Radiological emergencies, both deliberate and accidental, are an increasing possibility, especially at airports which handle radioactive cargo. Considering this, the Pune-based battalion of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) recently conducted a mock radioactive hazard exercise at the Mumbai international airport, with focus on initial response based on detection, protection and decontamination.
On May 29 last year, a radioactive leak was detected at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. The source of the leak was packets of sodium iodide, which were brought from Turkey. The NDRF is one of the key agencies as far as management of radioactive emergencies is concerned in the country. Mock exercises for radioactive emergencies have been conducted at Kolkata and Bengaluru international airports in the past. The latest one and arguably the most crucial was conducted at Mumbai international airport Saturday and Sunday last week.
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The drill was of special importance because of the fact that the airport handles as much as two-third of the total radioactive cargo of the country. Anupam Srivastava, Commandant, 5 BN, NDRF, which is located at Sudumbare village near Talegaon in Pune district, said, “The exercise was held with participation of senior consultants from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), representatives from the Mumbai district collectorate, scientists from the Crisis Management Group of Department of Atomic Energy (CMG-DAE), Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Mumbai Police, Mumbai Fire Department, Mumbai International Airport Ltd and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
He added, “This exercise was conducted in two phases. On the first day, a table top exercise was conducted to discuss roles, responsibilities and capabilities of various stakeholders for such emergencies and to improve the mechanism of multiagency co-ordination and integrated response. On the next day, a mock exercise depicting radioactive leakage in a fire accident at the cargo complex was played out to check preparedness and response capabilities of various organisations. This phase was successful in optimising and synergising resources of various organisations. During the second phase, NDRF displayed its capabilities and the use of state-of-the-art equipment it possesses to mitigate the risks arising out of such situations. The professional response of NDRF was appreciated by all agencies.”
Deputy Commandant Sachidanand Gawade of NDRF said, “The exercise mainly comprised of steps to be taken as first response, and then further detection, protection and decontamination of the material. As per the law, the district collector is the competent authority for disaster management and in some cases it is municipal commissioner.”
He added, “The drill had demonstrations of equipment like Micro R-Survey Meter, Isotope Identifier, Telerad, which measures radiation level from a distance. As a part of the first response, AERB and CMG-DAE are to be informed and police and CISF need to cordon off the area. We (NDRF) have the responsibility of safe evacuation, source recovery and removal in a lead container and if any individual needs decontamination or primary health response.”
NDRF officials said that such exercises will also be conducted in future at Mumbai airport and at Pune International Airport after threat assessment.