Resilient and agile response arrangements are an essential component of countries’ emergency response frameworks, as decisions made in the early stages of an emergency can be instrumental in saving lives. On 3 October 2023, the IAEA together with 62 countries and international organizations came together to simulate a global response to a nuclear emergency and examine whether these arrangements are robust and fit for purpose in the event of a severe nuclear accident anywhere in the world. The exercise, code-named ConvEx-2c, was conducted in cooperation with authorities in Romania, who developed the scenario and acted as the ‘accident state.’
The ConvEx-2c exercise on 3 October was organized on the basis of the concurrent full-scale national nuclear emergency exercise, “Valahia 2023,” which was organized by Romania from 2-6 October 2023 with the support of Norway and the IAEA, in the context of the NORROM project. The project seeks to assist Romania in strengthening its regulatory infrastructure for nuclear safety and security, including emergency preparedness and response.
“The Valahia 2023 exercise represents the culmination of many years of work and cooperation between the IAEA and the regulatory agencies of Norway and Romania. The primary objective of this exercise was to test the national emergency arrangements that have been meticulously developed and implemented throughout the project’s duration,” said Carlos Torres Vidal, Director of the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre.
At the Incident and Emergency Centre, 30 responders from the Incident and Emergency System gathered in the IAEA’s Operations Area, to simulate the IAEA’s coordinating role in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency. These responders were in continuous contact with 30 countries which activated their emergency response centres on 3 October as part of their participation to the exercise.
The ConvEx-2c exercise tested arrangements for responding to a transnational nuclear or radiological emergency and also simulated the deployment of international assistance teams to Romania. Eight countries and the IAEA deployed field assistance teams to Romania and worked together with Romanian counterparts.
Under the Assistance Convention, countries can request assistance in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency, either from the IAEA or from other States. Because such assistance must often be deployed within a matter of hours, the IAEA maintains a database called the Response and Assistance Network, or RANET, where countries indicate that they are willing and able, on a case by case basis, to provide various types of assistance on short notice.
During this ConvEx-2c exercise, teams from the IAEA, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Israel, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway and the USA responded to simulated requests for assistance from the “accident state”. The teams performed aerial radiation monitoring surveys in the first hours after the simulated radioactive release at Cernavoda nuclear power plant was stopped.
Under the IAEA’s coordination, the teams were able to cooperate effectively to conduct car-borne radiation monitoring over a large area, including several cities. Much of the data that they gathered was integrated and displayed on the IAEA’s International Radiation Monitoring Information System, a data visualization tool that displays large amounts of emergency radiation monitoring data. Two of the international field assistance teams also provided assistance to Romania’s personnel decontamination efforts.
“The teams were able to coordinate their planning and implement their mission effectively, and in a very short period of time, which is essential in an emergency, thanks to the procedures and processes laid out and exercised under the IAEA’s Response and Assistance Network,” said Florian Baciu, IEC Response System Coordinator.
“On behalf of the team from Lithuania, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity to participate in Valahia 2023. As a mixed team comprising representatives from two distinct institutions, this exercise provided us with a unique chance to collaborate on a common mission in an international setting, all while operating under unconventional management structures,” said Olga Andzelika Olechnovic, Head of the Radiation Protection Centre’s Division of Radiation Hazard Monitoring and Warning from Lithuania, one of the assisting countries participating in the exercise, adding that “we extend our sincere appreciation to Romania and all the organizers, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, for their exceptional efforts in orchestrating such a large-scale exercise involving international participants.”
The Valahia 2023 exercise took 11 months to organize, four days to execute, and involved over 1000 responders and workers. For Romania, the benefits to the hard work were immediately visible.
“Planning this kind of exercise has been a time-consuming but rewarding process, the most challenging part of conducting this complex exercise was to keep the players committed to the agreed procedures, with little room for improvisation,” said Petre Min, Head of CNCAN’s Department for Emergency Preparedness and Response. “We would do it again.”
The IAEA organizes approximately five Convention Exercises (ConvEx) each year. These exercises are designed to test the operational arrangements developed for the implementation of the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency. For participating countries, the benefits include the opportunity to test and improve the arrangements for implementation of protective actions, the opportunity to learn how to strengthen coordination among local and national organizations and offer a unique and highly efficient training instance for key emergency responders. The exercises also allow countries to test their cooperation with the IAEA, such as the deployment of field assistance teams, and to access resources such as the IAEA assessment and prognosis tools and social media simulator.
The United Arab Emirates hosted the ConvEx3, the IAEA’s highest-level emergency exercise in 2021. Raoul Awad, Deputy Director General Operations with the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) said: “Hosting the ConvEx-3 provided recognition of the strong commitment from all relevant entities in UAE towards emergency preparedness.” During a recent side event at the IAEA General Conference in 2023, Mr Awad encouraged other countries to host the IAEA ConvEx exercises: “Would we do it again? It demanded significant efforts at all levels, but the answer is a definitive YES!”
“I encourage more countries to work with the IAEA to organize emergency exercises,” said Carlos Torres Vidal, Director of the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre, who was present in Romania to observe in depth the conduct of the Valahia 2023 exercise, with its international component, the ConvEx-2c exercise: “These exercises are the rehearsal for readiness in a nuclear or radiological emergency, where preparedness can make the critical difference.”
Read the story from IAEA here.