Hazards: Radiation (CBRN)


CBRN icon

A radiation threat, commonly referred to as a dirty bomb or radiological dispersion device (RDD), is the use of common explosives to spread radioactive materials over a targeted area.

While the blast will be immediately obvious, the presence of radiation will not be clearly defined until trained personnel with specialized equipment are on the scene. Radiation emergencies may be unplanned or intentional acts, such as with terrorism.

More information on Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear (CBRN) hazards.

What to Do

If a radiation emergency happens near where people live or work, you can take immediate action to protect yourself, your loved ones, and others around you. This kind of emergency could be a dirty bomb or nuclear explosion, a nuclear power plant accident, or a transportation accident. These actions will protect people in a radiation emergency:

  • Get inside and stay inside an undamaged building.
    • If possible, turn off all ventilation systems, such as air conditioners or heaters and close and seal all windows and doors.
  • After finding safe shelter, those who may have been exposed to radioactive material should decontaminate themselves.
    • To do this, remove and bag your clothing (and isolate the bag away from you and others), and shower thoroughly with soap and water.
    • Seek medical attention after officials indicate it is safe to leave shelter.
  • Stay informed for updates and instructions.

Emergency workers and local officials are trained to respond to different types of situations and will give you specific instructions to keep you safe.

Radiation Emergency Types

Intentional acts include:

  • Contaminating food/water with radioactive material
  • Spreading radioactive material into the environment
    • Using conventional explosives (e.g., dynamite) – this is called a dirty bomb
    • Using wind currents or natural traffic patterns
  • Bombing or destroying a nuclear reactor
  • Causing a truck/train carrying nuclear material to spill its load

Unplanned acts include:


Related Information



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