NBC - Nuclear, Biological, Chemical

Chemical hazards are the unintended or deliberate release of a substance that is potentially harmful to humans or the environment (e.g. nerve and blistering agents, toxic industrial chemicals).

Biological hazards, according to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (1972), include germs, toxins and viruses that can sicken or kill people, livestock, or crops (UNODA, 1972).

Nuclear hazards involve the accidental or intentional release of potentially harmful radioactive materials from nuclear fission or fusion, such as those associated with  power plants, research reactors or nuclear weapons (HIP; IFRC).

Chemical spills and leaks can be sudden and acute, when hazardous chemicals are 'overtly' released into the environment, Some chemical leaks may also result in fires, explosions and contamination of land. The factors leading up to an incident include poor maintenance of manufacturing and storage equipment, lack of regulation and/or poor enforcement of safety regulations, road traffic accidents, human error, and natural events (WHO).

Accidents in nuclear power plants can lead to contamination of territories over thousands of square kilometres over tens to hundreds of year by alpha-, beta- and gamma- radiation, requiring zoning and evacuation measures (NCRP, 2010).

The Code of Condust on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources (the Code) was established to achieve and maintain a high level of safety and security of radioactive sources across the globe. The IAEA Preventive Measures for Nuclear and Other Radioactive Material out of Regulatory Control serves as a guidance document for Member States interested in strengthening their nuclear security regime as it relates to nuclear and other radioactive materials out of regulatory control and in improving their capabilities.

Risk reduction measures

Chemical hazards

  • Being aware of chemical incident related hazards.
  • Location chemical sites away from centres of population.
  • Registration of all chemicals in commercial establishments with a hazard inventory to ensure rapid identification of the released chemical.
  • Regular evaluation of plans and their implementation.
  • Public authorities, at all levels, and the management staff of installations where hazardous chemicals are produced and stored, should establish emergency preparedness plans (WHO; National CBRN Centre, 2016).

Nuclear hazards

Protective actions to prevent or reduce radiation exposure in the case of a radiation emergency situation depend on the type of emergency and may include:

  • Taking shelter.
  • Evacuation or even permanent relocation from an affected area.
  • Restriction of consumption of contaminated food or water.
  • Monitoring and measuring radiation in affected people and the environment.
  • Securing radioactive sources and cleaning up affected areas (IAEA, 2021).

Other risk management measures include (IAEA, 2021):

  • Safe sitting, design and construction of nuclear power plants as well as controls and back up measures for their safe operation and radioactive waste management and isolation from the geoenvironment.
  • Security measures to control access to supply and use of radiation sources.
  • Facility, local and national multisectoral radiation emergency response plans for a range of scenarios from low-level exposure to a significant release of radioactivity.

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