Preparedness and
Response for a
Nuclear or Radiological
Emergency Involving
the Transport of
Radioactive Material

Transport packages are designed with a graded approach, meaning that the higher activity and more mobile forms of radioactivity get transported in more robust containers. This is designed to ensure that most emergencies during transport have limited radiological consequences and can be resolved in a relatively short period. However, there are always the low probability, high consequence accidents to keep us awake.

The objective of this publication is to provide recommendations on emergency preparedness and response for the transport of radioactive material. These recommendations form the basis of achieving the goals of emergency response described in GSR Part 7.

The recommendations in this Safety Guide are aimed at States, regulatory bodies and response organizations, including consignors, carriers and consignees.

Section 2 covers national arrangements which should integrate and coordinate the capabilities of responders and ensure that their roles and responsibilities are clearly specified and understood.

“The government shall make adequate preparations to anticipate, prepare for, respond to and recover from a nuclear or radiological emergency at the operating organization, local, regional and national levels, and also, as appropriate, at the international level.”

There is a lot of detail, 14 pages of it, including a description of what the consignor’s and carrier’s plan should contain (para 2.57). These are not a-plan-on-a-page.

Section 3 is about preparedness and response. It talks about a concept of operations as “a brief description of an ideal response to a postulated emergency, used to ensure that all the personnel and organizations involved in the development of emergency response capabilities share a common understanding”. It also discusses the objectives to consider.

The report then goes through the urgent response phase where those on the scene and first responders are determining the situation and, in particular, looking for evidence of failure of containment or shielding and acting accordingly. It gives an aide-memoir for reporting the situation (3.14), the priorities for response (3.19) and protective actions to consider (3.30).

A transition to either a planned exposure situation or an existing exposure situation, depending on the circumstances might be required if the environment is contaminated. We are told that “the transition phase commences as early as possible once the source has been brought under control and the situation is stable; the transition phase ends when all the necessary prerequisites for terminating the emergency (these are given in 3.34) have been met” (3.38).

There is a section on Training, Drills and Exercises (3.43 – 3.53).

Section 4 focuses on road, rail, sea, inland waterway and air in turn, talking about how and why these modes are used and any special features to consider.

Section 5 looks at transport events initiated by nuclear security events and the extra considerations put into play, including the requirements for crime scene preservation.

Appendices give advice on (1) developing national capability and (2) types of events that might lead to a transport emergency (useful for setting scenarios).

Annex 1 reviews IAEA advice on transport regulations, including classification, signage and packages.

Annex 2 is a model event notification form.

Annex 3 is a template carrier or consignor emergency response plan.

Annex 4 provides 7 scenarios to consider.


The ONR have a considerable body of reference material relating to the transport of radioactive material which can be found at

This includes guidance on risk assessment under IRR-17 and Guidance on emergency planning and notification for the transport of class 7 goods

This states that “CDG09(19) require duty holders (both the consignor and the carrier) to have a plan where they have reached the conclusion that a radiation emergency might occur. The emergency plan must detail the arrangements to restrict, so far as is reasonably practicable, the radiation exposure of any person that may be affected by a radiation emergency before the carriage of radioactive material takes place. This includes the vehicle crew, the public, attending emergency services and any persons exposed to ionising radiation as a result of a loss of radiation shielding, release of all or part of the contents of a package or an uncontrolled criticality when transporting radioactive material”.

It also notes that “Provision of information in the event of an emergency to those likely to be affected is placed on local authorities through Regulation 22 of REPPIR19.”

In their November 2020 document Five Steps to Transport Emergency Planning ONR outline five steps:

  1. Evaluate whether an Emergency Plan is required
  2. Preparing an Emergency Plan
  3. Test, Review and Revise the Emergency Plan
  4. Implementing the Emergency Plan
  5. reporting requirements after an emergency

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