a panel discussion featuring representatives from Costa Rica, Egypt and Qatar – countries that have made use of, or will be making use of, IAEA assistance for the implementation of nuclear security measures in major public events in 2022 – participants heard about their experiences and the benefits of IAEA assistance. Most recently, the IAEA supported Costa Rica in its nuclear security efforts for the Women’s U-20 Football World Cup in August 2022. IAEA support included four national workshops and one training activity in Vienna attended by around 90 people from 15 institutions.

“Costa Rica benefited greatly from the assistance given by the IAEA – this was the first time such a programme was implemented in the country,” said Ambassador Christian Guillermet-Fernández, Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Worship of Costa Rica. “Capacity building opportunities were given to national authorities responsible for the implementation of the security measures and the operation of specialized equipment, as well as to first responders.”

Discussions and presentations during the event also highlighted the ways in which the IAEA continues enhancing its support to strengthen countries’ capabilities in this area. For example, the Agency’s support to Costa Rica included the first-ever deployment of its most advanced nuclear security protection software, the Mobile-Integrated Nuclear Security Network (M-INSN), to be used by front-line officers to quickly obtain and act on the radiation data they need to protect the public in case of an incident involving nuclear material. In addition to the M-INSN, the IAEA’s nuclear security field operations support includes the Tool for Radiation Alarm and Commodity Evaluation (TRACE) application, which is free for download and provides detailed information to help assess radiation instrument alarms caused by trucks and other cargo carrying vehicles.

“The M-INSN software supported radiation detection operations carried out by the Special Intervention Unit at stadiums, hotels, training facilities and other main venues,” said Ambassador Guillermet-Fernández. “It allowed them to have a secure communication and analysis of information between front-line officers and the command center.”

The IAEA plans to launch a Personnel Alarm Assessment Tool (PAAT) later this year, to help front-line officers’ work during alarm assessment.

The Mobile-Integrated Nuclear Security Network (M-INSN) is a software used by front-line officers to quickly obtain radiation detection data. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Egypt, host country of the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27), is receiving IAEA support in developing plans to apply nuclear security measures, as well as to train front-line officers on implementing them; and Qatar, which is organizing the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup from 21 November to 18 December, will receive a spectrum of training opportunities and technical support.

“Egypt hosts major public events in multiple fields at the national, regional and international level, and COP27 is one of those major public events that attracts a large number of participants – among them global leaders and senior officials,” said Mahmoud Gad, Head of the Nuclear Security Department, Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority. “Therefore, nuclear security measures are an integral part of the overall security and fully aligned with the principles of unified command and control systems.”

In Qatar, in addition to training and technical support, radiation detection equipment has been loaned, and officials from different governmental authorities have been trained in the development and implementation of nuclear security measures. “For the first time, the world’s biggest football tournament is held in the Middle East, and it is the first FIFA World Cup where the stadiums are so intricately linked, and they welcome crowds of fans at the same time,” said Rashid Al-Nuaimi, Acting Chairman of the National Committee for the Prohibition of Weapons (NCPW). “This safety and security challenge led the NCPW to turn to IAEA for assistance. We are looking forward to future cooperation and support, especially in nuclear security systems and measures.”

The IAEA’s nuclear security support to countries planning the major public events include the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brazil (2016), in China (2008 and 2022), in Greece (2004) and in Japan (2020); the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summits in Chile in 2019 and the Philippines in 2015; the World Youth Days in Panama in 2019 and Poland in 2016; the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon in 2021, in Egypt in 2019 and in Gabon in 2012; and the World Expo in Kazakhstan in 2017 and in the United Arab Emirates in 2020.

IAEA support is based on the concepts described in its Nuclear Security Series (NSS) Implementing Guide No. 18, Nuclear Security Systems and Measures for Major Public Events.

Hands-on training courses and exercises on developing and implementing nuclear security systems and measures for major public events, as well as on equipment performance and verification, will be offered in the IAEA Nuclear Security and Demonstration Training Centre (NSTDC), which is currently under construction at the IAEA Laboratories in Seibersdorf.

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