Practice Makes Perfect: Moldova Tests Its Nuclear Security Response

Published: 2 July 2013

© IAEA The small ex-Soviet republic of Moldova has been working closely with the IAEA since 2009 to strengthen its nuclear security capabilities. The Agency has provided advice and planning support, training for emergency and law enforcement services and technical equipment to help detect illicitly trafficked radioactive materials. Moldova now has the know-how to run its own training exercises, and contributes trainers for IAEA-run courses elsewhere.<br /><br />
        This photo essay documents part of a three-day national training exercise supported by the IAEA and run by Moldova's Civil Protection and Emergency Situations Service (CPESS)  in collaboration with the Customs Service of the Republic of Moldova (CSRM). A van drives through a radiation portal monitor (RPM) at Moldova's Leuşeni border post, triggering a red light and a sounding an alarm inside the customs building. Leuşeni, on the border with Romania, was one of three locations for the real-time exercise. Other scenarios were played out on separate days at the passenger and cargo terminals of the airport in the capital, Chişinau. A Moldovan customs officer pulls the van over to the side of the customs zone and checks the driver's papers. The driver is unaware that an alarm has sounded at the RPM, one of three provided so far to Moldova by the IAEA. A customs officer checks the van's driver for signs of radiation. The driver and his passenger are played by civil protection officers. Moldovan customs officers take radiation readings from inside the van, using one type of hand-held equipment provided by the IAEA. A customs official checks the interior of the van for radioactivity. A radiation detector laid on top of boxes in the rear of the van indicates the presence of the radioactive isotopes caesium-137, most typically used in industrial gauges, and cobalt-60, which is often used in cancer treatment. The real radioactive sources used in the exercise have to be strong enough to trigger the alarm, but weak enough to minimise any risk of harm to the participants. Alerted by the Customs Service, Moldova's Mobile Expert Support Team (MEST) arrives at the scene. As well as officials from the national nuclear regulator, the National Agency for Regulation of Nuclear and Radiological Activities, the MEST team includes a police forensics specialist. The national exercise is the first to include all of Moldova's main emergency and law enforcement agencies in a coordinated manner. Members of MEST re-check the driver and his passenger for radioactivity. They appear to be clear. The leader of the MEST team measures radiation levels in the back of the van. The police forensics expert takes swipe samples, wiping surfaces with a cotton pad to pick up possible radioactive particles for further analysis. A toolkit used by the police forensics specialist in the MEST. The form indicates the suspected presence of the radioactive isotope caesium-137. Members of the MEST identify and isolate a box containing a suspected radioactive source. The source – actually a chain of five separate small cobalt-60 sources, hidden in an old computer printer – is numbered and photographed as legal evidence, ready to be removed safely from the scene. The leader of the MEST team locates a second radioactive source, of caesium-137, which appears to have leaked and contaminated the oil in which it was hidden, and which has then contaminated the surrounding packaging. A member of the MEST checks the van for radioactive contamination. She later confirms that the oil has also contaminated the interior. Members of Moldova's 'Special Facilities' service pack one of the sources in a shielded container before removing it to secure storage as evidence and for possible nuclear forensics examination. Special Facilities is part of the National Radioactive Waste Management Company, which in turn falls within the CPESS. A Special Facilities officer takes a radiation reading outside the shielded container, prior to shipment. A Special Facilities officer analyses swipe samples from the source, in order to label the protective container for transport. This is a separate process from police forensics. Civil protection officers from the CPESS decontaminate the back of the van to remove all traces of the tainted oil. Civil protection officers decontaminate the boots of a MEST member in a mobile decontamination facility. Civil protection officers playing the role of airport cargo handlers trigger a radiation detection alarm as they pass through an IAEA-supplied RPM at Chişinau airport on the second day of the exercise. A computer screen inside the customs offices at Chişinau airport remotely displays a radiation alert from the RPM as the men pass through the portal. Participants in this stage of the exercise found sources containing the radioactive isotopes radium-226 and cobalt-57 hidden in the cargo. A Moldovan police forensics specialist relaxes at the end of the exercise at the cargo terminal at Chişinau airport. Behind her is one of the evaluators for the exercise, from Moldova's CPESS. After three days of real-time scenarios, participants and evaluators gathered together for an assessment session to compare experiences and identify lessons learned, which were subsequently used to improve inter-agency coordination
        <!--br /><br />Credits:<br />IAEA Division of Public Information © 2013<br />Text and photos: <strong>Gill Tudor</strong><br />Photos taken 5-6 June 2013--> © IAEA