Preparing for nuclear or radiological emergencies

Preparing for nuclear or radiological emergencies is important to protect a safe and secure food chain. Preparedness for a nuclear or radiological emergency means preparing for contamination prevention and ensuring product safety. With sufficient and effective protective action, food products ending up with consumers are safe and financial losses are minimised.

Even if external radiation dose rates do not rise much above the normal prevailing radiation level during a nuclear or radiological emergency, foodstuffs may eventually contain enough radioactive material to exceed accepted levels, which would prevent them from being placed on the market. This is why the protection of primary food and animal feed production as well as food premises should be initiated as soon as possible, and why protective measures must be in place before radioactive materials arrive in the region. The more comprehensive and efficient the protective measures, the smaller the harm caused by a nuclear or radiological emergency.

Guidelines for the entire food chain

The guidelines compiled by the Finnish Food Authority and the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) provide a concise description of the measures that can be taken in primary food production and food premises to prepare for nuclear or radiological emergencies.

Instructions on the protection measures to be taken before the arrival and after the passing of a radioactive plume are given separately. Specific actions suitable for different types of farms and food premises should be considered in advance – not when a nuclear or radiological incident has already occurred.

The protective actions to be taken before the arrival of a radioactive plume help prevent contamination. Contamination can be likened to very fine, invisible dust from which people, animals, plants, animal feed and foodstuffs must be protected. In primary food protection, protective actions are targeted at workers, production animals, feeds, animal drinking water, production facilities and various plantations. In addition to personnel, protective actions at food premises are aimed at prepared food products, their raw ingredients, and the spaces, equipment and instruments used for their preparation, transport, handling and storage.  After the passing of a radioactive plume, essential actions in primary production include those preventing contamination of primary produce by radioactive fallout on the soil and other surfaces. The crucial measures at food premises in the intermediate stage include cleaning the premises and ensuring safe levels of radiation in products.

The safety of food must be guaranteed

The safety of the products supplied for sale during a nuclear or radiological emergency must be ensured throughout the incident. Foodstuffs will be set activity concentration limits, which products placed on the market may not exceed. Activity concentration levels are set at Community level by the European Commission or at a national level by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry decree. Recommendations and restrictions may also be set for various natural products if their activity concentration levels exceed the set limit.

Protective actions and other measures should be taken only at the instruction of authorities and based on their recommendations. Naturally, preparedness for protection measures must be initiated independently as soon as information of a potential nuclear or radiological emergency threatening the region is received. Authorities monitor nuclear or radiological emergencies and issue guidelines and recommendations on what actions must be taken, when, and in which areas. Food safety authorities will issue more specific instructions on protective actions as necessary.

Page last updated 1/16/2023