In order to protect the public and the environment, the German authorities adopt safety precautions aimed at minimising the effects of incidents or accidents at nuclear facilities – including facilities located in neighbouring European countries – which cause the release of radioactive substances into the environment.

Nuclear emergency preparedness and response, also termed emergency management below, means the range of measures taken to protect the public from the effects of incidents and emergencies at nuclear facilities which cause the release of radioactive substances. Like nuclear emergency preparedness and response, incidents involving radioactive material outside of nuclear facilities are considered radiological events. For example, radioactive sources may go missing, or lost (orphan) sources – i.e. ones which are no longer under proper regulatory control – may be discovered. Accidents involving the transport (and subsequent release) of radioactive materials are also classed as radiological events.

Defence against nuclear hazards (Nuklearspezifische Gefahrenabwehr, NGA) is different from emergency management. It involves preparing for and responding to situations in which radioactive material is out of regulatory control, particularly when it is being sold or used maliciously.

With regard to nuclear facilities, a distinction is made between on-site and off-site emergency management.

On-site emergency management includes all technical and organisational measures taken within a nuclear facility to prevent, or at least minimise, any release of radioactive substances. On-site emergency management is the responsibility of the facility operator and is subject to licensing and supervision by the authorities. If an emergency arises, the operator must notify the competent authorities immediately, as soon as the defined conditions for triggering an alert are met (alert criteria).

Off-site measures are only required if the on-site emergency response fails completely or partially.

Off-site emergency management includes all measures taken outside the nuclear facility to protect the public and the environment from the effects of a release of radioactive substances above permissible limits or at levels exceeding those specified in the alert criteria. Off-site emergency management is the responsibility of the competent authorities.