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Radiation Protection

Radiological Emergency Response: Authorities

From "dirty bombsHelpdirty bombA mix of explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive powder or pellets. Also known as a radiological dispersal device (RDD). A dirty bomb is not a nuclear weapon." to foreign radiological releases, the EPA has the ability and authority to respond to many different types of radiological incidents. Whether leading or assisting in a response, members of the EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team are available to support.

On this page:


According to the Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex (NRIA) (PDF)(181 pp, 3.30 MB, October 2016, About PDF), EPA is the federal Agency with primary authority in several different incident scenarios.

The following table, adapted from the NRIA, shows different types of radiological incidents and the federal agency in charge of leading the federal response.

Incident Type, Facilities, or Materials Involved Primary Authority for Federal Response

Nuclear Facilities that are:

  • Owned or operated by the DOD
  • Owned or operated by the DOE
  • Licensed by the NRC or an NRC Agreement State1
  • Not licensed, owned, or operated by a federal agency, an NRC Agreement State or currently or formerly licensed facilities for which the owner/operator is not financially viable or is otherwise unable to respond
  • DOD
  • DOE
  • NRC
  • EPA

Nuclear Weapons and Components that are:

  • In the custody of the DOD
  • In the custody of the DOE
  • DOD
  • DOE

Radioactive Materials Being Transported:

  • By or for the DOD
  • By or for the DOE
  • Containing NRC or NRC Agreement State licensed materials
  • Within certain areas of the coastal zone that are not licensed or owned by a federal agency or an NRC Agreement State
  • All others
  • DOD
  • DOE
  • NRC
  • USCG
  • EPA

Radioactive Materials in Space Vehicles Impacting the United States that are:

  • Managed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • Managed by the DOD
  • Not managed by the DOD or the NASA and impacting certain areas of the coastal zone
  • All others
  • NASA
  • DOD
  • USCG
  • EPA

Disused and Unwanted Sealed Sources with no Disposition Pathway:

  • Off-Site Source Recovery
  • DOE

Unknown or Unlicensed Materials, and Domestic Response to Foreign Materials and International Incidents:

  • Certain areas of the coastal zone
  • Outside certain areas of the coastal zone
  • Imported contaminated consumer products that are distributed before detection
  • Inadvertently imported radioactive materials
  • USCG
  • EPA
  • EPA
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Inadvertent Incidents Involving Lost/Found/Orphaned Radioactive Material DOE/NNSA
U.S. Assistance to Foreign Governments for Incidents with International Impacts
  • U.S. Government assistance to foreign government response and recovery efforts
All deliberate attacks involving nuclear/radiological facilities or materials (e.g., RDDs, INDs) DHS

Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism Operations Related to the Incidents in this Table:

It is the policy of the United States that until otherwise determined by the Attorney General, generally acting through the FBI Director, any weapon of mass destruction (WMD) incident will be treated as an actual terrorist incident.

Note: DHS/FEMA may be called upon to lead or provide supplemental operational coordination support for the primary authority during complex incidents.

1 For incidents with offsite consequences, FEMA may assume coordination of the federal response. NRC remains the primary federal authority for onsite response.

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Response Plans and Authorities


Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, as amended (CERCLA)

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) applies to hazardous substances defined by other environmental laws. For example, since the Clean Air Act amendments list radionuclides as hazardous substances, they are covered by CERCLA.

CERCLA authorizes two kinds of response actions:

  • Short-term removal actions, which address actual or threatened releases requiring prompt response to protect human health or the environment at any site.
  • Long-term remedial actions which address actual or threatened releases that are serious, but not immediately life threatening. (EPA conducts long-term remedial response actions only at sites on the National Priority List, commonly known as Superfund sites).

National Contingency Plan (NCP)

CERCLA also enabled the revision of the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, more commonly called the National Contingency Plan (NCP). The NCP provided the guidelines and procedures needed to respond to releases and threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants. The NCP also established the National Priorities List.

Homeland Security

Stafford Act

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act was enacted to support state and local governments and their citizens when their resources are overwhelmed by the effects of a disaster. The law establishes the process for requesting and obtaining a Presidential disaster declaration, defines the type and scope of federal assistance available, and sets the conditions for obtaining assistance. When a Presidential disaster declaration is made under the Stafford Act, federal agencies respond in accordance with the National Response Framework.

National Response Framework (NRF)

The National Response Framework, or NRF, establishes a single, comprehensive approach to domestic incident management to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. The NRF provides the structure and mechanisms for national-level policy and operational direction for domestic incident management. It is an all-hazards plan built on the template of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF)

The National Disaster Recovery Framework (PDF)(59 pp, 907.94 K, June 2016 About PDF) is a guide that enables effective recovery support to disaster-impacted States, Tribes, Territorial and local jurisdictions. It focuses on how best to restore, redevelop and revitalize the health, social, economic, natural and environmental fabric of the community and build a more resilient Nation.

Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex

The Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex (PDF)(181 pp, 3.30 MB, October 2016 About PDFdescribes the policies, situations, concepts of operations, and responsibilities of the federal departments and agencies governing the immediate response and short-term recovery activities for incidents involving release of radioactive materials to address the consequences of the event.

Radiation Protection

Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and Public Health Service Act (PHSA)

Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970 transferred to EPA certain radiation authorities and responsibilities from other federal departments and agencies. The applicable authorities transferred include certain sections from the Public Health Service Act and the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). This includes the authorities of the Federal Radiation Council which were originally designated through Executive Order and later codified in the AEA. The Public Health Service Act provides EPA the authority to monitor environmental radiation levels and to provide technical assistance to the states and other federal agencies in planning for and responding to radiological emergencies. Under these and other authorities, EPA has a mission for publishing Protective Action Guides (PAGs), providing technical assistance to state and local governments, conducting long-term monitoring of ambient radiation levels, and taking other actions to prevent adverse effects to public health due from unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation.

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