Monday, December 11, 2006

Response Structure for Nuclear Incidents

Catching up a bit here. This one is a couple of months old. The American Nuclear Society published a brief article in September that described the response for a nuclear incident. Not surprisingly, the response would be a complicated process involving many agencies.

Nuclear weapon incidents or accidents will involve a joint Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Defense (DoD) response. Local responders and state agencies, who always have the primary responsibility for the protection of the public, will also be involved.

If the emergency involves a nuclear weapon, either the DOE or the DoD is the lead agency (whichever organization had custody of the weapon at the time of the incident/accident). If an RDD is the issue, the FBI becomes the lead agency representing the Department of Justice. An accident at a nuclear power plant will put the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the lead role.
The military response, alone, involves a number of elements:
A military response will involve the DoD and may include the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), which coordinates DoD responders to a nuclear/radiological incident.

The National Guard Civil Support Teams (CSTs) are available through the states to assess the seriousness of radiological accidents, to predict the consequences, and to assist the Incident Commander in the management of the consequences.

A global radiological/nuclear field response is provided by the Air Force Radiation Assessment Team (AFRAT). … Its mission is to deliver radiological risk assessment to assist in the recovery of the affected area.

Worldwide medical assistance is provided by the U.S. Army through its Radiological Advisory Medical Team (RAMT).

The Medical Radiobiology Advisory Team (MRAT) … provides radiological and medical expertise to military commanders and medical providers.
The federal civilian response is similarly complicated:
The primary civilian government agencies responding to radiological incidents include the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which is a semiautonomous agency within the DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, and others.

One of the best-known civilian response organizations is the Radiological Assistance Program (RAP), which is administered by the NNSA. … The main mission of RAP is to provide information or deployable assets (DOE measurement equipment and personnel) in order to assess and mitigate a radiological incident.

If radiological materials become airborne, two NNSA response assets can be brought into operation: the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) … and the NNSA’s Aerial Measuring System (AMS).

Another NNSA radiological response asset is the Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/TS), which provides medical information, medical personnel, and patient care in the event of a radiological accident.

Responses to incidents involving nuclear weapons under DoD or DOE custody can involve the DOE’s Accident Response Group (ARG), whose expertise includes weapons designers, radiation health professionals, and nuclear scientists, so that knowledge of all weapons in the U.S. stockpile is at hand.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will respond to terrorist and emergency incidents at the nuclear, industrial, and medical facilities it licenses.
Besides those involved in direct response, other agencies are involved in coordination:
Coordination among federal and state agencies during the emergency phase of a nuclear/radiological incident may be handled by the NNSA’s Consequence Management Planning Team. This is an advance component of the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center (FRMAC), [whose mission] is to coordinate federal and state/local radiological monitoring and assessment activities.
The article suggests that state and local first responders can improve their response capacity by developing relationships with federal and state responding agencies, as California did with the FRMAC:
To at least improve the coordination of response between FRMAC and the states, including local governments, a close working relationship must be developed between the two entities. The state of California has been cited as a good model for developing this working relationship. Building this federal/state bridge initially involved federal/state coordination in nuclear power plant emergency response drills. This allowed the state to study FRMAC procedures, and FRMAC team members became informed about California’s response procedures. … Other states are attempting to achieve a similarly firm handshake with FRMAC. It must be noted, however, that the California/FRMAC relationship took years to develop.
Even though the likelihood of a nuclear or radiological disaster is relatively low, compared to other threats, its consequences could be extremely serious. Even in the event of a "dirty bomb" attack that killed or injured relatively few people, the panic caused by a radioactive release could significantly complicate the response. The right time to learn about the responding agencies and how the response might be organized is now, rather than after the fact.

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