Introduction

Since its founding in 2006, NucTecSolutions GmbH had to deal with eleven emergencies in radiation protection areas. After major incidents in 2014 and 2016, which had to do with the transmission of contamination into the environment, NucTecSolutions GmbH decided to found SENS.bayern. The abbreviation SENS stands for Special Nuclear Safety Unit. SENS consists of the same team, know-how and equipment as NucTecSolutions GmbH. In order to signal a professional demeanor, the business areas are separated by name from the rest of the company’s daily business. Thus, SENS covers the conventional range of an emergency organization. The distinguished team and the substantial equipment are available to both units. By this combination we achieve a team which is always prepared and ready for any kind of emergency.

After the decision to abandon nuclear technology in 2011, numerous institutions in charge of radiation protection and nuclear safety were restructured, reduced in staff, which led more and more to closures. The fallacy exists that these facilities were hardly needed during the operating phase of the power plants, and the misconception is that these facilities are currently considered redundant. Since the beginning of nuclear technology in Germany, nuclear emergency protection has been affiliated to the research centers in Jülich and Karlsruhe. Since the research centers have now handed over their nuclear inventory to the national dismantling company KTE, nuclear emergency protection has also disappeared as a result. In the past, the professional expertise was mainly found in large research centers. With the dismantling of the nuclear facilities, the numerous handling of radioactive materials will be reduced at first, but the process of dismantling will then show an increase in activities with radioactive materials in the next 10-20 years. This will increase the potential risk with decreasing emergency precautions.

The KHG and the nuclear power plants

The Kerntechnische Hilfsdienst GmbH is located near the research centre Karlsruhe. 80% of it is owned by the nuclear power plant operators and 20 % are owned by the research centers. On the equipment side, the company is well positioned, but their focus lies on the power plants themselves. It can be assumed that this company will not get involved in incidents on public state territory.

In addition to the core team, KHG is supplied by in-house and external workers from nuclear power plants. Due to the progressive dismantling of the nuclear power plants, there is a massive shortage of staff here. Whether and where the personnel will come from in an emergency, and whether they are available then, has never been tested under real conditions.

In a nuclear power plant, radiation protection takes place in a more or less regulated procedures. Stationary facilities are available, such as airlocks, washing and decontamination rooms, sufficient protective equipment and measurement technology. In the event of a nuclear incident, this infrastructure is in exactly the wrong place and whether the radiation protectors from the power plant can act without this infrastructure in an emergency is also questionable.

In addition, many radiation protection activities in nuclear power plants are standard routine activities. These routines do not exist in an emergency. It cannot be assumed that a radiation protection team that only carries out routines in the power plant every day will quickly be trained for an emergency.

Whether and how nuclear power plant operators can provide assistance in the event of a nuclear emergency is questionable.

The current political situation and the terrorist threat show that only the threat situation has  changed. Today, the primary threat it is no longer the GAU of a power reactor, but a terrorist attack, the release of radioactive substances in industrial handling and, now again, the detonation of nuclear weapons.

During the Cold War in the 1950s, nuclear weapons were built by the nuclear-weapon states which had enormous explosive power to achieve a great destructive potential with a single strike. Nowadays, the emphasis is on targeted operations with nuclear weapons that have small to medium explosive capacities in order to disable the infrastructure. Since the detonation of a small nuclear weapon can hardly be expected to cause any damage to ones self, the inhibition threshold for the use of such a weapon drops. Due to their size, the weapons are also easier to handle.

Just because an event is extremely rare, it is worth to be prepared for it, especially if a small cause has a large effect, such as the spread of radioactive material. It is worth noting that most cases do not cause significant radiological damage to the population, but the uncertainty of the population and the fear of a panic have a greater impact than radioactivity itself. There are good reasons why there are strict rules for handling radioactivity which are intended to prevent it being discharged in the first place.

A spread of radioactive contamination with and without detonation in metropolitan areas can lead to significant radiation exposure with some nuclides. At first, however, such individual cases are not fatal. In addition to the panic that would arise, large areas in metropolitan areas would no longer be usable. The economic damage is incalculable.

There are no sustainable concepts and equipment for the decontamination of normal infrastructure.

In the 1960s, fire brigades and disaster control teams were assigned operational scenarios and equipment in the federal states. These should make it possible to react to the detonation of large nuclear weapons, the GAU (largest assumed accident) in a nuclear power plant and transport accidents. 35 years later, the equipment was replaced. No one had considered that the deployment scenarios might have changed, and that the equipment, which was already rather minimalistic at that time, no longer met the requirements of a modern radiation protection mission.

When the new equipment was purchased in the beginning of the 2000s, practically only the equipment was replaced, everything else was not taken into account.

In addition, fire-fighting operations under radiation protection conditions exhibit considerable safety deficits. The incorporation risk at an unclear location has never been considered. Here, the emergency forces can receive high doses from the corresponding nuclides, which may be much higher than with radiation from an enclosed source.

The emergency stations are from the 60s. Here, neither the spread of contamination nor the saturation of activity during intensive use was considered. Such an emergency station is supposed to be operated by more than 100 volunteers of aid organizations. It can be very strongly doubted that these employees are available in an emergency.

Since the volunteers come from the general population and the fear of radioactive substances is widespread there, it is also doubtful whether there will be enough emergency forces available when using radioactive substances.

It does not help to create even more emergency centers if the base – the emergency forces on site – are missing or overwhelmed by the situation. Furthermore, the integration of radiation measurement technology into modern communication channels is missing.

As long as we still have to transmit measured data via voice radio or tracking vehicles still have to transmit their measured data to the control center via USB stick, we cannot speak of modern tactics. Considering the shortage on staff, one really has to ask oneself whether there can be several search teams for an emergency at all.

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection and Co

Now the Federal Government, with its own institutions, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, in cooperation with the Federal Criminal Police Office, has set up a special unit to deal with all types of crime in connection with radioactive materials. Here you have a concept for a manageable team and the determination to deal with the problem. In order to be able to fall back on more staff in an emergency, parts of the Federal Police are recruited and trained for such cases. A lot can be practiced, but whether the concept is successful in reality has not yet been tested under real conditions. It is highly plausible that here too, as with the rescue forces, experience in handling open radioactive materials will be lacking. The focus of these units is on the “forensic-police” side and less on the protection side. 

The Bundeswehr

Our Bundeswehr also has an ABC component, which is actually only used for defense purposes. Here, also, the theoretically trained group of staff is involved for hazardous situations; handling of open radioactive materials was only carried out on a very small laboratory scale, if at all. The equipment is much too general for an emergency, the decontamination successes are only described theoretically, since such systems have never been actually used except in our company.

The Weather Service and Co

In Germany, a comprehensive monitoring network is operated by the German Weather Service and the Federal Office for Radiation Protection. Several states and the federal government monitor water and food. Together with Switzerland, we have an effective monitoring network that can detect even the smallest traces of radioactivity. An ever shrinking team with years of know-how in environmental monitoring is working here. 

These monitoring networks were set up after the Chernobyl accident. At that time, the thought was correct to be able to warn the population about airborne radioactive substances from abroad in time. This still makes sense, but the dangers have changed. 

Air activity is largely monitored at the external borders of the Federal Republic of Germany and around nuclear facilities. Now we have to ask ourselves the fundamental question: For whom do we actually operate radiation protection for?

First and foremost, radiation protection is there to protect people from radiation. Secondly, the environment must be protected from artificial radioactive substances.

The question is, where is the highest population density? In metropolitan areas and cities, at airports and railway stations. In recent years, hardly any monitoring facilities have been created there. (Except for particulate matter).The endangerment has changed and especially these metropolitan areas can quickly become targets of attacks without this being noticed promptly.

It is certainly correct and important to detect the spread of radioactive substances at an early stage. Our responsible departments tend to focus only on the metrological detection because it is easier. Primarily, it is also important to be able to assess the radiation exposure of the population and, if necessary, to close down areas. The question arises, what comes next?

There are no sustainable concepts for the decontamination of ordinary infrastructure or trained staff who could carry out this decontamination properly.

After several years of operating with radioactive materials one can say “There is nothing that does not exist”.

Over the years the following events have happened:

  • Large-area contamination on floors, roofs, divs. Objects, car parks, access roads, scrap yards, schools and motorways
  • Large open sources
  • Large jammed sources
  • Contaminations and radioactive sources in waste containers
  • Defective exhaust air systems
  • Water in radiation protection areas
  • Fire in radiation protection areas
  • Transport accidents
  • Lost and stolen radioactive sources
  • Radioactive substances in articles of daily use
  • Terrorist attacks involving radioactive materials
  • Releases from nuclear installations at an national and international level
  • Hostile attacks using radioactive materials
  • and many more.

Extensive experience in handling open radioactive materials

Due to our many years of experience in handling radioactive materials, we have decided to make this know-how available as an indispensable safety aspect in the form of the SENS.bayern. The team not only has experience in working under controlled conditions (e.g. nuclear power plant or radionuclide laboratory), but also in dealing with open radioactive contaminations and high activity in the open as well as in infrastructures and buildings.

Since the handling of open radioactive materials can only be learned safely in daily use, e.g. in dismantling projects without associated infrastructure or in real emergencies, we do not offer any training courses or lectures on the subject. We want to prevent untrained people or groups of people from endangering and overestimating themselves. In addition, we definitely consider it unreasonable to send fire brigades, emergency services and other helpers without adequate know-how, extensive operational experience, suitable measurement technology, and modern decontamination and remote handling technology into operation without risk. From our point of view, the handling of open radioactive materials cannot be learned in one course, but only through daily handling even under difficult conditions over several years.

Since we could not find an organization that would really be able to cope with the dangers of radioactive materials, we have now prepared ourselves for these emergencies.

Equipement

The handling of open radioactive materials requires a number of equipment such as exhaust air systems, radiation protection measuring equipment, protective equipment and environmental monitoring. Parts of the equipment are so large that they can only be transported in containers. The measurement technology used on the market, for example, is not designed for mobile use, therefore we opted for a massive container solution that has proven itself in our dismantling projects.

Our motivation

In spite of our numerous enquiries to the responsible departments of the states and the federal government, we found out that the issue of nuclear emergency protection has a very low priority.They rely on the concept from the 70s. Nuclear emergency protection is still associated with an accident in a nuclear power plant. There is a lack of focus on capacities and the basis. Aid organizations that have the basic responsibility provide deceptive safety to their superiors. Out of a lack of expertise or just to avoid attracting negative attention. Here, they defend themselves with the argument that an accident with radioactive materials is extremely rare due to the safety measures.

In general, this is true, but the argument is not plausible in regard to the extent of the consequences of small incidents. Due to numerous emergency operations and many years of handling radioactive materials, we have decided to no longer waste our time on the conversion and approval of a group of people responsible for nuclear emergency protection, but to take the nuclear emergency protection itself in hand. 

The numerous emergency operations in the past have proved our actions, and have shown that without the massive use of equipment, measurement technology and remote handling technology in the hands of an experienced and well-rehearsed team, the situation could not easily have been brought under control in numerous operations.We ourselves invest in nuclear emergency protection and receive neither financial support nor are our actions otherwise supported or positively registered. Nuclear emergency protection is strictly about the cause, containing incidents, protecting the environment and protecting the health of our fellow citizens. We gladly take note of criticism, but the answer will always be the same: “Do better yourself” or “Have a better idea”.

With the motto “Prepaired to Respond” of the IAEA in Vienna, our drive is to make radiation protection and thus the world a little safer.

NucTecSolutions GmbH was founded in 2006 as an innovative radiation protection service provider for nuclear power plants and research facilities. As a versatile services company we offer various solutions to provide all kinds of services with radioactive materials in different areas. 

Our main services are decontamination and clearance measurement as well as disposal and development of new processes and measurement technology. We offer the possibility to create solutions for customer specific problems. 

We have our own mobile infrastructure with which we can provide our customers with all the necessary tools and equipment. In addition, we can analyze samples with our in-house radionuclide laboratory. Due to our unique corporate structure, we combine planning and project planning with targeted implementation on site with a young, precise and technically competent working team.

Our developments in measurement technology and decontamination processes as well as the provision of a mobile infrastructure offer an optimal implementation of the projects. We offer a wide range of measurement technology, analysis methods and mobile devices. This combination is an efficient service for radiation protection, decommissioning and reconstruction at the highest cost-user level. The direct connection between planning, radiological analysis as well as decontamination and measurement for release makes sense for small to medium-sized projects.