Radiation exposure from transported, stolen or lost goods

Impact 5
upper risk error bar
upper likelihood error bar risk indicator
lower likelihood error bar
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Impact & Likelihood
Impact key
5 Catastrophic
4 Significant
3 Moderate
2 Limited
1 Minor
Likelihood key
5 >25%
4 5-25%
3 1-5%
2 0.2-1%
1 <0.2%


There is a low likelihood risk that radiation could be released from goods being transported within or into the UK. When these goods are handled correctly by trained professionals, the risk of radiation release is extremely low. However, there is a risk as individuals handling transported, stolen or lost goods are unlikely to have the appropriate training. The scenario used in the reasonable worst-case scenario below has never happened in the UK.


The reasonable worst-case scenario covers radioactive goods that could be stolen, lost or transported by a legal owner without proper regard to radiation safety regulations. The sources would be mixed with non-contaminated waste in a scrapyard, or subsequently melted in a foundry and used to produce reinforcing bars, table pedestal castings, cast valve bodies or electric motor parts. The packaging used to transport the sources could also be contaminated with radiation. The amount of radioactivity involved would be small and the item disposed of safely. However, the risk would cause moderate economic damage and knock-on impacts beyond the timeframe for decontamination. The process of dismantling the radioactive unit would expose people to radiation and could cause contamination over a wide area, potentially leading to fatalities and casualties.

Key assumptions

While radioactive sources could be inadvertently processed in a scrapyard or in another location and mixed with non-contaminated waste and consequently smelted and subsequently used to produce goods contaminated by radiation, this is considered unlikely given the detection systems at each stage of the process. Non-malicious targeted theft of a radioactive source is considered highly unlikely given the robust security requirements in place for radioactive sources in International Atomic Energy Agency Categories 1-4.


Variations include a radiation source becoming breached in an urban environment. Prior to detection, exposure to the
radiological component would be spread across multiple locations. Another high-impact variation could involve a radioactive contaminated metal from a scrapyard that is inadvertently melted in a foundry, resulting in radiation exposure. A lower- impact risk involves a radioactive contaminated packaging sold as scrap metal, resulting in hospital admissions. A proportion of these would exhibit clinical signs of acute radiation exposure.

Response capability requirements

Decontamination services and radioactivity scanners would be required immediately. Public communications campaigns would communicate key messages to the public. There would be a requirement for monitoring (sampling and laboratory analysis) and waste management capability would also be impacted.


Health impacts among the affected workers (including radiation illnesses) would be expected for a number of years, with a requirement for long-term medical supervision. Decontamination of sites would take several weeks and require extensive resources (cost of clean-up and waste disposal could be substantial).