Looking Back at NCT Virtual Hub July

Enhancing Nuclear Security

NCT Virtual Hub - July “Enhancing Nuclear Security” took place on Tuesday, 6 July 2021. Our third virtual mini event, highlighting the importance of mitigating threats to nuclear security and discussing current international frameworks underpinning nuclear security, was attended by participants from 21countries around the globe. The virtual conference opened with the remarks of Ms. Anna Paternnosto, Vice-President of CBRNe society, and BG (Ret.) William King, Former Commander of the US Army 20th CBRNE Command, who co-chaired the event. The first and second panels were composed of experts in key roles in their countries and organizations' which analyze, enforce, and respond to issues and challenges in the field of nuclear security and proliferation. The panelists; Prof. Natividad Carpintero-Santamaria, Secretary General of the Guillermo Verlade Institute of Nuclear Fission from Spain, Dr. Willey Kaye, CEO and Director of H3D, US, Ms. Therese Renis, Former Director of Division of Concepts and Planning at the IAEA’s Department of Safeguards, Mr. Nikolas Roth, Director of Stimson Center’s Nuclear Security Program and International Nuclear Security Forum, Special Agent James Peaco, FBI Los Angeles Division WMD Coordinator, Lt. Col. Denis Giordan, Head of Operational Division at the Haut Rhin Fire Brigade, France, and Ms. Alexandra Meehan, from the US Department of Energy’s (DoE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), addressed key areas in the field of nuclear security, such as the continuously evolving nature of threats to nuclear security, the effectiveness of national as well as international treaties and protocols on the issue of nuclear proliferation, and the role that SMEs and private entities can play in enhancing and enforcing nuclear security given their growing integration in the field.

In the first part of the discussion, the panelists commented on various questions regarding the contemporary radiation and nuclear threats and the way in which they evolved over the years. Prof. Natividad stressed the face that threats today remain practically the same as they have been in the past, as their evolution is cyclical rather than linear. For instance, Prof. Natividad highlighted that technological advancements provide more possibilities for criminals and terrorists to act upon their malicious intent more than in the past. Mr. Roth further added that emerging technologies increasingly challenge and “put to the test” how nuclear facilities operators adapt to these new vulnerabilities in the security environment. Mr. Roth also stressed the salient issue of domestic violence and “insider” threats and how we integrate those within our understanding of threats to nuclear security. Addressing a question from the audience, Dr. Kaye was asked how, from the private sector’s perspectives, insurance can be enforced, and standards can be complied with. According to Dr. Kaye, a comprehensive approach that connects all the crucial components together is necessary in order to achieve consistency. However, one of the main challenges is that with political change, comes unanticipated definition and requirement change from the private sector which makes it difficult for the it to construct consistent and comprehensive planning approaches.

Regarding the additional risks and opportunities that might stem from the peaceful use of nuclear energy as part of climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, the panelists provided the audience with interesting and rather similar anecdotes. All of the panelists agreed that securing public trust and acceptance, social perception, and enhancing transparency are key to understanding and constructing the debate regarding the risks and benefits of nuclear energy. Dr. Kaye and Mr. Roth mentioned that preparedness, information sharing mechanisms, and the maintenance of incident-free track record are also an essential part in the discussion of risks related to nuclear energy. In the context of nuclear proliferation threats as a result of the expansion of nuclear energy production facilities, according to Ms. Reins’ view, trust and enforcement of IAEA guidelines and safeguard related to the assurance of peaceful uses are essential for proliferation risks mitigation. Nonetheless, she highlighted that there are still a few challenges to their overall effectiveness. In the last part of the session, the panelists were asked about their take on the international and national protocols and their relationship with nuclear proliferation. Prof. Natividad expressed her skepticism with regards to the treaties, especially the NPT, as in her view they can be seen as relatively loose due to some existing gaps. Nonetheless, Prof. Natividad highlighted that such treaties are in fact crucial for global nuclear stability efforts. According to former IAEA Department Director Reins, there are benefits to treaties such as the NPT, as they allow for the emplacement of equipment development safeguards as well as assist states with upholding those through measures such as advisory missions and national training. Interestingly, Dr. Kaye concluded that from the industry’s point of view, treaties are valuable as they define good practices. However, the broader framework should not only focus on aspects of nuclear security, but also on trade agreements on technologies that might hamper the industry’s ability to support existing national and international protocols, as well as efforts to act against nuclear threats. At the end of the first session, participants were invited to join a live demonstration. In the demonstration, H3D presented their innovative H-Series Gamma radiation measurement device. The device’s purpose is to provide first responders with an effective and efficient solution for identifying multiple radiation sources while recording those for future analysis. This is done by extracting information and data collected by the measurement devices and uploading them to a compatible software in order to create high resolution images of the area of the radiation source.

With the end of the demonstration, the second panel kickstarted its discussions welcoming SA James W. Peaco III, Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator, FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ms. Alex Meehan, Foreign Affairs Specialist, NNSA, and Lt. Col. Denis Giordan, Fire Department Deputy Director – RN Technical Advisor, SDIS 73 Savoie Brigade. Beginning their interventions regarding operational challenges in nuclear security, SA Peaco noted that operational difficulties always occur and are difficult to handle. Even with the best trained and dedicated personnel, it remains a huge undertake. Equally, our other two panelists adopted a similar position. LTC Giordan added his remark on the importance of improving competency towards radioactivity detection as a step-by-step process, accompanied by new detector families. The discussion continued on the topic of radioactive/nuclear incidents in the modern era, focusing on the Fukushima incident. Ms. Meehan admitted that from a strategic communications point of view, deficiencies were spotted and the way to deal with communication is a significant issue. She also stressed out the vast importance of all actors coming together, public and private. SA Peaco echoed this approach. He also accepted the fact that challenges do exist on bringing all entities together along with a successful communication plan. For him, nuclear security is a defense in-depth issue requiring a holistic approach taking account that people usually focus on the radiation aspect ignoring the rest. At the same topic, LTC Giordan highlighted the numerous information the world got from the Fukushima incident. This information included three main points for him: that a major nuclear accident is possible, even if the odds are low; the population must be at the heart of the response; and the importance of media influence on social perception.

Hence, the discussion continued with another related question regarding resilience and awareness building in our societies. For Ms. Meehan, transparency at all levels is key along with strong partnerships and cooperation of all actors. For SA Peaco, the population must be thoroughly prepared in advance with a specific planning, which will also be helpful from a psychological point of view. As he mentioned, radiation do scare people and by training them to protect themselves we in fact build the necessary resilience. At the same time, LTC Giordan expressed his concerns in this topic. He doubted that preparedness plans would be efficient in our societies due to the advanced level of “coziness” they experience. Neighborhoods, however, could be included in a broad planification at a local level, since people tend to share more with their closed ones in order to receive aid in times of need. Concluding our panel, our distinguished speakers agreed in several things. First, that no entity alone can solve this issue; international and domestic cooperation and partnership is key. Second, all must use their knowledge and tools in order to check the diffused information and avoid misinformation. Lastly, information sharing, and interagency cooperation will indeed permit the improvement of response and preparedness at all levels. The 3-hour event provided the CBRNe and EOD community with the opportunity to network, engage in discussions, and critically reflect on prominent issues evident in the responses and lessons learned by states and organizations to COVID-19.

We would like to sincerely thank all our delegates and speakers as well as our sponsors: First Line Technology, Bruker, Eurosatory.

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