An information portal of the Federal government and the Länder

Off-site emergency management

Organisation and responsibilities

Germany has a federal system and therefore in the event of an emergency, the authorities and organisations at the various governmental levels cooperate to ensure that the public is adequately protected. If the emergency has occurred in Germany itself, this cooperation involves the facility operator as well.

The operator

Planning and implementing on-site emergency management measures is a matter for the nuclear facility operator. In accordance with the protective provisions of the German Atomic Energy Act (Atomgesetz– AtG) and section 51 of the Radiation Protection Ordinance, the operator is responsible, through on-site emergency planning, for ensuring that should an incident or accident occur, the dangers to the public and the environment are kept to a minimum.

Land and federal authorities

The Länder and federal authorities are responsible for planning off-site emergency management measures.

Depending on the federal state (Länder) concerned, responsibility for emergency management lies with one or more government ministries in their capacity as specialised authorities. They take decisions independently within the scope of their portfolio or provide advice to other Länder government ministries. In terms of responsibilities, a distinction is made between the following:

  • disaster control authorities,
  • nuclear supervisory authorities,
  • authorities responsible for radiation protection,
  • authorities responsible for affected fields and
  • departments subordinate to these authorities.

In some of the Länder, several of these functions may be performed by a single authority.

A nuclear accident may affect other areas outside the region where a disaster response is required, although there may be no immediate danger in these outlying areas. Medium-term and long-term measures should therefore always be considered in these regions. This requires intensive coordination between the Länder authorities responsible for managing the emergency and the federal and Länder authorities responsible for the medium-term and long-term measures.

NBC defence (NBC stands for nuclear, biological and chemical, new term in use - CBRN which stands for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence) is initially a matter for local agencies, such as the police and fire service. Depending on the situation, there may be a need to deploy other specialist units, such as specially trained fire-fighting teams with hazmat equipment or all-protected carrier vehicles. Radiation protection and other relevant authorities and external experts may also have a role to play.

During radiological events, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) may provide support, in the form of human resources and measuring equipment, to the authorities responsible for NGA and NBC defence. The federal government’s Central Nuclear Emergency Support Team (ZUB), which consists of special units of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), the Federal Police and the BfS, is also deployed if necessary.

Only one radiological situation report pursuant to section 108 of the Radiation Protection Act (StrlSchG) will be relevant for assessment of the radiological situation by all federal and Länder authorities in the case of supraregional and regional emergencies. This report will be drawn up by the government’s radiological situation centre for supraregional emergencies. In the case of regional emergencies drafting the report will generally be a task for the federal state in question. The federal government’s radiological situation centre (radiologische Lagezentrum des Bundes - RLZ) will be set up at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) as a network comprising the BMUV, BfS, the Federal Office for the Safety of the Nuclear Waste Management (BASE), the Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit (GRS) gGmbH, and the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) (section 106 StrlSchG). The centre’s other tasks will include interministerial coordination of protective measures, providing information to the public at national and international level and in the event of an emergency drawing up recommendations informing people on how to act.

Tasks of the radiological situation centre

The federal government’s radiological situation centre will be set up at the BMUV as a network comprising the BMUV, BfS, BASE, GRS and BBK and, depending on the nature of the emergency and allocation of responsibilities, will carry out the following tasks (section 106 StrlSchG):

  • collection, evaluation and documentation of data on regional and supraregional emergencies and coordination of federal and Länder measurements,
  • draw up a radiological situation report and make it available to affected federal and Länder authorities,
  • exchange of information on radiological situation and assessment with federal and Länder authorities as well as international authorities and institutions,
  • coordination of protective measures, measures for informing the public and emergency assistance with federal and Länder authorities and international authorities and institutions,
  • informing the public and in the event of an emergency drawing up recommendations informing people on how to act.

Measures to protect the public

Short-term measures (disaster control)

Short-term disaster control measures are aimed at immediate emergency response. The main purpose of disaster control is to prevent deterministic effects and reduce the risk of stochastic effects of ionising radiation.

Deterministic radiation effects refer to the immediate damage caused by acute high doses of radiation. Stochastic effects refer to damage which does not become apparent until much later and whose probability of occurrence increases with dose.

Disaster control primarily consists of short-term protective measures such as:

  • requesting the public to stay indoors to protect against radiation (sheltering),
  • distribution and intake of iodine tablets to reduce radiation exposure of the thyroid,
  • planned evacuation and
  • warning the general public not to consume freshly harvested food or fresh milk.

Medium-term and long-term measures

It cannot be ruled out that a nuclear incident or accident at home or abroad causes or has potential to cause contamination in Germany without requiring short term measures; this was the case following the Chernobyl disaster. However, medium-term and long-term measures may be required.

Medium-term and long-term measures include all measures taken to minimise stochastic effects i.e. to keep the individual and collective risk to the public below the intervention reference levels for disaster control (short-term measures). Setting maximum permitted levels of radioactive contamination in food is an example of a medium-term and long-term measure.

Further medium-term and long-term measures will be recommended or taken in the case of an incident and depending on the risk situation, such as:

  • practical advice for the general public (e.g. avoid spending time outdoors; keep doors and windows closed)
  • advice for the farming community (e.g. bring livestock indoors, harvest early), 
  • controls on the sale of food and feedstuffs,
  • wide-scale decontamination or
  • long-term resettlement of residents.