Preparing for and responding to energy emergencies

How DECC has planned for emergencies potentially affecting oil, gas and electricity production and supply, and the civil nuclear establishment.


Over recent years the UK has had a strong, secure and resilient energy system, but this is no reason for complacency. The government accepts it can’t completely remove the possibility of disruption to energy supplies caused by, for example, weather-related hazards, accidents, malicious events or industrial action.

This guide gives an outline of the plans and resources available to tackle emergencies which have the potential to affect oil, gas and electricity production and supply, and the civil nuclear establishment. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has a specific role and responsibilities in the event of an emergency - these are explained in detail.

The guide also lists contact numbers for upstream incidents.

Departmental responsibilities

The government maintains capabilities to lead a national response to emergencies of all kinds, including those that affect energy. The Cabinet Office co-ordinates across government, and as appropriate with the devolved administrations, plans and responds to emergencies. Overarching policy and the main programmes for delivering and maintaining preparedness and mitigating risk are set out in the UK resilience section of the Cabinet Office website.

DECC works with industry, regulators, sector bodies and other stakeholders to maintain the resilience of the energy infrastructure, networks and assets and to reduce vulnerabilities. It also maintains emergency response arrangements to:

  • reduce the impact in the event of a disruption to gas, electricity or oil and fuel supplies
  • ensure recovery as soon as possible in the aftermath of any such incident or emergency

Downstream oil

Downstream oil refers to the supply of oil from its production at refineries to its final consumption by end users.

Managing a downstream oil emergency

Technical incidents in the downstream oil sector occur sometimes without any discernible impact on supplies. These are managed and resolved by the companies involved. DECC manages incidents that significantly disrupt oil supply or demand. DECC’s priority is to maintain (as close as possible) normal fuel deliveries in event of any disruption to the fuel supply chain, to get fuel to the people that really need it and to protect the UK economy. Where a risk of industrial action is identified, DECC will invoke levels of contingency planning but prioritise encouraging the parties involved to solve the issue through negotiation.

DECC has numerous measures it can deploy during a supply disruption. These include:

  • working with retailers to increase forecourt stock levels
  • activating the downstream oil protocol to improve information sharing (if industry agreed this was necessary)

DECC has the National Emergency Plan for Fuel (NEP-F), which details a set of emergency response tools that can be used to regulate or prohibit the production, supply acquisition or use of substances as fuel. Depending on the circumstances, industry and government can use this plan to manage a downstream oil emergency. Where legislation is required to implement the response tools in the NEP-F, there are emergency powers under the Energy Act 1976.

As part of its contingency planning, the government is working with the downstream oil industry, including haulage companies, to maintain a capability within the Armed Forces to make fuel deliveries in the event of a serious disruption to normal deliveries due to industrial action by fuel tanker drivers. This plan will ensure that military personnel could be efficiently and safely deployed. This activity will be reviewed regularly.

DECC works with industry to develop the evidence base that supports further action to improve resilience of the downstream oil sector. DECC has commissioned a number of studies in recent years to inform this work and regularly meets with industry regularly through the Downstream Oil Industry Forum.

Training for the sector

The people employed in the downstream oil sector – including at refineries, distribution terminals and filling stations – provide an important technical knowledge base for the UK economy. Maintaining these skills also helps increase the sector’s resilience against disruption.

Downstream gas and electricity

Downstream gas refers to the natural gas supply network from reception terminal and storage site to consumer isolation valve in the UK.

Electricity refers to the electricity supply network from generator to consumer meter in the UK.

There are a number of actions we can take to minimise the impact in a gas and/or electricity supply emergency.

Fuel security code

As a primary measure DECC can instruct power stations to use alternative fuel sources to generate electricity. This emergency power is supported by the Fuel Security Code.

Electricity Supply Emergency Code

If a prolonged electricity shortage affects a specific region, or the whole country, rationing may be necessary. The Electricity Supply Emergency Code outlines the process for ensuring fair distribution while still protecting those who require special treatment. This is managed through a process known as ‘rota disconnections’.

Emergency planning

Working closely with industry to understand and plan for emergencies, DECC regularly holds exercises to test the effectiveness of these plans. The National Emergency Plan for Downstream Gas and Electricity was most recently revised in 2012.

Maintaining the electricity supply

DECC has a duty to make sure electricity supplies are reliable and meet voltage and frequency standards. Major electricity failures are very rare in the UK but severe storms are the most common cause of widespread power loss. Analysis of such events shows how important it is to manage trees near overhead lines. DECC has amended the guidance to reflect this:

ESQCR 2002

ESQCR 2002: Guidance on the electricity safety, quality and continuity regulation 2002

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ESQCAR 2006: Guidance on the electricity safety, quality and continuity (amendment) regulations 2006

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Upstream oil and gas

Upstream oil and gas refers to the exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas.

Managing an upstream oil or gas emergency

Operators must notify the DECC Licensing, Exploration and Development (LED) Team immediately in the event of:

  • emergency well operations (abandonments, sidetracks)
  • production shutdowns
  • hydrocarbon releases
  • events that may affect production or attract public/media interest

During normal working hours, please notify the most relevant contact:

DECC LED (Aberdeen) for hydrocarbon releases, emergency operations and matters that affect production in North and Central North Sea.

Emergency phone number: 01224 254058

DECC LED (London) for all exploration matters, emergency operations and matters that affect production in South North Sea, Irish Sea and onshore, and any other matters.

Emergency phone number: 0300 068 5130

DECC Enquiry Unit Phone: 0300 060 4000

Outside normal working hours call the DECC/BIS duty officer in London.

  • Phone: 020 7215 3234/3505
  • Mobile: 07747 898537
  • Fax: 020 7215 3501


You can read more detailed information on upstream emergency response plans in the following documents:

You can also download PON-1: Petroleum Operations Notice for reporting release and permitted discharge.

Civil nuclear

Although high safety standards and strict precautions in the UK mean nuclear emergencies are very rare, detailed emergency planning is required so that nuclear site operators and public authorities are properly prepared to respond to such events.

DECC is responsible for co-ordinating civil nuclear emergency planning in England and Wales at a national level. This planning is facilitated through forums such as the Nuclear Emergency Planning Delivery Committee (NEPDC) and its working groups, which bring together organisations involved in nuclear emergency planning across the UK.

Nuclear emergency planning and response is regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Radiation monitoring and reporting

A network of 96 radiation monitoring stations (RIMNET) across the UK provide hourly updates and detect any abnormal increases in radiation levels. The extent and magnitude of radioactive contamination is assessed using the INES scale.

All nuclear site operators are required by law to have nuclear emergency plans based on their licence terms. This includes training staff and providing appropriate safety equipment.

Local level emergency planning

Under the Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations 2001 (REPPIR) Regulations, local authorities must prepare an off-site emergency plan if:

  • their area includes a nuclear site
  • the nuclear site operator has assessed that a radiation emergency in the area is reasonably foreseeable

The plan must cover an emergency that might result from an act of terrorism.

Off-site emergency planning

Off-site emergency plans are designed to restrict human exposure to ionising radiation. The ONR decides when off-site emergency plans are required for areas that pose a foreseeable risk.

DECC chairs the Nuclear Emergency Planning Liaison Group (NEPLG), which brings together organisations with interests in off-site civil nuclear emergency planning. The group also issues the NELPG consolidated guidance.

NEPLG Exercise Review: 2010-11

In the course of preparing this review, ONR gathered comments from 14 exercises conducted between February 2010 and March 2011.

This report focuses on the actions reported after these exercises, recommendations following lessons learnt and general suggestions for improvements.

NEPLG Exercise Review: 2010-11

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Safety arrangements (including emergency planning) at all nuclear instillations in the UK are governed by a range of legislation for both on-site emergencies and local-level emergency planning. This includes:

Maintaining the security of nuclear sites

Civil nuclear operators are required by law to have site security plans setting out the security arrangements for the protection of nuclear sites and nuclear material on such sites. These plans must gain the approval of the regulator and must thereafter be complied with.

The arrangements cover, for example, physical protection features such as fencing and turnstile access, the roles of security guards and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the protection of proliferation-sensitive data and technologies and the arrangements to ensure the trustworthiness of the individuals with access to sensitive nuclear information and material. Civil nuclear operators are financially and legally responsible for implementing and maintaining these security measures.

Provision of specialist support services

The Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) is the specialist police force providing the dedicated armed response at civil licensed nuclear sites.

All nuclear emergency responders receive specialist training and protective equipment to operate in hazardous environments and to rescue and treat any casualties. Both the Ambulance and Fire and Rescue Services are equipped to decontaminate sites.

The Emergency Planning College is the dedicated UK emergency planning and crisis management training centre.

For further information on the government’s overall emergency preparedness measures, visit Cabinet Office resources on emergency preparedness.

Emergency response

DECC would act as the lead government department in response to an emergency at a civil nuclear site in England or Wales. The Department would assemble up to date information on the emergency, including measures being taken to protect the public and make the site safe again. This is done by liaising closely with other government departments, the Welsh Government, agencies and organisations close to the affected site, such as police, fire service and local authority.

As the lead government department, DECC would:

  • ensure that information is available to the public and media via the News Coordination Centre maintained by the Cabinet Office
  • be responsible for alerting the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Commission and various neighbouring countries of the accident
  • provide the Secretary of State of Energy and Climate Change, who is responsible to Parliament for civil nuclear safety matters, with briefing on the course of the accident and measures taken to protect the public
  • appoint a Government Technical Advisor (GTA) from the ONR to advise the police and emergency services on measures to protect the public

Further information regarding the responsibilities of other organisations in the event of a nuclear emergency can be found in the NEPLG Consolidated Guidance.

Alerting the media, public and international community

DECC is required to notify European partners of any incident which takes place in the UK. It does this by notifying the European Commission (and states with which the UK has bilateral agreements) through the European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange (ECURIE) system, including technical information about the incident, and the countermeasures being put in place.

DECC is also required to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency through the Unified System for Information Exchange in Incidents and Emergencies (USIE) system. This is a restricted secure website which allows for the exchange of information on nuclear accidents or radiological emergencies.

Decontamination and recovery programme

Our National Response Strategy [PDF] details how decontamination work is managed, including processes and responsibilities as part of the recovery phase. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead government department responsible for this area.

Local level response

The strategic response to an emergency at a local level would be co-ordinated at the Strategic Co-ordination Centre (SCC). Decisions on mobilising emergency services during a nuclear emergency would be taken by the GOLD Commander leading the response at a local level. Central Government authorisation would be necessary should further national capabilities be required to assist the response.

Other response measures include provision of temporary housing. Reception centres can be opened by local authorities to house people who are displaced from their homes.

Review phase: emergency plans are kept under continual review and are regularly tested through regular off-site exercises at civil nuclear sites.

Nuclear third party liability compensation

The UK is a contracting party to the Paris Convention on nuclear third party liability and Brussels Supplementary Convention.

The Conventions aim to ensure adequate and fair compensation for victims who suffer damage as a result of a nuclear incident at a nuclear installation or during the transport of nuclear substances to and from that installation. At the same time, the regime is aimed at ensuring that responsibility for any failure rests with installation operators, as they are in the best position to ensure the safety of their installation. The Conventions also ensure compensation is available in the case of nuclear damage across borders.

The Paris Convention imposes no fault liability on the operator of the nuclear installation that causes damage. It channels all liability to that operator so that victims can sue a readily identifiable person. Operators are required to take out insurance or make other provision to cover their potential liability. Victims in all countries that are contracting parties to the Convention have equal access to compensation. The Brussels Supplementary Convention provides additional public funds for compensation over and above that provided by the Paris Convention.

The countries that have ratified the Paris Convention are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK. These countries (except Greece, Portugal and Turkey) have also ratified the Brussels Convention.

The Conventions are implemented in the UK by the Nuclear Installations Act 1965.

Revisions to the Paris and Brussels conventions

Amendments to the Conventions were agreed by the contracting parties in 2004. They upgrade the existing regime and are intended to ensure that, in the event of a nuclear incident, an increased amount of compensation will be available to a larger number of victims in respect to a broader range of damage than is currently the case. The amendments extend the liability regime to operators of nuclear waste disposal sites. The amendments to the Conventions will come into force when they have been ratified by the contracting parties.

Implementation of the changes in the UK

The UK is committed to ratifying the amendments to the Conventions. We are in the process of putting in place amendments to UK law to enable immediate implementation on ratification. The Nuclear Installations (Liability for Damage) Order 2016 prospectively amends the Nuclear Installations Act 1965. The 2016 Order will not come into force until the amendments to the Conventions are ratified. An informal consolidation of the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 as amended by the Order is included for information (a version with changes marked and a ‘clean’ version).

NIA 65 clean version

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NIA 65

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The Conventions are also implemented through a number of statutory instruments made under the 1965 Act. These define the categories of sites to which a lower level of liability applies; specify the information nuclear operators must include in the insurance certificates they must provide for transport of nuclear matter overseas; and define situations where the liability regime does not apply to nuclear matter being transported. We have launched a consultation to set out proposals for changes to these regulations. This will complete the required UK legislative changes for implementation of the 2004 Protocols.

Guidance on approval of operators’ financial security arrangements under the 1965 Act

We will shortly publish updated guidance on the process for obtaining approval, under section 19 of the 1965 Act, of operators’ financial security arrangements for meeting their liabilities. This will replace the working paper below (originally published in 2012) which:

  • sets out in broad terms some of the issues that operators should consider when bringing forward proposals for insurance or other financial security
  • lists some of the evidence operators should provide to demonstrate that they have satisfied the section 19 requirement.

The working paper is not intended to provide a definitive set of acceptance criteria or to replace operators’ own professional financial and legal advice on such matters.

Laws and Regulations

Nuclear Installations Act 1965

Local authority off-site emergency plans – Radiation Regulations 2001 (REPPIR)

Waste arising from a nuclear accident or incident - Radioactive Substances Act 1993

Further information

Information on the Paris Convention on Nuclear Third Party Liability from the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA)

Information on the Brussels Supplementary Convention from the NEA

Roles and responsibilities of nuclear response organisations

Objectives and features of nuclear emergency plans are outlined in this guide from the NEPLG

Partner organisations

DECC works with a range of government departments and agencies involved in nuclear emergency response planning. These include:

  • Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR)
  • Department of Health (DH)
  • Health Protection Agency (HPA)
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Government Office for Science
  • Environment Agency
  • Food Standards Agency
  • Government Decontamination Service (GDS)
  • Cabinet Office
  • Home Office
  • Ministry of Defence (MOD)
  • Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG)
  • Representatives of the Devolved Administrations
  • Met Office
Published 22 January 2013
Last updated 29 June 2016 + show all updates
  1. Update progress on implementation of the changes to the liability regime with the approval of the Nuclear Installations (Liability for Damage) Order 2016.
  2. Updated Draft Nuclear Installations (Liability for Damage) Order (Working Draft: Feb 2016) and Nuclear Installations Act 1965 as amended (informal consolidation)
  3. Oil and Gas: Updated documents for G.A.S. Report Quick Start, Gas Availability Status, Terminal Operator Guidance and Terminal Group Leader (TGL) Guidance.
  4. Revised draft Nuclear Installations Order.
  5. Oil and gas: Guidance note to complete the Gas Availability Status (GAS) Report Proforma - (added)
  6. Upstream Crisis Management Briefing Pack - updated
  7. NEPLG Exercise Review: 2011-12 published
  8. Implementation of revisions to the Paris and Brussels conventions - draft new section added to the "Draft Statutory Instruments 2013: The Nuclear Installations (Liability for Damage) Order 2013"
  9. First published.