While the ongoing war in Ukraine has not thus far resulted in any major radiological threats to public health and safety, it is the first time in history that a country with significant nuclear and radiological capacities has been engaged in armed conflict. These events raise unprecedented questions about nuclear safety and security, as well as radiological protection and public health. The challenge for any country in an armed conflict situation is twofold: (1) to maintain and enhance the capability and capacity to effectively monitor, analyse and manage radiological protection and public health; and (2) to continuously anticipate consequences that such conflicts will have on the implementation of radiological protection regulation and practices. Ultimately, we must question whether the radiological protection systems and regulatory frameworks upon which countries rely to assure safety — which are not designed to be applied in wartime — have the resilience and adaptability to be applied during armed conflict. If these frameworks cannot adapt to armed conflict, then what measures are appropriate?
Building upon reflections of the NEA Committee on Radiological Protection and Public Health (CRPPH) and the existing joint co-operation between the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) and the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA), this workshop aimed to address prospective issues of radiological protection in the context of armed conflict — including potential radiological emergencies caused by war-related damage to nuclear and radiological facilities. The specific objectives were:
The workshop addressed the following topics:
How to characterise the radiological situation? How to improve capacity and effectiveness in case of loss of power to equipment, damage to communication systems, etc.? What could be the substitute when EMS are not operational? Could citizen participation be an option?
What are the practical measures that could be useful to consider with regards to supporting reliable human and organisational performance in exceptional and over extended periods where personnel safety, staffing levels, stress, lines of command and means of communication, and more, are under strain? What personal risks should radiological protection staff be asked to take during armed conflict?
In the face of a lack of access and staff for safety inspections, what alternatives exist? Might practices developed during the COVID-19 pandemic be useful?
How to adapt standards, plans and procedures for agreed protective actions e.g., evacuation, sheltering in place, iodine tablet distribution, as well as when and how to lift them; how to manage the radiological protection of workers and responders during hazardous work (for explosive ordnance squads, the retrieval of radiation sources from conflict areas, etc.)? How to manage radiological protection in territories/areas where recovery from previous events is ongoing (e.g., Chernobyl Exclusion Zone)? How to ensure that radiological workers continue to monitor exposures and receive the training necessary for the safe conduct of their tasks?
This table top session aimed to put lessons learnt into perspective and support a prospective reflection on how to manage radiological protection in situations characterised by multiple risks - notably if a major radiological risk comes into play - and if communication and stakeholder engagement are disrupted.
A series of issues was discussed in small groups such as: How to make the regulatory framework flexible and agile to consider “risk-risk” trade-offs? How to optimise protection? How to define a monitoring strategy in support of the management of necessary mitigation? Would it be necessary to invoke any international treaties or conventions? How should cross-institutional communications and collaboration within the country continue during conflict, i.e., ensuring all actors co-ordinate their communications? How should radiological health risk assessments, including (for example) food safety, continue to be overseen during and following a period of armed conflict?
The workshop was open to representatives from national and local governments. These include experts, regulators, operators, and non-governmental stakeholders, as well as relevant international organisations or associations. Around 130 participants were present. A summary of the workshop’s findings will be issued as soon as practical after its conclusion, with full proceedings to be published in due course.
The event was held at the Hotel Bristol in Oslo, Norway.
The workshop programme sought to ensure a good balance between the different topical sessions and was structured around invited keynote speakers, round tables and breakout group discussions. The ultimate aim being to produce concrete recommendations on how to improve operational and regulatory practices and to strengthen international collaboration in the area.
The workshop agenda along with the presentations given by the speakers during the workshop is available on this page.