Information in the Event of a Nuclear Emergency

Introduction and requirement

Work in progress

Although I am rather sceptical about this regulation the intention that we should have a slick mechanism for giving timely information to the public for events where that information could reduce radiation dose to the public, alarm to the public and/or long term anxiety is highly laudable. Given the technical nature of the information gathering and dissemination required this duty should, in my humble opinion, rest with a national government body probably the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards now part of UKHSA.

REPPIR Regulation 22 applies to all local authorities whether or not they have REPPIR premises in their area. It relates to general duties on local authorities to have arrangements to provide information about any kind of emergency involving ionising radiation (referred to as an ‘emergency’ in this regulation and associated guidance) and is not limited to emergencies occurring on nuclear or radiological premises.


This regulation covers events of unpredictable location and nature, such as transport radiation emergencies, a fallen nuclear powered satellite, or radioactive contamination being present in a public area.

All local authorities are required to "prepare and keep up to date arrangements to supply, in the event of an emergency in that local authority's area (however that emergency may arise), information about and advice on the facts of the emergency, of the steps to be taken and, as appropriate, of the protective action applicable." These arrangements must be kept up to date and "provide information at regular intervals(1), in an appropriate manner, without delay, and without their having to request it, to members of the public who are in that local authority's area and who are actually affected by the emergency'.

The required preparations include consulting "any other authority likely to be responsible for implementing the relevant protective action referred to in Schedule 9 and such other persons as appear to it to be appropriate."

This is a potentially difficult regulation it requires all local authorities to expect the unexpected. They must have a mechanism to promulgate information should a radiological event happen in their patch despite this being exceedingly unlikely. Guidance suggests having prepared information but guidance 840 states that "Regulation 22(4) makes clear that only information relevant to a particular type of emergency needs to be supplied. Inclusion of information that is not relevant to the particular circumstances of the emergency is likely to cause confusion and be counterproductive". So have prepared information but only use it if it is relevant. This might be asking a lot of the County's Duty Emergency Officer.

Maybe, if nothing else, the local authority should have a copy of the ONR's own prior information for radiation emergencies during the transport of radioactive material

It might be a good idea to have a collection of sentences and paragraphs that have been checked and approved for use that the Duty Officers can select from on the day of an event.

The plan for the formulation of advice and the promulgation of that advice to the members of the public affected would be the local resilience Forum's crisis communication plan unless they have a bespoke REPPIR communications plan.

Footnote 1: I wonder if the team who drafted this regulation meant "regular intervals" (at times that are equally separated) rather than something like "suitable intervals" i.e. when there is something new to report or the need to reinforce current messages.

Schedule 9 Information to be supplied in the event of a radiation emergency

Schedule 9 of REPPIR-19 provides a list of the information that a local authority must give in the event of a radiation emergency (See REPPIR Regulation 22 for details of the requirement or refer to the REPPIR Approved Code of Practice and Guidance.

Information on the type of emergency which has occurred, and, where possible, its characteristics, for example, its origin, extent and probable development.

This section will be the "news" section. It should tell the public what has happened and where and give some estimate of how long it might be expected to last. It could be something like:

"A van carrying radioactive sources has caught fire on the A38 near Hilltop Garage between Whitminster and Cambridge. The emergency services are in attendance. The A38 is closed in both directions and is likely to be so for many hours. Please find an alternative route."

Advice on protective action which may include, depending on the type of emergency .......

(a)any restrictions on the consumption of certain foodstuffs and water supply likely to be contaminated.

If the radiation protection advisors responding to the incident, UK HSA or the Food Standards Agency advise that food or water from the area should not be consumed then the local authority would be expected to include that message in its news and media feeds.

"People living in the [define area] are advised not to eat food that has been outside during the fire and that may have been contaminated with radioactive smoke or dust from the incident. Food that has been stored in cupboards, fridges and freezers or in tins since the start of the incident are likely to be safe".

Note: The Food Standards Agency (FSA) (Food Standards Scotland (FSS) in Scotland) may use emergency controls to protect the public and prevent food that exceeds, or potentially exceeds, the Maximum Permitted Levels of radioactivity established by legislation from entering the food chain. The FSA/FSS may advise the Secretary of State or devolved administrations to issue statutory restriction orders made under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA).

(b)any basic rules on hygiene and decontamination; If this was going to be put out over radio or TV it would have to be quite simple. Key would be to advise the public to take sensible steps to avoid becoming contaminated. These include taking shelter and staying in shelter. If it is a transport accident with a shed load the public should avoid coming in contact with any of the packages and, particularly, anything leaking from them.

With regards to decontamination, it is extremely unlikely that members of the public will need urgent decontamination. There is general advice on self-help decontamination that the authorities could point to or republish on their web-sites (see, for example CDC "How to Self-Decontaminate after a Radiation Emergency").

"Do not touch or walk through liquids or substances which may have leaked from the van or packages that might have come from the van".

"If you may have come into contact with material from the van or been in the smoke coming from the van then be sure to carefully wash your hands at your earliest opportunity. If you are concerned about contamination on your body and clothes then change your clothes, remove and bag your outer layer of clothing. Take a shower if possible but try to keep the water from your hair out of your eyes, nose and mouth. Use mild soap and be gentle - you do not want to make the skin red as this may allow an entry of radioactive material into your body".

Gentle rubbing of the skin with kitchen paper, or similar, is also an effective form of self-decontamination.

For more information on self decontamination see the Decontamination page.

(c)any recommendation to stay indoors;

This is probably the most effective advice that can be offered in the event of an atmospheric release or a spilled load.

"People working or living within [define distance] of the incident, particularly if they can smell burning or see the smoke from the incident, are being asked by Gloucester County Council to take shelter. This means going into a building, closing windows and doors, listening to the local radio or the local council local social media and staying indoors until advised otherwise (go in, stay in, tune in)".

"People at the scene of the incident are being advised to stay as far away from the scene of the emergency as possible and at least 100 metres away and ideally upwind. If leaving the scene do not approach or touch any packages whether they appear to be damaged or not".

(d)the distribution and use of protective substances; This refers to the distribution and taking of stable iodine tablets in the event of an atmospheric release from an operating nuclear reactor. Local authorities that do not play host to nuclear reactors need not have a plan for this eventuality.

Some sites pre-distribute stable iodine tablets to homes and businesses within a defined distance from the site others have plans to distribute them as and when needed. (It tends to depend on whether or not the scenarios upon which the plans are based has a warning period or not). Either way their will be pre-agreed messages related to the distribution and taking of stable iodine.

You might need something like "The stable iodine tablets (also called PITs, SITs, Potassium Iodate Tablets) used around operating nuclear power stations are not relevent to this event and will provide no protection against the radiation and contamination we are faced with"

"Stable Iodine tablets contain a salt of stable (not radioactive) iodine that can help block radioactive iodine (found in operating nuclear reactors but not oher radioactive sources) from being absorbed by the thyroid gland. Taking stable iodine tablets floods the thyroid gland, so that it cannot absorb any more of the radioactive iodine."

(e)any evacuation arrangements;

It would be very unlikely that such an accident would lead to a significant evacuation. These would follow the local evacuation plan or one written on the day. The important details are:

  • How to prepare for evacuation (What to take, how prepare home/office i.e. disconnect TV etc but not fridge/freezer, close windows, locks doors);
  • When and where to go - reception centre for those with transport or transport hub for those without;
  • Registration requirements (particularly contact details for those heading off to self-organised accommodation);

See the Evacuation page for more details.

(f)special warnings for certain population groups. I'm not sure what would be here. We think it particularly important for young children and those who are pregnant to avoid radiation doses and to take appropriate doses of stable iodine. But the stable iodine is only for operating reactors and unlikely in "no-plan" situations and in many events the radiation doses might not be particularly high.

Details concerning any announcements recommending cooperation with instructions or requests by the regulator

Another odd one. Most press releases would be expected to provide advice, state from whom the advice is coming and to stress the importance of following that advice.

Where an incident which is likely to give rise to a release of radioactivity or ionising radiation has taken place but no release has yet occurred

This is an interesting section that might apply to a nuclear reactor that has a loss of cooling fault and is on its way to meltdown or to to the expected crash landing of a satellite with a radioactive inventory (this is not an exhaustive list). There may be anything between an hour and several days between the alert and the first release. Guidance 630 states that "If an emergency has not occurred, but an event has occurred which could reasonably lead to an emergency, it is important to avoid creating undue alarm. Therefore, care needs to be taken when deciding what information is provided and in what format whilst ensuring openness and transparency. Members of the public should be provided with the necessary factual information to enable them to understand the situation and respond in an appropriate manner if necessary".

It strikes me that this is a really difficult ask: tell people that a nuclear reactor in their area is badly damaged and could reasonably lead to an emergency releasing radioactivity to the environment, ensuring openness and transparency without causing undue alarm.

If you tell the media you have teams working to provide extra cooling to the reactor but, while you think you have enough time, you cannot guarentee that it will work you are trying to be "open and transparent" but the message might just lead to alarm. Is that undue alarm?

The information and advice should include the following
(a) details of the relevant communications channels on which information about the incident will be available.
This would be a re-iteration of the communications advice: Local radio stations that are covering the event, social media accounts that are being used and any telephone help-lines in use.
(b) preparatory advice to establishments with particular collective responsibilities;
This would probably ask the relevant hospitals, schools, care homes and similar to initiate their contingency plans as appropriate.
(c) recommendations to occupational groups particularly affected.
This might include providing information to farmers on actions that could be taken to reduce the contamination of food.

If time permits; information setting out the basic facts about radioactivity and its effects on persons and on the environment.

This is a very big ask. Where do you start? Do you assume an A level in physics, a GSCE or no physics knowledge at all? Explaining these matters to someone with no knowledge of the area could take a while and would require them to concentrate.

In paragraph 4(b), “establishments with particular collective responsibilities” means hospitals, care homes, schools or similar establishments.

Books by Keith Pearce (Creator of this web-site) - Consultant Emergency Planner and Author

Nuclear EP&R
how to survive

Nuclear Emergency Planning and Response

How to survive a nuclear emergency

The Physics of the Chernobyl accident

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.