Radiological protection during armed conflict: Improving regulatory resilience and operational applications
Background and context

While the ongoing war in Ukraine has not thus far resulted in any major radiological threats to public health and safety, it is the first time in history that a country with significant nuclear and radiological capacities has been engaged in armed conflict. These events raise unprecedented questions about nuclear safety and security, as well as radiological protection and public health. The challenge for any country in an armed conflict situation is twofold: (1) to maintain and enhance the capability and capacity to effectively monitor, analyse and manage radiological protection and public health; and (2) to continuously anticipate consequences that such conflicts will have on the implementation of radiological protection regulation and practices. Ultimately, we must question whether the radiological protection systems and regulatory frameworks upon which countries rely to assure safety — which are not designed to be applied in wartime — have the resilience and adaptability to be applied during armed conflict. If these frameworks cannot adapt to armed conflict, then what measures are appropriate?


Building upon reflections of the NEA Committee on Radiological Protection and Public Health (CRPPH) and the existing joint co-operation between the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) and the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA), this workshop aimed to address prospective issues of radiological protection in the context of armed conflict — including potential radiological emergencies caused by war-related damage to nuclear and radiological facilities. The specific objectives were:

  1. To share knowledge and experience of the Ukrainian and the other participating national regulators, as well as relevant international organisations and associations, on the operational management and regulation of radiological protection and public health during and after armed conflict;
  2. To identify the challenges of maintaining or restoring radiation safety, including the involvement of different stakeholders and the consideration of all hazards, as well as the application of standard emergency preparedness, response actions during wartime, and post conflict recovery strategies;
  3. To develop proposals for further international collaboration in this area, to consider how to adapt the regulatory framework and practice for the radiological protection of workers, the public and the environment during wartime, taking into account the challenges and risks associated with armed conflict.
Topical sessions

The workshop addressed the following topics:

  • Environmental monitoring systems (EMS)

How to characterise the radiological situation? How to improve capacity and effectiveness in case of loss of power to equipment, damage to communication systems, etc.? What could be the substitute when EMS are not operational? Could citizen participation be an option?

  • Resilience practices from a human and organisational factor perspective

What are the practical measures that could be useful to consider with regards to supporting reliable human and organisational performance in exceptional and over extended periods where personnel safety, staffing levels, stress, lines of command and means of communication, and more, are under strain?  What personal risks should radiological protection staff be asked to take during armed conflict?

In the face of a lack of access and staff for safety inspections, what alternatives exist? Might practices developed during the COVID-19 pandemic be useful?

  • Radiological and nuclear emergencies and recovery during armed conflict: Practices in areas where recovery from past events is ongoing

How to adapt standards, plans and procedures for agreed protective actions e.g., evacuation, sheltering in place, iodine tablet distribution, as well as when and how to lift them; how to manage the radiological protection of workers and responders during hazardous work (for explosive ordnance squads, the retrieval of radiation sources from conflict areas, etc.)? How to manage radiological protection in territories/areas where recovery from previous events is ongoing (e.g., Chernobyl Exclusion Zone)? How to ensure that radiological workers continue to monitor exposures and receive the training necessary for the safe conduct of their tasks?

  • Forward thinking on how to make regulation and application of radiological protection more resilient and adaptable during and in the aftermath of conflict

This table top session aimed to put lessons learnt into perspective and support a prospective reflection on how to manage radiological protection in situations characterised by multiple risks - notably if a major radiological risk comes into play - and if communication and stakeholder engagement are disrupted.

A series of issues was discussed in small groups such as: How to make the regulatory framework flexible and agile to consider “risk-risk” trade-offs? How to optimise protection? How to define a monitoring strategy in support of the management of necessary mitigation? Would it be necessary to invoke any international treaties or conventions? How should cross-institutional communications and collaboration within the country continue during conflict, i.e., ensuring all actors co-ordinate their communications? How should radiological health risk assessments, including (for example) food safety, continue to be overseen during and following a period of armed conflict?

Target audience

The workshop was open to representatives from national and local governments. These include experts, regulators, operators, and non-governmental stakeholders, as well as relevant international organisations or associations. Around 130 participants were present. A summary of the workshop’s findings will be issued as soon as practical after its conclusion, with full proceedings to be published in due course.

Workshop venue and programme

The event was held at the Hotel Bristol in Oslo, Norway. 

The workshop programme sought to ensure a good balance between the different topical sessions and was structured around invited keynote speakers, round tables and breakout group discussions. The ultimate aim being to produce concrete recommendations on how to improve operational and regulatory practices and to strengthen international collaboration in the area.

The workshop agenda and the speakers' presentations during the workshop are available on this page. Additionally, summary slides from the discussion during the "What if" session are available for download.