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Types of Radiation Emergencies

Radiation emergencies may be intentional (e.g., caused by terrorists) or unintentional. Below are some examples of different types of radiation emergencies. Click on the icons to find out what to do if a radiation emergency happens in your area.


Illustration of an IND

Improvised Nuclear Device and Nuclear Weapons

  • A nuclear weapon is a device that uses a nuclear reaction to create an explosion.
  • An Improvised Nuclear Device (IND) is a type of nuclear weapon.
  • When an IND explodes, it gives off four types of energy: a blast wave, intense heat, light, and radiation.
  • Nuclear explosions produce fallout (radioactive materials that can be carried long distances by the wind).

Learn more about improvised nuclear devices and other nuclear weapons


Illustration of a dirty bomb

Dirty Bomb or Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD)

  • A dirty bomb (also known as a Radiological Dispersal Device or RDD) is a mix of explosives such as dynamite, with radioactive powder or pellets.
  • A dirty bomb cannot create an atomic blast.
  • When the explosives are set off, the blast carries radioactive material into the surrounding area.

Learn more about dirty bombs


Illustration of a radiological exposure device

Radiological Exposure Device (RED)

  • A Radiological Exposure Device or RED (also called a hidden sealed source) is made of or contains radioactive material.
  • REDs are hidden from sight to expose people to radiation without their knowledge.

Learn more about Radiological Exposure Devices (REDs)


Illustration of an power plant accident

Nuclear Power Plant Accident

  • An accident at a nuclear power plant could release radiation over an area.
  • Nuclear power plants have many safety and security procedures in place and are closely monitored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) External Web Site Icon

Learn more about nuclear power plant accidents


Illustration of a transportation accident

Transportation Accidents

  • It is very unlikely that a transportation accident involving radiation would result in any radiation-related injuries or illnesses.
  • Shipments involving significant amounts of radioactive material are required to have documentation, labels, and placards identifying their cargo as radioactive.

Learn more about transportation accidents


Illustration of an occupational accident

Workplace Radiation Incidents

  • Radiation sources are found in a wide range of settings such as health care facilities, research institutions, and industrial operations.
  • Accidents can occur if the radiation sources are stored or used incorrectly, or if safety controls malfunction.

Learn more about workplace radiation incidents


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