Service members applied prevention and decontamination measures around the Atucha Nuclear Power Plant, in Buenos Aires province.
More than 200 Argentine Navy units participated in a red alert simulation at the Atucha nuclear complex on November 14, 2019, during the Nuclear Emergency Plan Exercise. The complex, consisting of the Atucha I and II power plants, is located in Lima, a town 62 miles from Buenos Aires.
“The goal of the exercise was to train emergency response organizations and the people of Lima about protective measures in case of an emergency at the nuclear plant,” Argentine Navy Lieutenant Commander Rodrigo Acuña Guinder, head of operations for the Riverine Area and the Zárate Naval Base, told Diálogo. “In this case, we simulated a radiological emergency.”
The emergency plan also involved the Argentine Army, the border protection force of the National Gendarmerie, the Naval Prefecture (coast guard), the Federal Police’s Special Risk Brigade, and the Buenos Aires Province Police, in addition to firefighters and organizations such as the Argentine Red Cross.
During the first stage, service members advised the surrounding population to stay home while they evacuated people within a 1.8-mile radius of the nuclear plant to the Zárate Naval Base.
“We set up two field tents for the decontamination station, as well as four tents for the evacuees’ welcoming and registration center,” Lt. Cdr. Guinder said. Two other tents served as a command and communication center. Service members also set up five tents that could shelter five evacuees each, as well as 120 two-person tents. “We also have a heliport at the center,” the officer added.
During the second stage, the nuclear plant issued a red alert, which implied radioactive emissions and the execution of protective measures. Evacuees were sheltered at Zárate Naval Base’s facilities and tents.
“We simulated a radioactive cloud passing over the base’s facilities. The buildings and infrastructure were sealed to protect the evacuees and the Navy personnel,” said Lt. Cdr. Guinder.
Service members sealed doors and windows in houses, offices, stores, and schools of Lima, and broadcast informational messages through local radios, using Nuclear Regulatory Authority equipment to detect radiation and decontaminate people and vehicles.
Nuclear decontamination includes vigorous washing with water, which must then be treated as radioactive waste. “We also simulated taking stable iodine tablets to saturate the thyroid and mitigate the effects of radiation on the population,” Lt. Cdr. Guinder said.
When the nuclear emissions ended, service members carried out radiological monitoring to increase or reduce decontamination measures, as needed.
A nuclear benchmark
Argentina pioneered nuclear energy efforts in Latin America, with the construction of the Atucha I reactor in 1974, followed by the Embalse reactor in Córdoba province (1984) and Atucha II (2014).
The country continues to be a benchmark in nuclear research and development, and the Navy and other military and security forces play a key role in avoiding disasters in the region.
“An emergency at the nuclear plant is very unlikely, but the Argentine Navy personnel train constantly to contribute to the National Civil Protection Contingency Plan,” said Lt. Cdr. Guinder.