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2016–17 Annual Report - Case study 4 - ConvEx-3: ARPANSA’s part in an international nuclear emergency exercise

Part 3: Case Study 4 - ConvEx-3: ARPANSA’s part in an international nuclear emergency exercise

Over the past decade, many international exercises simulating a nuclear emergency have taken place, and much knowledge and experience has been gained in the important fields of emergency preparedness and response.

On 21 June 2017, ARPANSA participated in an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Convention Exercise (ConvEx), also known as ConvEx-3. 

ARPANSA participated in the exercise in order to test its own emergency arrangements in a severe international nuclear accident scenario. This exercise gave ARPANSA an opportunity to verify that we apply good practices, and also find out where we might need to improve: such as testing the effectiveness of our recently updated Incident Management Plan (IMP).

ConvEx-3 simulated a Fukushima-like emergency release from a nuclear reactor in Hungary and was the largest exercise ARPANSA has participated in to date. Around 35 ARPANSA staff members, from both Sydney and Melbourne offices, participated in the 36 hour emergency exercise. 

Hungary played the role as the ‘accident state’ and the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre coordinated information exchange and requests for assistance between Hungary and other Member States, such as Australia. 
In order to test the whole of government response arrangements, Australian agencies worked collectively — bringing ARPANSA together with the Attorney General’s Department, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Health. 

Due to the 36 hour exercise duration, ARPANSA implemented rotating shifts around the clock to ensure a continuous response. Participation came from all ARPANSA IMP component groups, including:

  • analysis and assessment
  • laboratory support 
  • nuclear safety 
  • communications 
  • business continuity
  • logistics support. 

The exercise included national and international interactions, monitoring the reactor status, production of atmospheric modelling maps, providing advice for Australians abroad, attending media briefings, helping to create talking points for leaders, as well as notionally posting updates on Twitter and Facebook. 

The ConvEx-3 exercise has been invaluable in dissecting ARPANSA’s plans, depth and response to such an international nuclear accident, highlighting what we did well and understanding opportunities for improvement.