Emergencies create a wide range of problems at the individual, family, community and societal levels. They can erode the support systems of people affected by a disaster, for example by undermining community structures, and they can increase the risk of various new problems and amplify pre-existing ones (IASC, 2007). The examples of the COVID-19 pandemic, past natural or industrial disasters, and of past nuclear or radiological accidents prove that all health emergencies have a common denominator – the impact on mental health and well-being.
The mental health and psycho-social impacts of radiological and nuclear emergencies and their mitigation have been on the policy agenda for several decades – in view of improving both emergency preparedness and response plans and recovery frameworks. While the ionising radiation-related health effects on the human body are largely documented and studied, radiological and nuclear emergencies also give rise to mental health and psycho-social impairments associated with the consequences of protective measures. As evidenced during past nuclear or radiological emergencies, notably in the aftermath of the accidents at the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear power plants, these mental health issues may have significant socio‑economic impacts on the affected communities. The World Health Organization (WHO) subsequently published the Framework for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies to provide high-level policy guidance in this area.
In 2019, the NEA Committee on Radiological Protection and Public Health's(CRPPH) Working Party on Nuclear Emergency Matters (WPNEM) created the Expert Group on Non‑radiological Public Health Aspects of Radiation Emergency Planning and Response (EGNR) to provide input to the WHO framework and to work on an operational extension of that document. The EGNR report will deliver guidance to decision makers in member countries while planning for, responding to, and recovering from nuclear or radiological emergencies by providing practical solutions, approaches and tools to integrate mental health and psychosocial support into protective action plans.
The EGNR serves as unique platform addressing the non-radiological health aspects of radiological or nuclear emergencies, with representatives from eight NEA member countries (Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States), as well as from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The CRPPH assists NEA member countries in the implementation and enhancement of the system of radiological protection. It contributes to the adoption and the maintenance of high standards of protection for the public, workers and the environment in all activities involving the use of ionising radiations, and particularly, but not limited to the field of nuclear energy.
The NEA Committee on Radiological Protection and Public Health (CRPPH), through various sub-groups, has focused on improving the effectiveness of international nuclear emergency preparedness and management. Part of its work programme is set on exploring and developing new concepts and future procedures to enhance national and international preparedness and response management. A central approach to this has been the preparation and conduct of the International Nuclear Emergency Exercise (INEX) series.
The mission of the CRPPH Working Party on Nuclear Emergency Matters (WPNEM) is to improve nuclear emergency management systems within member countries, and to share its knowledge and experience widely. Within this framework, WPNEM activities focus on identified needs in planning, preparedness and response for the "early" and "intermediate" phases of a nuclear/radiological emergency (including accidents and consequence management for malicious acts), with a view to prepare appropriate recovery actions. The programme of work is developed in co-ordination with member countries and other international organisations.