Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) threats pose significant risks to civilians, military personnel, First Responders, law enforcement and national security. They can be delivered using a wide range of methods, such as dispersal agents, toxic chemicals, biological pathogens or radioactive materials. These substances may be used in an attempt to cause physical harm, psychological trauma or death. They can also be used to damage critical infrastructure such as water treatment plants, power stations or hospitals.

While we do not yet know of any plots by terrorist organisations in the UK to use CBRN weapons, they may rely on the availability of dual-use equipment and scientifically weaponised material that can be purchased or acquired through illicit channels. Terrorists can also draw on recipes and instructional material readily available online to build their own crude devices. We assess that this makes it more likely that terrorists in the UK will employ lower-sophistication attacks using household substances than those involving chemical or biological weapons.

A hazardous materials incident refers to a release of harmful substances into the environment, either accidental or intentional. Accidental releases can result from natural or technological incidents, such as a tainted food product or a factory malfunction. Intentional releases may be caused by criminal acts, such as purposeful dumping or a terrorist attack that uses dispersal agents.

In addition to these deliberate and criminal releases, a CBRN emergency can also be triggered by occupational exposure or an accident involving the transport, storage or disposal of CBRN materials. Often these incidents involve large quantities of dangerous or toxic chemicals and can lead to major health impacts for the population.

When the public is exposed to dangerous CBRN agents, specialised medical care and treatment is required. First responders are usually the first to come into contact with people contaminated with a CBRN agent. They need to isolate the contaminated person from other people, and then remove them from their environment, as quickly as possible. The contaminated person must then be taken to a hospital where they can receive appropriate medical care and treatment.

NATO’s Centres of Excellence play an important role in enhancing Alliance capabilities in CBRN defence. The JCBRN Defence COE in the Czech Republic, in particular, provides NATO with a focal point for CBRN analysis and insight without duplicating or competing with existing national military and civilian CBRN expertise and capabilities of participating Allies and authorized partners.

NATO is committed to building the capacity and expertise of all personnel, military and civilian, involved in CBRN defence through Education, Training and Exercises. This is a core capability requirement and a key element of NATO’s overall capability development efforts. It is an essential part of enabling the Alliance to meet today’s challenging threat perception and to effectively respond to CBRN-related incidents. NATO provides and coordinates an extensive portfolio of CBRN defence education and training for NATO forces, participating Allied national military and civil personnel and authorized partners.