Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to navigation Skip directly to site content Skip directly to page options
CDC Home

More Information on Types of Radiation Emergencies

Radiation emergencies may be intentional (e.g., caused by terrorists) or unintentional. Below is more information on some examples of different types of radiation emergencies.



Nuclear Emergencies

What is an Improvised Nuclear Device (IND)?

  • A nuclear emergency involves the explosion of a nuclear weapon or improvised nuclear device (IND).
  • The explosion produces an intense pulse of heat, light, air pressure, and radiation.
  • Nuclear explosions produce fallout (radioactive materials that can be carried long distances by the wind).

What are the main dangers of an Improvised Nuclear Device (IND)?

An IND would cause great destruction, death and injury, and have a wide area of impact.

People close to the blast site could experience:

  • Injury or death (as a result of the blast)
  • Moderate to severe burns
  • Flash blindness
  • Radiation Sickness (also called acute radiation syndrome or ARS)
  • Contaminated food and water sources

The best way to protect yourself if an IND explodes is to Get Inside, Stay Inside, and Stay Tuned.



Dirty Bomb or Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD)

What is a dirty bomb?

  • A dirty bomb is a mix of explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive powder or pellets. It is also known as a radiological dispersal device (RDD).
  • A dirty bomb cannot create an atomic blast like an improvised nuclear device or nuclear weapon.
  • When the dirty bomb explodes, the blast carries radioactive material into the surrounding area.

What is the main danger of a dirty bomb?

  • The main danger from a dirty bomb comes from the explosion, not the radiation.
  • The explosion from a dirty bomb can cause serious injuries and property damage.
  • Only people who are very close to the blast site would be exposed to enough radiation to cause immediate serious illness. However, the radioactive dust and smoke can spread farther away and could be dangerous to health if people breathe in the dust, eat contaminated food, or drink contaminated water.

The best way to protect yourself if a dirty bomb explodes is to Get Inside, Stay Inside, and Stay Tuned.



Radiological Exposure Device (RED)

What is a Radiological Exposure Device (RED)?

  • Radioactive material could be hidden from sight to expose people to radiation without their knowledge. These devices are called Radiological Exposure Devices (RED), or hidden sealed sources.
  • REDs could be hidden from sight in a public place (e.g. under a subway seat, in a food court, or in a busy hallway). People who sit or pass close to the site of a RED could be exposed to radiation.

What are the main dangers of an RED?

  • The dangers of a Radiological Exposure Device depend on:
    • The type and amount of radioactive material
    • How long people were near the device
    • What parts of their bodies were exposed
  • People exposed to high levels of radiation could develop symptoms of acute radiation syndrome (ARS), or could develop radiation burns.
  • Health effects may take hours, days, or weeks to appear. These effects range from mild to severe effects, such as death or cancer. Some people may not experience any health effects.

Report a suspected Radiological Exposure Device to law enforcement officials immediately. Stay as far away from the suspected RED as possible. If a RED is identified, and you believe you have been exposed, listen for instructions from emergency officials and contact your doctor.



Nuclear Power Plant Accident

Nuclear power plants have safety and security procedures in place and are closely monitored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). An accident at a nuclear power plant could release dangerous levels of radiation over an area (called a plume).

What are the main dangers of a nuclear power plant accident?

  • Radioactive materials in the plume from the nuclear power plant can settle and contaminate people who are outdoors, buildings, food, water, and livestock.
  • Radioactive materials can also get inside the body if people breathe it in, or eat or drink something that is contaminated.
  • People living close to the nuclear power plant who are exposed to radiation could experience long-term health effects such as cancer.

What should I do to protect myself?

  • If you live near a nuclear power plant, you can get emergency information materials from the power company that operates your local nuclear power plant or your local emergency services office. If a nuclear power plant accident happens, the best thing to do is to Get Inside, Stay Inside, and Stay Tuned for instructions from emergency officials.


Transportation Accidents

How is radioactive material transported?

  • Radioactive material is transported by trucks, rail, and other shipping methods.
  • Shipments involving significant amounts of radioactive material are required to have documentation, labels, and placards identifying the cargo as radioactive.

What are the main dangers of a transportation accident involving radiation?

  • The main dangers of transportation accidents involving radiation are contact with and exposure to radioactive material.
  • It is very unlikely that accidents involving transport of radioactive material will cause any radiation-related injuries or illnesses. Emergency officials have plans in place to safely respond to transportation accidents involving radioactive material.

What should I do to protect myself?

  • Report any transportation accidents involving radiation to emergency responders immediately. Stay as far away from the site of the accident as possible. Do not touch any cargo from the transport container.
  • If you believe you have been exposed, listen for instructions from emergency officials and contact your doctor.


Occupational Accidents

Workplaces like health care facilities, research institutions, and various manufacturing operations use radiation sources. If radiation sources are used improperly, or if there are malfunctions of safety controls, accidents can happen.

How can an occupational accident involving radiation affect people's health?

The health effects from an occupational accident involving radiation could range from no health effects to very serious health effects based on several factors:

  • The type and amount of radioactive material
  • How long people were near the radioactive material or how long the radioactive material was in or on the body
  • How close people were to the radioactive material
  • What parts of the body were exposed

What should I do to protect myself?

  • If you work in an occupation that uses radiation sources, be familiar with safety precautions and procedures and complete required radiation safety trainings.
  • Report any occupational accidents involving radiation to safety officials immediately. Stay as far away from the site of the accident as possible.
  • If you believe you have been exposed, listen for instructions from safety officials and contact your doctor.
 

Ready: Prepare. Plan. Stay Informed.

 
Contact Us:
USA.gov: The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   1600 Clifton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30333, USA
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348 - Contact CDC-INFO