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The international nuclear and radiological event scale

T he INES Scale is a worldwide tool for communicating to the public in a consistent

way the safety ­significance of nuclear and ­radiological events.

Just like information on earthquakes or temperature would be difficult to understand

without the Richter or Celsius scales, the INES Scale explains the significance of
events from a range of activities, including industrial and medical use of radiation
sources, operations at nuclear facilities and transport of radioactive material.

Events are classified on the scale at seven levels: Levels 1–3 are called "incidents"
and Levels 4–7 "accidents". The scale is designed so that the severity of an event is
about ten times greater for each increase in level on the scale. Events without safety
­significance are called “­deviations” and are classified Below Scale / Level 0.







Below Scale / Level 0

Nuclear Energy Agency

For more information:

Major Accident
Level 7 INES classifies nuclear and radiological event may occur from media or from public
­accidents and incidents by ­considering three speculation. In some situations, where not all
Serious Accident areas of impact: the details of the event are known early on, a
Level 6 provisional rating may be issued. Later, a final
People and the Environment considers the rating is determined and any ­differences
Accident with
­radiation doses to people close to the location of explained.
Consequences the event and the widespread, unplanned release
Level 5 of radioactive ­material from an ­installation. To facilitate international communications for
events attracting wider interest, the IAEA main-
Accident with
Radiological Barriers and Control covers tains a ­web-based communications network
Consequences events ­without any direct impact on people or that allows details of the event to immediately
Level 4 the ­environment and only applies inside major be made ­publicly available.
facilities. It covers unplanned high radiation levels
Serious Incident and spread of significant quantities of radioactive The two tables that follow show selected
Level 3
materials ­confined within the installation. examples of historic events rated using the
INES scale, ­ranging from a Level 1 anomaly to
Level 2
Defence-in-Depth also covers events without a Level 7 major accident; a much wider range
any direct impact on people or the environ- of ­examples showing the rating methodology
ment, but for which the range of measures put is provided in the INES Manual.
Level 1 in place to prevent accidents did not function as
intended. Scope of the Scale
No Safety INES applies to any event associated with
Significance Communicating Events the transport, storage and use of radioactive
(Below Scale/
Level 0)
Nuclear and radiological events are promptly material and radiation sources, whether or not
communicated by the INES Member States, the event occurs at a facility. It covers a wide
otherwise a confused understanding of the spectrum of practices, including industrial use

Examples of events AT nuclear facilities

Radiological Barriers
People and Environment Defence-in-Depth
and Control

Chernobyl, 1986 — Widespread health and

7 ­environmental effects. External release of a s­ ignificant
fraction of reactor core inventory.

Kyshtym, Russia, 1957 — Significant release of

6 ­radioactive ­material to the environment from ­explosion
of a high activity waste tank.

Windscale Pile, UK, 1957 — Release of radioactive

Three Mile Island, USA, 1979 —
5 material to the environment following a fire in a ­
Severe damage to the reactor core.
reactor core.

Saint Laurent des Eaux, France,

Tokaimura, Japan, 1999 — Fatal overexposures of 1980 — Melting of one channel of
4 workers following a criticality event at a nuclear facility. fuel in the reactor with no release
outside the site.

Sellafield, UK, 2005 — Release

Vandellos, Spain, 1989 — Near accident caused by
of large quantity of radioactive
3 No example available
­material, contained within the
fire resulting in loss of safety ­systems at the ­nuclear
power ­station.

Cadarache, France, 1993 — Spread Forsmark, Sweden, 2006 — Degraded safety functions
Atucha, Argentina, 2005 — Overexposure of a ­worker
2 at a power reactor exceeding ­the annual limit.
of contamination to an area not for common cause failure in the emergency power supply
expected by design. system at nuclear power plant.

1 Breach of operating limits at a nuclear facility.

Examples of events involving Radiation SourceS and Transport

People and Environment Defence-in-Depth


Goiânia, Brazil, 1987 — Four people died and six
5 received doses of a few Gy from an ­abandoned and
ruptured highly ­radioactive Cs-137 source.

Fleurus, Belgium, 2006 — Severe health effects for a

4 worker at a commercial irradiation facility as a result
of high doses of radiation.

Yanango, Peru, 1999 — Incident with radiography Ikitelli, Turkey, 1999 — Loss of a highly radioactive
3 source resulting in severe radiation burns. Co-60 source.

The international nuclear and radiological event scale

USA, 2005 — Overexposure of a radiographer exceeding France, 1995 — Failure of access control systems
2 the annual limit for radiation workers. at accelerator facility.

1 Theft of a moisture-density gauge.

such as radiography, use of radiation sources organizations or countries. The statistically small
in hospitals, activity at nuclear facilities, and ­numbers of events at Level 2 and above and the
transport of radioactive material. differences between countries for reporting more
minor events to the public make it inappropriate
It also includes the loss or theft of radioactive to draw ­international comparisons.
sources or packages and the discovery of
orphan sources, such as sources inadvertently History
transferred into the scrap metal trade. Since 1990 the scale has been applied to
­classify events at nuclear power plants, then
When a device is used for medical purposes extended to enable it to be applied to all
(e.g., radiodiagnosis or radiotherapy), INES is installations associated with the civil nuclear
used for the rating of events resulting in actual industry. By 2006, it had been adapted to
exposure of workers and the public, or involv- meet the growing need for ­communication of
ing degradation of the device or deficiencies the significance of all events associated with
in the safety ­provisions. Currently, the scale the transport, storage and use of radioactive
does not cover the actual or potential con- ­material and radiation sources.
sequences for patients exposed as part of a
medical ­procedure. The IAEA has coordinated its development in
cooperation with the OECD/NEA and with the
The scale is only intended for use in civil support of more than 60 Member States through
(non-military) applications and only relates their officially designated INES National Officers.
to the safety aspects of an event. INES is
not intended for use in rating security-related The current version of the INES manual was
events or malicious acts to deliberately expose adopted 1 July 2008. With this new edition, it
­people to radiation. is anticipated that INES will be widely used by
the Member States and become the world-
What the Scale is Not For wide scale for putting into the proper
It is not appropriate to use INES to compare ­perspective the safety significance of nuclear
safety performance between facilities, and radiation events.
The international nuclear and radiological event scale

g ene r a l d escr i p ti o n o f ines le v e l s

Radiological Barriers
INES Level People and Environment Defence-in-Depth
and Control

• Major release of radio­active ­material

with widespread health and
Major Accident ­environmental effects r­equiring
Level 7 implementation of planned and
extended ­countermeasures.

• Significant release of radioactive

Serious Accident material likely to require
Level 6 ­implementation of planned

• Severe damage to reactor core.

• Release of large quantities of
Accident with • Limited release of radioactive ­material
­radioactive material within an
likely to require ­implementation of
Wider Consequences some planned ­countermeasures.
­installation with a high probability of
significant public exposure. This
Level 5 • Several deaths from ­radiation.
could arise from a major criticality
accident or fire.

• Fuel melt or damage to fuel ­resulting

• Minor release of radioactive material in more than 0.1% release of core
Accident with unlikely to result in implementation of inventory.
Local Consequences planned countermeasures other than • Release of significant quantities of
local food controls. ­radioactive material within an
Level 4 • At least one death from radiation. ­installation with a high ­probability of
­significant public exposure.

• Near accident at a nuclear power plant

• Exposure rates of more than 1 Sv/h in
with no safety provisions remaining.
• Exposure in excess of ten times the an operating area.
• Lost or stolen highly radioactive
Serious Incident statutory annual limit for workers. • Severe contamination in an area
sealed source.
Level 3 • Non-lethal deterministic health effect not expected by design, with a
• Misdelivered highly radioactive
(e.g., burns) from radiation. low ­probability of ­significant public
sealed source without adequate
procedures in place to handle it.

• Significant failures in safety ­provisions

• Radiation levels in an operating area but with no actual ­consequences.
• Exposure of a member of the public
of more than 50 mSv/h. • Found highly radioactive sealed
Incident in excess of 10 mSv.
• Significant contamination within the orphan source, device or transport
Level 2 • Exposure of a worker in excess of the
facility into an area not expected by package with safety provisions intact.
statutory annual limits.
design. • Inadequate packaging of a highly
­radioactive sealed source.

• Overexposure of a member of the

­public in excess of statutory ­annual
Anomaly • Minor problems with safety
Level 1 ­components with significant
defence-in-depth remaining.
• Low activity lost or stolen radioactive
source, device or transport package.

N o S afet y S i g nificance ( B e l o w S c a l e / L e v e l 0 )

Photo Credits: Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency
Genkai Nuclear Power Plant, Genkai, Japan/Kyushu Electric Power Co., Information Series / Division of Public Information
J. Mairs/IAEA 08-26941 / E