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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 34  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 17-22  

NDMA guidelines on management of nuclear and radiological emergencies

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), NDMA Bhavan, A-1, Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication17-Mar-2012

Correspondence Address:
M C Abani
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), NDMA Bhavan, A-1, Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), ever since it's formation as an apex policy making body for the country in the field of disaster management, has formulated a set of guidelines to assist the various ministries, states and stakeholders in preparing their plans to handle different types of disasters. The guidelines on management of nuclear and radiological emergencies assume great importance in the present context, as our country has very ambitious programme to exploit nuclear energy for peaceful uses. Though, we have an enviable and impeccable record of safety and virtually fail-safe operations in all our nuclear establishments, the possibility, however, remote it may be, of human error, systems failure, sabotage, earthquake, floods, terrorist attacks etc leading to the release of radioactive material in the public domain, cannot be entirely ruled out. With this view, it was decided to prepare the national guidelines by NDMA to manage any nuclear/radiological emergency in public domain. Through these guidelines, we aim to further strengthen our existing nuclear/radiological emergency management framework and generate public awareness, which will go a long way in allaying misapprehensions, if any, amongst the public about the country's nuclear programme. Like in all our guidelines for handling of different types of the disasters, in these Guidelines also, maximum emphasis has been laid on the prevention of nuclear and radiological emergencies, along with a detailed consideration of all other elements of the disaster management continuum. The National guidelines have been prepared and a consensus was arrived on various issues, after wide-spread consultations and elaborates discussions amongst experts as well as stakeholders. It is assumed that once these guidelines are implemented by the stakeholders and converted into action plans followed by SOPs that will further reduce the chances of accidents in the nuclear arena.

Keywords: Nuclear emergency, NDMA, guidelines, radiological emergency, disaster management

How to cite this article:
Abani M C. NDMA guidelines on management of nuclear and radiological emergencies. Radiat Prot Environ 2011;34:17-22

How to cite this URL:
Abani M C. NDMA guidelines on management of nuclear and radiological emergencies. Radiat Prot Environ [serial online] 2011 [cited 2020 Aug 4];34:17-22. Available from: http://www.rpe.org.in/text.asp?2011/34/1/17/93898

  1. Introduction Top

Due to it's large population density, fast growing urbanization and rapid industrialization and also because of the poor economic conditions of the people in general, the vulnerability to any type of disaster is high in India. Natural disasters have been recurring phenomena in India, leading to extensive loss of life, livelihood and property. Of late, it has become equally vulnerable to various man-made disasters which can also lead to extensive loss of life, livelihood and property. Nuclear and radiological emergency/disaster is one facet of the man-made emergencies/disasters.

  2. Paradigm Shift in Approahch to Disaster Management in India Top

The primary reason for heavy loss of life, livelihood and property during disasters in our country can be attributed to the reactive and response-centric approach adopted in the past in handling of the disasters. It was realised that development cannot be sustained, unless the disaster management (DM) activities are mainstreamed into the development programme of the country. Therefore the Government of India decided to adopt a multi-disciplinary and pro-active approach in DM for building holistic capabilities that are required to cope with both natural and man-made disasters. To bring about a paradigm shift in the national approach to disaster management, Government took a defining step in the year 2005 by setting up the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) as the Apex body headed by the Prime Minister of India. It's aim is to initiate a holistic and integrated approach to disaster management in the country. Similar authorities in the states with Chief Ministers as the Chairpersons of SDMAs and at the District level, DDMAs with District Collectors as the Chairpersons will also be set up.

With this new mandate, NDMA has assumed the responsibility of strengthening the existing nuclear/radiological emergency management framework in the country by involving all the stakeholders in a holistic approach through a series of mutually interactive, reciprocal and supplementary actions to be taken on the basis of a common thread - the national guidelines.

  3. India's Nuclear Programme Top

India has embarked upon a large programme of peaceful uses of nuclear energy viz., for generation of electricity and also to use the radioisotopes in the field of industry, agriculture, medicine, research etc. Also India is now officially a nuclear weapon state.

Due to inherent safety culture, the best safety practices and standards followed and effective regulation by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), chance of a nuclear/radiological emergency arising in a nuclear/radiation facility in our country is very remote. However, nuclear/radiological emergency can still arise due to factors beyond the control of the operating agencies e.g., human error, system failure, sabotage, earthquake, cyclone, flood, tsunami, etc.

  4. Public Perception not Commensurate with Ground Reality Top

Except few incidents of minor nature, the safety record of the Indian nuclear industry is very good. However, due to lack of awareness, education and dissemination of authentic and credible information, any small accident in a nuclear facility, not only in India but worldwide is most often linked by the public erroneously though, only to the events like that at Hiroshima and Nagasaki or Chernobyl. It is a wrong notion which can be removed from the public mind by proper awareness programme and education. It is a task which should be taken up by the concerned Government departments as well as the stakeholders. Indian Association for Radiation Protection (IARP) can play a very important role in the field of public awareness.

  5. Classifications of Emergencies 1 Top

Any radiation incident resulting in or having a potential to result in exposure to and/or contamination of the workers or the public, in excess of the respective permissible limits can be termed as nuclear/radiological emergency. These emergencies can be broadly classified in the following manner:

  1. An accident taking place in any nuclear facility of the nuclear fuel cycle including the nuclear reactor or in a facility using radioactive sources, leading to a large scale release of radioactivity in the environment.
  2. A "criticality" accident in a nuclear fuel cycle facility where an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction takes place inadvertently leading to bursts of neutrons and gamma radiations (as happened at Tokaimura, Japan).
  3. An accident during the transportation of radioactive material.
  4. Malicious use of radioactive material by terrorists for it's use along with conventional explosives as Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) commonly known as "Dirty Bomb. Because of their wide spread applications, access to radioactive sources has become easy. While their radioactive strength is in itself a deterrent to pilferage, their misuse as RDD is still a matter of serious concern.
  5. A large-scale nuclear disaster, resulting from a nuclear weapon attack (as happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki) which would lead to mass causalities and destruction of large area and property. Unlike a nuclear emergency, the impact of nuclear disaster is beyond the coping capability of the local authorities and such a scenario calls for handling at the national level. This scenario is not covered in the present guidelines.

To combat all the scenarios mentioned above, proper emergency preparedness plans must be in place so that there is minimum loss of life, livelihood, property and impact to the environment.

  6. Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) Top

RDD is not a Weapon of Mass Destruction; at worst it can be called a Weapon of Mass Disruption. Explosion of an RDD would not result in fatalities due to radiation. The fatalities, if any, would primarily be due to the associated explosion. However, it may contaminate a reasonably large area, besides it's main potential of causing panic and disruption. The spreading of air-borne radioactivity and it's radiological impact depends, inter-alia, on the size, nature and quantity of radioactive and explosive materials used.

  7. Improvised Nuclear Device (IND) Top

Similarly, malicious use of Special Nuclear Material (whose accessibility is not as wide spread as that of radioisotopes), when used in the form of IND, is yet another issue that deserves our attention. Successful explosion of an IND may have catastrophic effect similar to that of a nuclear weapon.

  8. An Orphan Radioactive Source Top

A radioactive source which is not under the regulatory control is termed as an orphan source. A radioactive source being found, lost, stolen or abandoned may also lead to an emergency situation. Most of these sources will be in the category of orphan sources.

  9. Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies - Approach Top

9.1 These guidelines propose four pronged strategy for a holistic management, viz.

  1. The framework to be supported on prominent mainstays like prevention, mitigation, compliance to regulatory requirements, preparedness, response etc where prevention is assigned highest priority;
  2. The existing legal framework to be strengthened through various legal and regulatory means, wherever required;
  3. The framework is to be institutionalized through creation of NDMA at National Level, Creation of SDMAs at the state level and creation of DDMAs at the district level;
  4. The framework will be implemented by strengthening the existing action plans, or by preparing new action plans, wherever required, at national, state and district levels.

  10. Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies - Present Status Top

10.1 Atomic energy regulatory board

  • Atomic energy regulatory board (AERB) is the Nuclear Regulatory Authority in the country which, ensures that while the beneficial aspects of nuclear programme and use of ionizing radiation are fully exploited, their use does not cause undue risk to public health and the environment. It has powers, not only to license the operation of a facility but also to order partial or full shutdown of the facility that violates it's guidelines. Operation of a new or existing nuclear power plant or a radiation facility is permitted only when preparedness plans are in place for the postulated emergency scenarios. All functions/operations during entire life time i. e. from siting to decommissioning of the nuclear/radiological plants under Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) are as per the AERB regulations. It is mandatory for the nuclear power plant (NPP) operators to periodically conduct on-site and off-site emergency exercises.
  • For all radiation facilities outside the nuclear fuel cycle, having potential of high exposure, compliance to AERB guidelines and availability of property qualified Radiological Safety Officers (RSOs) ensure the required safety.

10.2 Level of Emergency preparedness at nuclear facilities

  • Based on the severity of the emergencies, detailed emergency response plans are in place at all the nuclear facilities and are functional during entire life time of the facility.
  • To cope with an off-site emergency at a nuclear power plant, if any, detailed response plans are put in place by the Collector of the concerned district in association with the plant authorities. Periodic mock drills/exercises involving the community are to be held to ensure the quality of the preparedness.
  • During an actual emergency at any of the DAE facility, the Crisis Management Group (CMG) of DAE activates the emergency response and coordinates with other agencies.
  • Monitoring and response support coverage is being enhanced through 18 numbers of Emergency Response Centers (ERCs) established by BARC.

10.3 Disaster management continuum

  • While preparing the guidelines the general principles of handling the disaster management are followed. Guidelines propose a holistic approach for Nuclear Emergency Management Framework that assigns the highest priority to prevention, mitigation and compliance to regulatory requirements, while strengthening preparedness, capacity development, response etc. [Figure 1] outlines this concept. It will be implemented through strengthening of the existing action plans and/or by preparing new action plans at national, state and district levels by the stakeholders at all levels of administration.

  11. Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies - Prevention Top

11.1 Prevention assigned highest priority at NPP

  • By adopting the best available technologies and practices to build and operate all engineered systems, during the entire lifecycle of the facilities with strict compliance with the regulatory framework of AERB and
  • By following the defence-in-depth approach to build all safety systems based on diverse working principles and with adequate redundancy. All Indian nuclear power plants have all the five levels of defence incorporated.
  • Figure 1: Disaster management continuum

    Click here to view

11.2 Physical protection against terrorist attack and sabotage in nuclear facilities

  • Elaborate physical protection systems and in-built structural barriers and safety systems of the nuclear facilities reduce vulnerability against terrorist attacks as well as sabotage. However, emergency scenarios arising due to such activities by disgruntled or antinational elements cannot be totally ruled out.

11.3 Prevention of RDD and IND Incidents

  • Through strict accountability of special nuclear materials and implementation of the regulatory requirements regarding security and safety of radioactive sources throughout the country.
  • Enhancing Security at Radiation Facilities and also during Transportation of Radioactive Materials (to ensure that these do not go "out of control" by any deliberate act of theft or sabotage leading to a potential radiation hazard to the public).

11.4 Mitigation at nuclear facilities

  • In-built safety measures, combined with operational and administrative safety procedures prevent the chances of radiation accidents in the nuclear facilities and if not, mitigate the impact in the event of an accident, if any.

  12. Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies - Gap Analysis and Capacity Development Top

12.1 National Guidelines - Areas of Focus

  • AERB has the mandate for issuance of licenses for operation of nuclear and radiological facilities and ensuring compliance with the applicable standards and codes. Since the number of radiation applications in various areas is growing continuously along with the growth of nuclear power programmes, AERB will analyze the need of opening of regional regulatory centers to share the volume of regulatory work by decentralizing and delegating the regulatory powers.
  • A reactor accident is prevented by the design philosophy of defence-in- depth, where several levels of protection and multiple barriers are provided. Various engineered safety features and accident management procedures are in place in a nuclear facility for minimizing the impact of a nuclear emergency. With the advent of new technologies these should be upgraded periodically.
  • Eight specially trained and equipped battalions of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are being operationalised for emergency response. These battalions are being trained to handle various types of nuclear/radiological emergencies.
  • The first responders, viz., NDRF, Police, Fire & Emergency Services, Medicos, Civil Defence, Home Guards etc. should be fully equipped with radiation monitoring instruments and safety gears and integrated into the emergency preparedness programme.
  • In the event of any nuclear/radiological emergency in public domain, the Crisis Management Group (CMG) of DAE is immediately activated. It coordinates with the local authority and National Executive Committee (NEC) and National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) for necessary technical and administrative inputs. NDMA will coordinate at the national level.
  • NEC and NCMC, with technical support from DAE, will prepare the detailed National Plan for handling of nuclear emergencies; in consultation with various stakeholders as per the Guidelines and also all the central ministries/departments will make their own DM plans at the earliest.
  • Eighteen numbers of Emergency Response Centres (ERCs) to handle nuclear/radiological emergencies at nuclear facilities or in public domain have been established by BARC. However, this number is too small for a country like India. More number of ERCs should be opened.
  • With the assistance of the NDMA, police will set up Additional Emergency Response Centres (AERCs) using mobile monitoring vans in all major cities with population of 20 lakhs or more and the other vulnerable areas.
  • There is a big shortage of trained doctors as well as the medical facilities to handle radiation emergency cases. Medical professionals are to be trained to work in radiation environment and to treat radiation injuries. Medical Facilities are also to be upgraded at various metros and other big cities. Sufficient stock of essential medicines is to be procured on priority.
  • The senior staff members of para-military forces have been trained by BARC and DRDO who in turn will train bulk of the first responders. This process should be expedited and training facilities be augmented considerably.
  • Civil-Military co-ordination to be comprehensively developed so that the services of the select groups of armed forces may be called for, to augment the coping capability of the civil administration during any major nuclear accident.
  • Intervention Levels (for Rescue and Relief Operation by the first responders) and Action Levels (for Control of contaminated Food Consumption in the affected area) should be made available.
  • Dedicated and Reliable Communication Network (e.g., National Disaster Communication Network) with adequate diversity and redundancy with special emphasis on the last-mile connectivity during emergency be established.
  • Development of GIS-based emergency preparedness programme is needed for effective response to any emergency.
  • Possible places of Shelters and Provision of Hygiene Facilities in large metros and vulnerable areas are to be identified and plans for their conversion to shelters, with proper hygiene, within reasonable time-frame are to be kept ready. Community centres, marriage halls, schools, colleges, cinema halls etc can be considered for the purpose.
  • It is likely that existing stock of food and water (stored in open) in the affected area may get contaminated. Therefore alternate Sources of food and water are to be identified in advance and included in the plan (to avoid use of the contaminated food and water).
  • Network of Adequate Transport Vehicles and Good Motorable Roads along the evacuation routes should be planned.
  • Monitors at Entry/Exit Points of the Country and Training of the Security Personnel to prevent the smuggling/illegal trafficking of the radioactive materials be taken up on priority.
  • Strengthening of regulatory and security aspects at industries, hospitals etc. is needed, particularly in the present scenario.
  • Community Development: Due to the fact that one cannot see, feel or smell the presence of radiation, coupled with lack of credible and authentic information on radiation and radiation emergencies, even a minor nuclear incident is invariably linked with the sad memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or with the reactor accidents at TMI and Chernobyl. By carrying out proper public awareness programmes, efforts should be made to allay the fears of the community about nuclear radiation and their ownership be ensured in the emergency preparedness plans.

  13. Response to Nuclear/Radiological Emergencies Top

13.1 Objective

The response to nuclear/radiological emergencies has it's own objectives and principles such as mitigation of accidents at source; prevention of deterministic health effects in individuals; providing first aid and treatment of injuries; reducing the probability of stochastic effects in the population; reduction of the psychological impact on the population and protection of environment and property, all within the constraints of available resources.

This response has many elements in common with the response to other man-made and natural disasters, in terms of services like medical, fire & emergency services, police, civil defence etc. However, some special features of nuclear emergency will need to be taken care of additionally.

The response to an emergency will always be commensurate with the level of the hazard.

Timely and effective medical response is a crucial component in reducing the morbidity and mortality on the one hand and alleviating the fears and sufferings of the affected population on the other hand.

13.2 Response organisation

The planning and preparedness for response to a radiological emergency will be integrated with the planning for response to all types of conventional emergencies like fire, flood, cyclone, earthquake, tsunami, etc. and involve local administration and state and national agencies for the purpose. The preparation for response to all these hazards should be structured into a coherent and interlocking system. At the top level, there will be a national emergency plan for an integrated response to any combination of hazards of which a National Nuclear/Radiation Emergency Plan, to be prepared by the National Executive Committee (with technical support from DAE) will be a subset. This plan will describe the concept of operations, roles and responsibilities of all the responding organisations and their inter-relationships. The next level will comprise of plans developed by the state governments, district collectors and facility operators. The final level will work out the SOPs for handling emergencies. To have an effective response during an actual emergency, these plans will be rehearsed periodically with the participation of all the concerned agencies. It will be endeavour of the plant authorities and the local administration that the shortcomings observed during the rehearsal are rectified to prevent their recurrence in future.

Smaller facilities where emergency will be confined to plant premises only will make their own response plan and get it approved by AERB.

13.3 Response actions during a nuclear/radiological emergency situation

Following are the general response actions to be taken in case of nuclear/radiological emergencies. However, no two situations are identical, therefore responders will have to use their knowledge, expertise and experience to deal with the situation as it unfolds. Depending on the type and magnitude of the emergency, some or all of these actions are to be initiated at the appropriate time.

  1. Recognise the existence of an abnormal situation and respond quickly;
  2. Identify and characterise the source and it's origin;
  3. Initiate a quick and reliable monitoring methodology to detect the onset of an accident/emergency condition and assess it's magnitude;
  4. Depending upon the severity of the accident/emergency inform the concerned local, state and national agencies in this order.
  5. Communicate the situation to the first responders namely; fire fighting, medical services, police, civil defence, transport and other agencies;
  6. Rapid and continuous assessment, and future projections of the emergency situation as it develops;
  7. Estimate the radiation dose via the relevant pathways;
  8. Determine the areas where countermeasures are required;
  9. Predict the development of a contamination situation and of the consequences of protective measures in time and space;
  10. Mobilise resources at short notice;
  11. Initiate countermeasures at the earliest;
  12. If required, distribute Iodine tablets at the earliest (Iodine prophylaxis);
  13. Ensure that all concerned ministries/departments of the Government of India, state governments and district administrations are aware of the precise measures to be taken by them as the situation develops and also that the actions taken by the various agencies are well coordinated;
  14. xiv. As more and more monitoring data is received, it is likely that the initial estimates of the dose levels, contamination levels and the area affected may undergo change. Based on the latest data apply mid-course correction to your plans to make them more effective.
  15. Send prior information (in respect of dos and don'ts) to those likely to be affected by the accident/emergency.
  16. Other important actions include:
    • Evacuation/temporary relocation of the affected population, if required;
    • Withdrawal and substitution of supplies of food and drinking water (based on actual measurement of contamination found in food and drinking water);
    • Animal husbandry and agriculture department personnel to ensure radiological protection following a nuclear emergency;
    • Initiation of the recovery phase at an appropriate time.

  14. Conclusions Top

The guidelines specify that in a phased manner by building the capacity in the country, we can minimize the impact of nuclear and radiological emergencies if at all they occur. For this, the national guidelines are to be implemented at various levels of administrations by the respective stakeholders. Several technical and administrative recommendations have been made which are to be implemented in "all hazards" approach with assistance from the nuclear/radiological specialists that will build disaster resilience in the society through a holistic approach to disaster management. It is also brought out that in future in addition to normal plant accidents, we may have to deal with cases of RDD or IND explosion or state sponsored terrorism also.

Implementation of the guidelines will help us to realise our national vision namely - to prevent nuclear and radiological emergencies, which are essentially man-made in nature. However, in rare cases of their occurrence, due to natural or man-made factors beyond human control, such emergencies will be so managed through certain pre-planned and established structural and non-structural measures by the various stakeholders, as to minimise risks to health, life, livelihood, property and environment.

  15. Acknowledgements Top

Thanks are due to Sh. B. Bhattacharjee, Hon'ble Member, NDMA for guidance and support during preparation of this article.

  16. Reference Top

  1. NDMA Guidelines on Management of Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies, Feb. 2009, NDMA, New Delhi.


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  In this article
1. Introduction
2. Paradigm Shif...
3. India's Nucle...
4. Public Percep...
5. Classificatio...
6. Radiological ...
7. Improvised Nu...
8. An Orphan Rad...
9. Nuclear and R...
10. Nuclear and ...
13. Response to ...
14. Conclusions
15. Acknowledgements
16. Reference
11. Nuclear and ...
12. Nuclear and ...
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