x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Authorities train for nuclear emergency

Officials trained this week to respond to a potential nuclear disaster.

ABU DHABI // During holiday festivities in the country's largest city, a delivery lorry crashes close to the parade route that weaves through public markets and plazas.

As panicked crowds scatter, it becomes apparent that the vehicle is transporting radioactive substances, leaving various federal authorities and local entities scrambling to contain the spread of contamination.

That was one scenario presented to a group of local experts yesterday as part of a week-long training session by the International Atomic Energy Agency, in co-ordination with the UAE's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). The goal was to strengthen the nation's ability to respond to a nuclear or radiological emergency.

The event this week at the Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana in Abu Dhabi included more than 40 experts from the National Emergency and Crisis Management Authority, the Ministry of Health, the Armed Forces and other government departments.

Nuclear power plants are not the only places such an emergency could occur. Radioactive material is also used in the digging of oil wells and in body scanners.

FANR, which oversees the country's nuclear sector, has approved about 300 licences for such material since the authority was established over a year ago.

"There is always a small chance that something could happen, but that does not mean that we should stop plans for nuclear power," Dr Djelloul Bellahouel, the general adviser for area services for the Western Region Municipality, said during an exercise yesterday.

"We just need measures to prevent and protect," he said. "Having a meeting like this is a good way to discuss and debate how each authority will get involved, what is our role."

The sessions included information about radiation effects, levels and injuries; lessons from past radiation crises; protective steps to take; and the role of international agencies in emergency response.

Efforts to educate local experts and residents about the country's nuclear programme have intensified since the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. The UAE is pressing ahead with plans to become the first Arab nation to produce nuclear energy, with its first reactors in the Western Region scheduled to come online by 2017, pending a review by FANR.

While it is unlikely that an event would cause a nuclear disaster in the Emirates, it is never too early to put a national response plan into place, said John Loy, the director of FANR's radiation safety department.

"It is important to know how to protect people from being exposed and whether they should stay sheltered in their homes or evacuated, or if there is a contamination of food, whether to restrict consumption," he said. "For that, we need all agencies with the abilities and competencies to plan ahead."