Countries review gaps in safety of nuclear material

KNRA director John Opar (left) and Edward Mayaka during the ongoing talks on the safety of nuclear and radioactive material in Nairobi. [Kennedy Mureithi, Standard]

Countries in southern and eastern Africa are meeting in Nairobi to discuss means and ways of improving the safety of nuclear and radioactive materials, especially during transportation.

On Tuesday, regulatory and  security agencies from eight countries, including Kenya, took stock of challenges in their quest to ensure human and environmental safety.

The threat of terrorism is among the concerns being discussed, along with acts of sabotage, accidents and disjointed security measures by countries. Additionally, the potential for malicious actors to target shipments for theft to cause harm also featured.

At the forum, it emerged that despite the safe packages for nuclear and radioactive material, emergencies could still occur for which prompt action by countries is required to prevent harm to humans and the environment.

In the region, millions of packages of radioactive material are transported by rail, road, sea and air annually for use in medicine, energy, military, research and manufacturing.

Addressing the meeting, Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA) Director General James Keter said tackling challenges in transporting the material calls for collaborations between regulators and security teams.

“These substances, indispensable in sectors like medicine, agriculture, industry, and research, necessitate the utmost levels of security and regulatory vigilance,” he told representatives from Kenya, DR Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Rwanda, and Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia are attending the May 6 – May 9, 2024 talks.

The symposium, convened by United States Office of Radiological Security, noted that accidents or incidents during transit could lead to severe consequences if unchecked, including radioactive contamination, environmental damage, and threats to public health and regional safety.

“Through collective action, we can establish robust regulatory frameworks, enhance detection capabilities, and bolster response mechanisms to effectively address security threats and challenges,” Mr Keter said in an opening speech read by KNRA Director for Partnerships Edward Mayaka.

Speaker after speaker called for harmonisation of basic laws and transport protocols relating to licensing and export-import permits across the region. The forum stressed collaborations between governments, international organizations, and stakeholders to ensure safe and secure transportation in Africa.

The regional forum is focused on regulatory frameworks, security measures, threat assessment, emergency response and accident preparedness, public communication and perception, incident analysis, international collaboration and best practices sharing.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), transport of radioactive material by its nature gives rise to the risk of accidents with the potential for radiological exposures that could impact the safety of people, property and the environment. 

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