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Nuclear accident drill in Mexico hailed a ‘success’ by UN agency

Nuclear accident drill in Mexico hailed a ‘success’ by UN agency

The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency has successfully carried out a simulated accident at Mexico’s Laguna Verde nuclear power plant, intended to test national and international emergency response systems should an actual incident occur.

“The exercise was a success in that it demonstrated strengths but also the weak points in the international emergency response system,” said Rafael Martincic of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who led the preparation and evaluation of the Laguna Verde exercise.

“Only by identifying weaknesses can we improve the system’s response to large-scale radiological emergencies. On behalf of the IAEA, we thank all participating Member States and international organizations for their dedication and cooperation,” he said.

Some 74 member countries of the IAEA and 10 international organizations participated in the 48-hour drill which began on 9 July at the plant, a two-unit facility along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

The IAEA reports that as the emergency drill progressed, the simulated accident escalated in severity, ultimately rated as a Level 5 “Accident with Wider Consequences” on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) because of its potential effects outside the plant site.

“The event challenged the readiness of nuclear safety, emergency operations, and communications mechanisms to respond to a theoretical radiological or nuclear mishap,” said the agency.

The exercise will now be evaluated to review findings and identify lessons learned that will further improve the international nuclear emergency response system.

Wednesday’s exercise was the third in a series, following similar drills in Gravelines, France, in 2001 and at Cernavoda, Romania, in 2005.

As part of the drill, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) completed a two-day emergency radiation exercise, the results of which are currently being evaluated.

The exercise – a crucial part of international efforts to ensure preparedness to respond to any radiological or nuclear accident or emergency worldwide – utilized all WHO systems, including its headquarters in Geneva, regional headquarters in Washington and the country office in Mexico.