Strengthening the security of nuclear and other radioactive material in transport, and developing practical skills for planning, conducting and evaluating transport security exercises was the focus of a recent IAEA workshop held in Romania.
“Nuclear and other radioactive material is regularly transported from one place to another for various uses, such as for medical applications, agriculture, nuclear power and scientific research,” said Elena Buglova, IAEA Director of Nuclear Security. “When this material is in transport, whether nationally or internationally, it is potentially vulnerable to security threats, for which we need to be vigilant.”
The four day workshop included classroom presentations and field demonstrations, as well as a virtual exercise in which participants watched a simulated event involving an attempted malicious interception of a vehicle transporting a radioactive source, and practiced evaluating the situation and developing an appropriate course of action in a realistic and interactive way. These actions included summoning additional response forces and executing evasive and protective maneuvers to prevent the adversaries from achieving their objective.
“Romania experiences a high number of nuclear and other radioactive material shipments both within and across its borders,” said Sorin Repanovici, Senior Expert at the Romanian National Commission for Nuclear Activities Control (CNCAN). “Ensuring that our response plans are effective and that all national stakeholders are fully trained to rapidly respond to a nuclear security event during the transport of these materials is of utmost importance.”
“By practicing scenarios during exercises and assessing our capabilities, we can establish good practices, as well as identify areas needing improvement, so we can then make targeted efforts to strengthen our national nuclear security regime,” he added.
It is estimated that worldwide, around 20 million shipments of radioactive materials are transported every year. The IAEA assists Member States to enhance their capabilities to help ensure both the safety and security of nuclear and other radioactive material during transport. Safety, in this context, refers to protecting the public from the radioactive contents of a package, whereas security refers to guarding nuclear and other radioactive material with locks, seals and other technologies and methods to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
Nineteen participants from national stakeholder organizations involved in nuclear security took part in the workshop, including nuclear security response forces, the national regulator, and nuclear facility operators and carriers. Discussions focused on the need for robust coordination among stakeholders and the importance of conducting and learning from regular transport security exercises, in order to properly evaluate the readiness of response forces to deal with a nuclear security event during transport.
The workshop was conducted in a hybrid format, which included in-person presentations from local and IAEA instructors, as well as virtual contributions from experts in the United Kingdom and the United States. The Romanian Horia Hulubei National Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering and the General Inspectorate of the Gendarmerie provided a practical demonstration of a radioactive material transport vehicle and the physical protection equipment used by response forces. The virtual transport security exercise was conducted remotely with the assistance of experts from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States, who used newly developed innovative exercise software to portray the hypothetical nuclear security event using advanced high-resolution satellite imagery.