WMO participates in IAEA “Dirty Bomb” Response Exercise
Meteorological observers assisted in a successful two-day emergency exercise involving 58 states and 10 international organizations 20-21 November 2013 to test the national and international preparedness to respond to a simulated dirty bomb explosion. The exercise, codenamed “Bab Al Maghrib” was held in Morocco and organized by the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA). It marked the first time such scenario was exercised on such a large and international scale.
“Bab Al Maghrib” is part of the ConvEx-3 IAEA exercise programme. ConvEx-3 exercises are conducted every three to five years and have, until now, always been based on an accident at a nuclear power plant. The scenario this year was different: a dirty bomb explosion with threats of further attacks and widespread radiological consequences.
In the emergency scenario, there were two simulated successive explosions of RDD (Radiological Dispersion Devices), as dirty bombs. They took place in the port of Tangier Med and Marrakech medina in Morocco and triggered a series of ‘actual’, ‘potential’ and ‘perceived’ implications for the participating governments and responding international organizations.
Issues addressed during the exercise surrounded a hypothetical radioactive release into the atmosphere, medical responses and public health, security, transparent public communications, as well as industry, tourism and commerce activities relating to the import and export of goods. Though the lessons emerging from ‘Bab Al Maghrib’ are particularly associated with simulated dirty bomb explosions, i.e. managing the response in relation to localized impacts, many are also applicable to other types of nuclear and radiological emergencies.
Meteorological conditions control the atmospheric dilution, settling, and washout in precipitation of contaminants in an environmental emergency. In the case of RDDs, localized, and detailed weather information and short-range forecasts, readily available to assist immediate response decisions, are particularly important. The National Meteorological Service of Morocco and WMO were therefore involved in planning and executing Bab Al Maghrib.
The WMO Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres in Toulouse and Exeter, participated in the planning, and selected historical weather data from 28 February 2013 when the wind was from the south, which would have transported the contaminant across the Mediterranean towards Gibraltar and Spain. The Moroccan Meteorological Service was provided with small scale dispersion model outputs via a dedicated website providing information on the direction and spread of the contaminants. RSMC Toulouse supported the Moroccan Meteorological Service during the exercise.
The IAEA’s specific objectives for the exercise were to evaluate the effectiveness of the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency System and its emergency response plan; to evaluate the effectiveness of communication with Morocco, other Member States, media and the public, and to test arrangements for coordination of provision of international assistance.
Some immediate conclusions were drawn: the collaboration of security and safety authorities in States needs to be improved and communication with the public has to be transparent, objective and easily understandable while protecting sensitive information – a challenging balance to achieve. In the coming weeks, feedback from participating Member States and international organizations will be compiled by the IAEA and become part of a comprehensive report to be used to strengthen national and international preparedness to respond to similar emergencies.
The scenario of “Bab Al Maghrib” was developed by the Moroccan National Exercise Committee. The international dimension of the exercise was coordinated by the Working Group on Coordinated International Exercises as part of the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies.