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Synergy Challenge 2021: Testing cyber security and nuclear emergency response

Synergy Challenge 2021

On October 6 and 7, 2021, over 80 staff members from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) participated in Synergy Challenge. Led by New Brunswick Power (NB Power) and the Government of New Brunswick, the exercise tested the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generation Station (PLNGS), first responders and municipalities, as well as provincial, federal and even international government agencies’ abilities to respond to a nuclear emergency. Over 1,000 people participated in this simulated nuclear emergency response and recovery exercise.

This year’s Synergy Challenge included a simulated cyber security event aimed at demonstrating participating organizations’ collective ability to respond to a threat of this nature. Inclusion of this type of event was in direct response to recommendations from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 2019 Emergency Preparedness Review (EPREV). To further meet commitments that resulted from the 2019 EPREV mission, federal participation in this exercise increased – over 40 unique government agencies took part in it, with deepened levels of communication channels among them and involvement from high-level decision makers.

With experts across the country, the CNSC responds to and monitors emergencies and simulations in its physical emergency operations centre, and virtually via specialized software, enabling the organization to be agile, to adapt and to collaborate. The CNSC’s role during a simulation like Synergy Challenge is to help shape the scenario, in order to validate existing emergency plans and procedures, demonstrate improvements made in technological capabilities, and implement nuclear response and recovery strategies at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Finally, the regulator plays a critical role after the exercise when it evaluates it.

The CNSC evaluation team includes site inspectors stationed at PLNGS, as well as a diverse group of experts who virtually assess the overall response and recovery activities, including the interconnectivity between all players and levels. The CNSC also contributes to the final evaluation report, which outlines, in detail, the assessment as well as recommendations for improvements. NB Power holds ownership over the final report, which they will post on their website following the assessment for full public transparency.

“In the unlikely event of a nuclear incident, the CNSC engages its experienced staff who use their expertise to contribute to the emergency response effort. Emergency exercises such as Synergy Challenge 2021, are critical for testing, validating and continuously improving our emergency plans and procedures, and play an important role in promoting public trust and confidence as we work to limit risks to the public and the environment.” – Elaine Kanasewich, Director, Emergency Programs Management Division, CNSC

The CNSC’s top priority is ensuring the safety and security of people and the environment, and for this reason, the regulator requires its licensees to follow strict regulatory requirements, perform rigorous training, and carry out regular safety exercises and drills to ensure emergency preparedness. All nuclear power plants in Canada also have to host full-scale emergency exercises every three years.

Want to learn more about nuclear emergency preparedness and response? Visit the CNSC’s emergency management and nuclear security web page.

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