Nuclear and Radiological Incidents
Responses to nuclear/radiological incidents (accidental, inadvertent, or deliberate) start at the local, tribal, and state levels. They include the use of police, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, and National Guard assets such as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) civil support teams (WMD CSTs) and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) enhanced response force packages (CERFPs). Once identified as a terrorist event or once the incident grows beyond the scope of local, tribal, and state responses, federal response takes place. The level of federal response to a specific incident is based on numerous factors, including the ability of state, tribal, and local officials to respond; the type, amount, and custody of (or authority over) radioactive material involved; the extent of the impact or potential impact on the public and environment; and the size of the affected area.
Excerpt from the National Response Framework Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex, June 2008.
The Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex (NRIA) to the National Response Framework (NRF) describes the policies, situations, concepts of operations, and responsibilities of the federal departments and agencies governing the immediate response and short-term recovery activities for incidents involving release of radioactive materials to address the consequences of the event. The incidents may result from inadvertent or deliberate acts. The NRIA applies to incidents where the nature and scope of the incident requires a federal response to supplement the state, tribal, or local incident response.
The purpose of this annex is to:
Because there are several categories of potential incidents and impacted entities, this annex identifies different federal agencies as "coordinating agencies" and "cooperating agencies" and associated strategic concepts of operations based on the authorities, responsibilities, and capabilities of those departments or agencies. In addition, this annex describes how other federal departments and agencies support the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when DHS leads a large-scale multiagency federal response.
This annex applies to two categories of nuclear and radiological incidents: inadvertent or otherwise accidental releases and releases related to deliberate acts. These incidents may also include potential release of radioactive material that poses an actual or perceived hazard to public health, safety, national security, and/or the environment. The category covering inadvertent releases includes nuclear (commercial or weapons production) facilities; lost radioactive material sources; transportation accidents involving nuclear/radioactive material; domestic nuclear weapons accidents; and foreign accidents involving nuclear or radioactive material that impact the United States or its territories, possessions, or territorial waters. The second category includes, but is not limited to response to the effects of deliberate attacks perpetrated with radiological dispersal devices (RDDs), nuclear weapons, or improvised nuclear devices (INDs).
This annex applies whenever a federal response is undertaken unilaterally pursuant to federal authorities or when an incident exceeds or is anticipated to exceed state, tribal, or local resources. The level of federal response to a specific incident is based on numerous factors, including, the ability of state, tribal, and local officials to respond; the type, amount, and custody of (or authority over) radioactive material involved; the extent of the impact or potential impact on the public and environment; and the size of the affected area.
If any agency or government entity becomes aware of an overt threat or act involving nuclear/radiological material/device or indications the event is not inadvertent or otherwise accidental, the Department of Justice should be notified through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The attorney general has lead responsibility for criminal investigations of terrorist acts or terrorist threats by individuals or groups inside the United States, or directed at U.S. citizens or institutions abroad, where such acts are within the federal criminal jurisdiction of the United States. Generally acting through the FBI, the attorney general, in cooperation with other federal departments and agencies engaged in activities to protect our national security, shall also coordinate the activities of the other members of the law enforcement community to detect, prevent, pre-empt, and disrupt terrorist attacks against the United States For investigations pertaining to nuclear/radiological incidents, the coordinating agencies and cooperating agencies perform the functions delineated in this annex and provide technical support and assistance to the FBI in the performance of its law enforcement and criminal investigative mission.
Authorities applicable to this annex include Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 5, Management of Domestic Incidents, the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, and the National Strategy for Homeland Security.
The coordinating agencies may take appropriate independent emergency actions within the limits of their own statutory authority to protect the public, mitigate immediate hazards, and gather information concerning the emergency to avoid delay. Key authorities used by the coordinating agencies to carry out responsibilities are described below.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) gives the federal government the authority to respond to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances (including radionuclides) that may endanger public health or the environment. CERCLA also gives the federal government the authority to compel responsible parties to respond to releases of hazardous substances. CERCLA is implemented through the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP), a regulation found in 40 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) Part 300. At the on-scene level, this response authority is implemented by federal on-scene coordinators (OSCs). OSCs may assist state and local governments in responding to releases, but also have the authority to direct the response when needed to ensure protection of public health and the environment. Four federal agencies have OSC authority for hazardous substance emergencies: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DHS/U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Energy (DOE).
Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (as amended)
The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) provides DOD and DOE responsibilities for protection of certain nuclear materials, facilities, information, and nuclear weapons under their control. The AEA (42 U.S. Code Sections 2011-2297 ) and the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (5 U.S. Code Sections 5313-5316, 42 U.S. Code Sections 5801-5891 ) provide the statutory authority for both DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the foundation for NRC regulation of the nation's civilian use of byproduct, source, and special nuclear materials to ensure adequate protection of public health and safety, to promote the common defense and security, and to protect the environment.
Executive Order 12656 of 18 November 1988
This executive order directs the secretary of energy to "manage all emergency planning and response activities pertaining to Department of Energy nuclear facilities."
Title 50, U.S. Code, War and National Defense
Title 50, U.S. Code Section 797 makes it a crime to willfully violate a regulation or order promulgated by the secretary of defense, or by a military commander designated by secretary of defense, for the protection or security of military equipment or other property or places subject to the jurisdiction, administration, or custody of DOD. As it applies to nuclear/radiological accidents or incidents, this statute provides a military commander the authority to establish a temporary national defense area (NDA) around an accident/incident site to protect nuclear weapons and materials in DOD custody. This statute is executed within the department by DOD Instruction (DODI) 5200.08, Security of DOD Installations and Resources. DODI 5200.08 is the natural, legal extension of statutory authority found in 50 U.S. Code Section 797.
Public Health Service Act
The Public Health Service Act (PHSA) directs EPA to support state and local authorities in their preparedness and response activities regarding public health emergencies.
When DHS initiates the response mechanisms of the NRF, existing interagency plans that address nuclear/radiological incident management are incorporated as supporting plans.
For incidents not led by DHS, other federal response plans provide the primary response protocols. In these cases, the federal agency that is coordinating the response may use the procedures outlined in the NRF to coordinate the delivery of federal resources to state, tribal, and local governments, and to coordinate assistance among federal agencies.
Certain federal agencies are authorized to respond directly to specific nuclear/radiological incidents. Nothing in this annex alters or impedes the ability of federal departments and agencies to carry out their specific authorities and perform their responsibilities under law.
Federal response actions will be carried out commensurate with the appropriate health and safety laws and guidelines.
The federal government has established protective action guidance (PAGs) for radiological incidents. Specific PAGs have also been established for RDD/INDs.
Federal coordination centers and agency teams provide their own logistical support consistent with agreed upon interagency execution plans. State, tribal, and local governments are encouraged to coordinate their efforts with the federal effort, but maintain their own logistical support, consistent with applicable authorities and requirements.
The federal response to any nuclear/radiological incident shall be coordinated with the state, tribal, and local government or the federal agencies having jurisdiction over the area affected by the incident. In the case of tribal lands, tribal governments have a special relationship with the U.S. government, and federal, state, and local governments may have limited or no authority on specific tribal reservations. Further guidance is provided in the Tribal Relations Support Annex.
Headquarters planning and preparedness
Under existing regulations, the Federal Radiological Preparedness Coordinating Committee (FRPCC) provides a national forum for the development and coordination of radiological planning and preparedness policies and procedures. It also provides policy guidance for federal radiological incident management activities in support of state, tribal, and local government radiological emergency planning and preparedness activities. The FRPCC is chaired by DHS/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The FRPCC also coordinates research efforts of its member agencies related to state, tribal, and local government radiological emergency preparedness to ensure minimum duplication and maximum benefits to state and local governments. The FRPCC coordinates planning and validating requirements of each agency, reviewing integration requirements and incorporating agency-specific plans, procedures, and equipment into the response system.
Regional Planning and Preparedness
Coordinating agencies may have regional offices or field structures that provide a forum for information sharing, consultation, and coordination of federal agency regional awareness, prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery activities for radiological incidents. These regional offices may also assist in providing technical assistance to state and local governments and evaluating radiological plans and exercises.
Regional Assistance Committees (RACs) in the DHS/FEMA regions serve as the primary coordinating structures at the federal regional level. RAC membership mirrors that of the FRPCC, and RACs are chaired by a DHS/FEMA regional representative. The RACs provide a forum for information sharing, consultation, and coordination of federal regional awareness, prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery activities.
A nuclear/radiological incident may result from a deliberate act, an accident, or general mismanagement, and may center on different materials or industrial practices, including:
The most common nuclear/radiological incidents have to do with the loss, theft, or mismanagement of relatively small radioactive material sources, or technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive material, where some exposure of individuals or dispersal into the environment occurs. These are handled at the local level with occasional federal assistance.
Virtually any facility or industrial practice (including transportation of materials) may be vulnerable to a deliberate act, such as terrorism, or an accident of some sort that could release radioactive material, including a fire. Major fixed facilities, such as federal nuclear weapons facilities, commercial nuclear fuel cycle facilities, and some nonfuel cycle industries (such as radiation source and radiopharmaceutical manufacturers) pose a risk of accidents and could also be breached in a deliberate act, such as terrorism.
Of greatest concern to U.S. security is the potential for a terrorist attack using a nuclear weapon. A nuclear device could originate directly from a nuclear state, be modified from pre-existing weapons components, or be fashioned by terrorists from the basic fissile nuclear materials. Even a small nuclear detonation in an urban area could result in over 100,000 fatalities, massive infrastructure damage, and thousands of square kilometers of contaminated land.
Radiological incidents may not be immediately recognized as such until the radioactive material is detected or the health effects of radiation exposure are manifested in the population and identified by the public health community.
An act of nuclear or radiological terrorism, particularly an act directed against a large population center within the United States can overwhelm the capabilities of many local, tribal, and state governments to respond, and may seriously challenge existing federal response capabilities.
An act or threat of nuclear or radiological terrorism will trigger concurrent activation of the Terrorism Law Enforcement and Investigation Annex.
A nuclear or radiological incident may require concurrent implementation of the NCP to address radiological releases into the environment.
An incident involving the potential release of radioactivity may require implementation of protective measures, such as evacuation and shelter in place. State, tribal, and local governments have primary responsibility for implementing protective measures for the public.
An expeditious federal response is required to mitigate the consequences of a nuclear/radiological incident. The federal government response to nuclear or radiological terrorist threats/incidents includes, but is not limited to, the following assumptions:
Incidents will be managed at the lowest possible level; as incidents change in size, scope, and complexity, the response will adapt to meet requirements described in the NRF. In accordance with HSPD-5, "the Secretary of Homeland Security is the principal Federal official for domestic incident management. The Secretary is responsible for coordinating Federal operations within the United States to prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. The Secretary shall coordinate the Federal Government's resources utilized in response to or recovery from terrorist attacks, major disasters, or other emergencies." Domestic incident management includes preventing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from terrorist attacks. When exercising this role, the secretary is supported by other coordinating agencies and cooperating agencies. For incidents wherein the secretary is not fulfilling domestic incident management responsibilities, the coordinating agency will be the responsible agency for domestic incident management as defined by their authorities. Such incidents include, but are not limited to, loss of radiography sources, discovery of orphan radiological sources, and incidents/emergencies at nuclear facilities below the classification of general emergency, as defined by the cognizant coordinating agency.
DOD is the coordinating agency for federal actions related to radiological incidents involving: nuclear weapons in DOD custody; DOD facilities, including U.S. nuclear powered ships; or material otherwise under DOD jurisdiction (for example, transportation of material shipped by or for DOD).
Under CERCLA, Executive Order 12580, and the NCP, DOD is responsible for hazardous substance responses to releases on or from DOD facilities or vessels under the jurisdiction, custody, or control of DOD, including transportation related incidents. For responses under these circumstances, DOD provides a federal OSC responsible for taking all CERCLA response actions, which includes on-site and off-site response actions (40 CFR 300.120[c] and 40 CFR 300.175[b] ).
For incidents where the incident is on, or where the sole source of the nuclear/radiological release is from any facility or vessel under DOD jurisdiction, custody, or control, DOD is responsible for:
For radiological incidents involving a nuclear weapon, special nuclear material, and/or classified components that are in DOD custody, DOD may establish a national defense area. DOD will coordinate with state and local officials to ensure appropriate public health and safety actions are taken outside the NDA. DOD will lead the overall response to safeguard national security information and/or restricted data, or equipment and material. DOD may also include lands normally not under DOD control as part of the established NDA for the duration of the incident.
DOD coordinates the federal response for incidents involving the release of nuclear/radioactive materials from DOD space vehicles or joint space vehicles with significant DOD involvement. A joint venture is an activity in which the U.S. government has provided extensive design/financial input; has provided and maintains ownership of instruments, spacecraft, or the launch vehicle; or is intimately involved in mission operations. A joint venture with a foreign nation is not created by simply selling or supplying material to a foreign country for use in its spacecraft.
In the event that DHS assumes overall management of the federal response under HSPD-5 to an accidental or inadvertent incident involving DOD facilities or materials, DOD will support DHS under the NRF and the National Incident Management System (NIMS), including acting as the coordinating agency for this annex. DOD will manage the response within the boundaries of the DOD facility or NDA.
Department of Energy accident response group
The DOE accident response group (ARG) comprises scientists, technical specialists, crisis managers, and equipment ready to respond to the scene of a U.S. nuclear weapon accident to make the weapon safe for shipment.
Department of Energy radiological assistance program team
The DOE radiological assistance program (RAP) teams are located at various DOE operations offices, site offices, and national laboratories. They can be dispatched to a radiological incident from Regional DOE Offices in response to a radiological incident. RAP teams provide first-responder radiological assistance to protect the health and safety of the general public, responders, and the environment and to assist in the detection, identification and analysis, and response to events involving radiological/nuclear material. Deployed RAP teams provide traditional field monitoring, assessment support and a search capability.
Nuclear incident response team
The nuclear incident response team (NIRT) consists of the DOE teams above and the EPA entities that perform support functions (including radiological emergency response functions) and related functions.
Advisory team for environment, food, and health
This team includes representatives from EPA, the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies. The advisory team develops coordinated advice and recommendation on environmental, food, health, and animal health matters for the incident command/unified command (IC/UC), DHS, the joint federal office unified coordination group, the coordinating agency, and/or state, tribal, and local governments as appropriate. The advisory team provides federal advice in matters related to the following:
Environmental Protection Agency radiological emergency response team
The EPA radiological emergency response team (RERT) provides resources, including personnel, specialized equipment, technical expertise, and labor services to aid coordinating and cooperating agencies and state, tribal, and local response organizations in protecting the public and the environment from unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation from radiological incidents. The RERT provides the following:
The term "recovery," as used here, encompasses any action dedicated to the continued protection of the public and resumption of normal activities in the affected area. Recovery planning generally does not take place until the initiating conditions of the incident have stabilized and immediate actions to protect public health, safety, and property are accomplished. Upon request, the federal government assists state, tribal, and local governments with developing and executing recovery plans.
Department of Defense responsibilities
DOD provides immediate assistance under Immediate Response Authority for any civil emergency that may require immediate action to save lives, prevent human suffering, or mitigate great property damage. When such conditions exist and time does not permit prior approval from higher headquarters, local military commanders and responsible officials from DOD components and agencies are authorized by DOD directive, subject to any supplemental direction that may be provided by their DOD component, to take necessary action to respond to requests of civil authorities. All such necessary action is referred to as "immediate response."
Department of Defense/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Responsibilities
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012