Nuclear Emergency Response
NUCLEAR EMERGENCIES - HOW TO RESPOND:
Nuclear facilities in India adopt internationally accepted guidelines for ensuring their safe operations and safety to the public and the environment. An independent regulatory authority oversees their safe operations. While the limits for radiation release/exposure have been set at a fraction of what can cause any significant harm, emergency procedures get implemented even when these very low limits are exceeded. As a result, it is extremely unlikely that the public near a nuclear facility will be exposed to any radiation beyond the permissible limits. However, to reassure the public, contingency plans are put in place even to handle such unlikely scenarios.
Keeping these facts in mind, if you still feel concerned on hearing any news or rumour about an incident at a nearby nuclear facility, follow these simple guidelines. These guidelines could also be followed in the event of any other nuclear emergency in your area, which does not even involve any nuclear facility.
- DO THE FOLLOWING:
- Go indoors. Stay inside.
- Switch on Radio/TV and look out for public announcements from your local authority.
- Close doors/windows.
- Cover all food, water and consume only such covered items.
- If in the open, cover your face and body with a wet handkerchief, towel, dhoti or saree. Return home, change/remove clothes. Have a complete wash and use fresh clothing.
- Extend full co-operation to local authorities and obey their instructions completely - be it for taking medication, evacuation, etc.
- DO NOT DO THE FOLLOWING:
- Do not panic.
- Do not believe in rumours passed on by word of mouth from one person to another.
- Do not stay outside or go outside.
- As far as possible, AVOID - water from open wells/ponds, exposed crops and vegetables, food, water or milk from outside.
- Do not disobey any instruction of the District or Civil Defence Authorities who would be doing their best to ensure the safety of yourself, your family and your property.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE EMERGENCY RESPONSE PLANS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF ATOMIC ENERGY:
- The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has been identified as the nodal agency in the country in respect of man made radiological emergencies in the public domain.
- For this purpose, a Crisis Management Group (CMG) has been functioning since 1987 in DAE. In the event of any radiological or nuclear emergency in the public domain, the CMG is immediately activated and will co-ordinate between the local authority in the affected area and the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC). The CMG comprises of senior officials drawn from various units of DAE like the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Heavy Water Board (HWB) and the Directorate of Purchase and Stores (DP&S). It also includes a senior official from the regulatory authority, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). Each member is backed by an alternate member, so that the CMG can be activated at a very short notice. Several Resource Agencies from BARC also backup the CMG. They can provide advice and assistance in the areas of radiation measurement and protection and medical assistance to radiation affected personnel.
- As regards major nuclear facilities of DAE like the nuclear power stations, they have an Exclusion Zone of 1.6 km surrounding the power station in which no habitation is permitted. The entire area is fenced or walled off and defines the boundary of the site. Beyond this is the public domain and an area of 16 km radius around the plant site is called the Off Site Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ).
- As a general practice, elaborate and comprehensive safety systems are in place for the operation of any nuclear facility. These are in turn overseen by the AERB who have powers to license and even shutdown any facility which violates their guidelines. However, as a matter of abundant caution, even some "beyond design basis" accidents are postulated for the nuclear power stations. It is only under such highly unlikely scenarios, that there is a possibility of a radiological emergency in the public domain. Therefore, in addition to the other types of emergency response plans in place within the facility to handle local emergencies, response plans have also been drawn up for handling such emergencies in the public domain, which are called as "Off Site Emergencies". These plans - drawn up separately in detail for each site - which are under the jurisdiction of the local District Administration, cover an area of about 16 km radius around the plant or the Off Site Emergency Planning Zone.
- The first three types of Emergencies which are foreseen and for which detailed plant specific emergency response plans have been drawn up are Emergency Standby, Personnel Emergency and Plant Emergency. In all these, the consequences of the accident are expected to be limited to the plant facility only. The next type of Emergency which is foreseen is the Site Emergency, wherein the consequences of an accident are not expected to cross the site boundary, that is, the Exclusion Zone - which means that even under this condition, there is no radiological emergency in the public domain. The last type of Emergency which assumes the highly unlikely possibility of radiological releases in the public domain is the "Off Site Emergency" and detailed response plans have been drawn up even for this hypothetical scenario at each site. The local District Administration, the Crisis Management Group, DAE and the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) get involved in this last type of Emergency.
- It is mandatory for NPCIL to have comprehensive and well laid out plans to deal with all the above types of Emergencies. Barring the last one, all the others fall within the domain of responsibility of NPCIL, and the AERB as the Regulatory Authority approves these plans. It is also mandatory for the NPCIL to periodically test out these plans by way of Exercises and Drills and take corrective measures as stipulated by the Safety Committees and AERB. As the first stage of the trigger mechanism, the Crisis Management Group, DAE and its resource agencies are automatically alerted even when a Plant or Site Emergency/Exercise takes place.
- In accordance with statutory requirements, it is the local District Administration which is responsible for drawing up and testing the Off Site Emergency Plans. NPCIL has co-ordinated with all concerned District Administration to enable them to draw up comprehensive Off Site Emergency Plans for each power station. It may be mentioned that the AERB does not permit any nuclear power station to be commissioned unless and until, such plans for all types of Emergencies are in place well before the commissioning date.
- The Off Site Emergency Plans are also periodically tested and all power stations have ensured that this is being done atleast once in about two years. During these exercises, all the Members and Alternate Members of the Crisis Management Group, DAE, the Resource Agencies and Key Officials in Mumbai and Delhi are alerted. In these Exercises, the district administration is fully involved and the reports of the independent observers (from AERB, NPCIL and CMG) are used as a feedback to further improve the Emergency Response System.
- Recognising the importance of communications in the handling of any Emergency, Emergency Control Rooms (ECRs) are maintained at Mumbai at two different locations. These manned and operated on a round-the-clock and on all days of the year and maintain continuous contact with all the critical facilities of DAE. The ECRs are equipped with Wireless, Telephone, Facsimile, VSAT and Electronic Mail facilities. These are tested practically on a daily basis to ensure their continuous availability. Further, each major site also carries out fortnightly or monthly communication exercises to test all the links in the entire communication chain.
- In addition to about 165 communication exercises, about 110 emergency exercises are carried out every year. During the period from 1987 to 2000, 34 Off Site Emergency exercises have been conducted by the respective district administrations at various locations in the country. These involve direct participation by local district officials like police, health, transport, etc. At the end of each of these exercises, the District Collector/Magistrate chairs a "critique or feedback" session at which the deficiencies are recorded for taking corrective actions.
- As regards transport of nuclear material, mandatory design specifications for the packaging, systems and procedures for handling and transport are in place to ensure that there is no release of radioactivity in the public domain in the unlikely event of such an accident. However, even if such an event were to occur, the procedures are such that the Emergency Control Room at the DAE Secretariat gets an alert which in turn would immediately activate the Crisis Management Group, DAE.
- In the event of any other type of nuclear emergency in the public domain arising from the unauthorized presence or suspected presence of nuclear materials, a booklet giving the essential guidelines to be followed has been circulated to State Governments and Union Territories. Among other steps, the guidelines require that the nearest listed DAE facility as well as the DAE Emergency Control Room be also contacted immediately, who would then advise on the further necessary steps to be taken to attend to the emergency.
This short write up is primarily meant to educate the public and instill confidence about the Emergency Response System of DAE to handle radiation emergencies. As regards nuclear facilities of DAE, the regulatory and safety systems ensure that equipment are designed to operate safely and even in the unlikely event of any failure or accident, mechanisms like plant and site emergency response plans are in place to ensure that the public is not affected in any manner. In addition, detailed plans which involve the local public authorities, are also in place to respond if the consequences were to spill into the public domain. The System is also in a position to respond to any other radiation emergency in the public domain that may occur at locations which do not even have any DAE facility.