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Homeland Security

Plane crashes, terrorist threats, dirty bombs - all part of UN nuclear exercise

21 October 2005 Airplanes crashed, terrorist threats proliferated and dirty bombs were primed as 38 of the world's senior security officials wrestled with doomsday scenarios in a mock emergency exercise mounted by the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency.

By the time "Operation Jumpstart" was over four hours later at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seminar on nuclear security for managers and decision-makers at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, the officials from 17 countries breathed a collective sigh of relief.

They had "survived" to live another day, but not without some bumps, bruises, and missed opportunities along the way in the exercise, which was an educational capstone of a multi-faceted two-week-long seminar.

"The situations are very challenging and difficult to handle, even though you know they are not real," William Meehan, a senior IAEA officer heading the nuclear security seminar, said. "People take the exercise very seriously. It's excellent training."

Operation Jumpstart grouped the men and women into four fictitious countries, and each had an assigned leadership role, from Prime Minister down. As explained by Argonne's Diane Naples, their joint mission was to work their way through a wave of scenarios that tested their emergency response and readiness skills.

The seminar, into its fourth consecutive year, covers a targeted range of topics related to nuclear and radiological security from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Participants include officials in such fields as law enforcement, nuclear regulation, radiological safety, and customs and border control.

One important focus is on the international dimensions of nuclear security, the imperative of cooperation to identify and strengthen weak links, and the IAEA's role. Another point of emphasis is emergency response and preparedness, especially for terrorist-related events that once were unthinkable and for incidents or threats involving nuclear or radiological materials.

Other seminar participants were from China, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Ecuador, South Africa, Iraq, Republic of Korea, Brazil, Panama, Mongolia, and the United States.

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