The NEA has a long tradition of expertise and offers its member countries unbiased assistance in nuclear emergency policy, preparedness and response management. In this area, post-accident recovery is an increasingly important priority for NEA member countries, as evidenced by the lively debate that took place at the NEA Working Party on Nuclear Emergency Matters (WPNEM) annual meeting held on 17-18 November 2020.
The WPNEM aims to improve nuclear emergency management systems and facilitate knowledge and experience exchange between member countries. The working party employs a flexible and general approach to address issues across the entire spectrum of nuclear or radiological emergency management, from preparedness to transition and recovery.
The 2020 meeting convened 52 delegates representing 20 member countries and international organisations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission (EC). Participants gave updates on emergency preparedness and response matters. They also reported on the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on radiological protection and regulation practices in their countries.
A key highlight of the meeting was the topical session on mental health and psychosocial support in nuclear or radiological emergencies. The NEA Expert Group on Non‑Radiological Public Health Aspects of Radiation Emergency Planning and Response is developing an operational approach for mitigating the mental health and psychosocial impacts of radiation emergencies, in interaction with the NEA Expert Ggroup on Recovery Management which is focusing on preparedness. In this context, two conferences held in 2020 together with the WHO to explore how the experience and lessons from non-nuclear crises could help countries to improve mental health and psychosocial support in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency. The topical session explored the main findings of these workshops, as well as the WHO Framework which will be published in the coming months. The discussion concluded that mental health and psychosocial aspects are just as important as radiological impact on health and have to be taken into account in policy and decision making.
The working party also started reflecting on the sixth International Nuclear Emergency Exercise (INEX), which has supported the NEA membership since 1993 in improving the international aspects of nuclear or radiological accident emergency, preparedness and response. Participants in these INEX exercises share information, data, knowledge and experience to test all aspects of emergency management systems and approaches, identify gaps and provide recommended strategies to improve nuclear emergency management worldwide. INEX-6 will focus on the planning and preparedness for the transition and/or the recovery phases after a nuclear or radiological accident. This extremely complex and multidimensional exercise will serve to identify gaps in policy, preparedness and regulations.