Emergency Preparedness and Response

Government response to a radiation emergency should be the same as the response to any emergency involving hazardous materials.

Suggested Advice on Immediate Actions for the Prevention and Mitigation of Radioactive Contamination of Agricultural Foodstuffs
If the radioactive contamination is expected to include 131I, the immediate action should be to consider stopping local milk consumption until levels of 131I contamination have been established.
If possible, detailed information and instructions should be obtained from the relevant government authority. However, if there is time before direct radioactive fallout (airborne, rainfall) reaches your area, undertake the following immediate measures:

→ PROTECT growing vegetables and animal fodder - cover with plastic sheets or tarpaulins;
→ BRING livestock in from pasture - move animals into a shed or barn;
→ HARVEST any ripe crops and place under cover.

Unless told to do otherwise:

→ Do not consume locally produced milk or vegetables;
→ Do not slaughter animals;
→ Do not process or distribute food products;
→ Do not fish, hunt or gather mushrooms or other forest foods.

Other actions to consider:

→ Prevent the ingestion of contaminated herbage by grazing animals;
→ Avoid direct contamination of food or agricultural products;
→ House animals which would normally be grazing outdoors and provide uncontaminated forage;
→ Prohibit hunting, fishing, mushroom collection, and consumption of vegetables and water derived from surface water or precipitation.

In potentially contaminated areas:

→ Do not use water for irrigation;
→ Avoid direct contamination of food or agricultural products;
→ Do not burn vegetation or any material stored outdoors, including firewood;
→ Do not create dust, i.e., by soil tillage.

More information is provided under countermeasures.

Emergency Preparedness

Many misconceptions prevail concerning the risks from radiation exposure and radiation emergencies, which can lead to decision making and public actions that do more harm than good. Therefore, preplanning on the basis of established principles of radiation protection and safety is essential.

Convention on Early Notification of a nuclear accident
The Accident State must notify and provide information to potentially affected Sates and the IAEA. The IAEA must report the notification and provide information to Member States and International organizations.

Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency
Any national Government may request emergency assistance including: assessment and advice; field assistance, including monitoring; and medical treatment. The IAEA provides/brokers assistance through RANET and relevant international organizations, including FAO.

The Joint Plan [pdf]
The Inter-Agency Committee on Response to Nuclear Accidents (IACRNA) co-ordinates arrangements for response by relevant International Organizations.

Co-operative arrangements between FAO and IAEA for information exchange and technical support in relation to food and agriculture in the case of a nuclear or radiological emergency
Describes a common understanding of the practical arrangements between FAO and IAEA for notification, information exchange and provision of technical support in relation to food and agriculture in the case of a nuclear or radiological emergency and its aftermath.


Accidental or malicious releases of radionuclides into the environment threatens life and disrupts socio-economic development. The scope typically involves local events but these may result in international or even global consequences. The nature, occurrence, or consequences of such events are not foreseeable. Thus Governments have to develop and implement emergency plans to mitigate the impact of such events. FAO and IAEA are full parties to the early notification and assistance conventions. IAEA coordinates these activities internationally.

FAO will assist Member States with their requests to respond effectively to nuclear emergencies  through the provision of training support, and the development, co-ordination and implementation of procedures and response mechanisms. The programme will also cater to international co-ordination of FAO's activities with relevant UN and other international agencies, in particular b the IAEA.

The main long-term objectives of the Emergency Response Activities are:

  • To develop and improve Members' capabilities to respond nuclear or radiological emergencies;
  • To co-ordinate FAO activities with those of other relevant international agencies to ensure optimum programme effectiveness.

Programme organization

FAO and IAEA each have comparative advantages in responding to nuclear emergencies. The comparative advantages of FAO include (i) its technical and operational capacity to contribute to coordinated international intervention in the event of a nuclear disaster and (ii) the network of national FAO representative offices covering 128 countries which would play a significant role in assisting FAO member countries in the development of national nuclear emergency preparedness and response plans for agriculture. The comparative advantage of IAEA is a finely honed emergency response centre (ERC), laboratories and scientific network. The signing into force of the FAO IAEA Arrangement marked an important step in realizing these complementary activities. The Arrangement assigns responsibilities and outlines the operational aspects for information exchange between FAO and IAEA in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency affecting agriculture.

FAO's Emergency Coordination Group, through the priority area for interdisciplinary action REHAB (Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Preparedness and Post-Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation) oversees the implementation of the arrangement for FAO. A network of technical experts was formed on February 14, 2003 to develop and implement the relevant REHAB tasks. The Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture is FAO's focal point under the FAO IAEA Arrangement and is expected to man the FAO desk in the IAEA Emergency Response Centre. Operationally, the Special Emergency Programmes Service (TCES) is FAO's operational focal point responsible for responding to nuclear emergencies related to food safety and security.