Radiation emergency planning for Australia deals with a range of low-probability events, such as an accidental release from the research reactor at Lucas Heights, an accidental radioactive release from a visiting nuclear powered warship, widespread contamination arising from the re-entry of radioactive space debris, or an emergency arising from an uncontrolled radioactive source or from the malevolent use of radioactive material.
The radiation protection framework for the protection of the public and the environment from a radiological or nuclear emergency in Australia is aligned to the latest international guidance, provided in ARPANSA Radiation Protection Series G-3, Guide for Radiation Protection in Emergency Exposure Situations (2019).
Radiation emergency response
The objective of radiation emergency response is to reduce the risk or mitigate the consequences of the incident. Immediate actions taken might include evacuation, the issuing of iodine tablets and/or chelating agents, or sheltering. Longer-term actions such as the monitoring and control of foodstuffs and relocation and resettlement of affected people may be undertaken. ARPANSA's role in these plans falls into four main areas: radiation emergency medical preparedness, health physics response, environmental monitoring and nuclear safety and risk assessments.
It is the responsibility of the state emergency response agencies with radiation protection guidance from State Radiation Safety Officers to respond to a radiation emergency within their jurisdiction. Assistance may be requested from Commonwealth agencies including ARPANSA through activation of the Commonwealth Disaster Plan (COMDISPLAN). The coordination of this Commonwealth emergency response is the responsibility of Emergency Management Australia (EMA).
ARPANSA has established a Radiation Emergency Coordination Centre in Melbourne, which provides 24 hour access to expert radiation protection advice in the event of a radiation incident. ARPANSA maintains specialised radiation monitoring capability to support the assessment of the radiation levels and the extent of radioactive contamination in the event of a radioactive release from a nuclear or radiological emergency. The capabilities and roles of these teams are consistent with the requirements of the IAEA Response Assistance Network (RANET) capabilities. ARPANSA also maintains laboratory-based facilities for the detailed analysis of environmental samples and for the measurement of radioactivity in contaminated people.
In addition to provision of field and laboratory based radiation emergency response teams, ARPANSA also supports national and international radiological and nuclear emergency preparedness through:
- its support to Australian planning for visiting Nuclear Powered Warships (NPW)
- its role as the National Competent Authority for two Conventions relating to nuclear emergencies, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency
- its role as a WHO Collaborating Centre for Radiation Protection and as a member of the WHO's Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network (REMPAN).