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The NBC Protection

Defending against nuclear, biological and chemical hazards

NBC protection covers all measures to defend against and prevent nuclear (N), biological (B) and chemical (C) threats and hazards. These include prevention efforts and the preparation of protective measures, as well as reconnaissance, protection from contamination and infection, decontamination and medical treatment when such an incident occurs. The aim is to minimise the impact of NBC incidents on the population, animals and the environment.

Release of dangerous substances

An NBC incident is defined as the unauthorised release of dangerous nuclear (N), biological (B) or chemical (C) substances. The release of such material can either be unintentional (accident) or deliberate (criminal or terrorist motives). They can be further classified according to type of incident:

  • Nuclear: the release of ionising radiation and radioactivity;
  • Biological: the release of pathogenic organisms (i.e. those capable of causing disease) or their metabolic products;
  • Chemical: the release of poisonous gases, liquids or solids.


In addition to the acronym NBC commonly found in English-language texts, the acronyms ABC (atomic, biological and chemical) and CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) are also widely used. Radiological and nuclear (or atomic) threats differ in terms of the source of radioactive contamination. A nuclear (or atomic) threat involves the detonation of nuclear weapons and the after-effects. On the other hand, a radiological threat involves other contamination sources, principally in the form of a radioactive dispersion device („dirty bomb“). In recent years, the use of the acronym CBRNE, where „E“ stands for „explosives“, has become more widespread due to the fact that the deployment of NBC weapons always, or almost always, involves some type of explosive. The second „N“ in the acronym CBRNNE stands for „narcotics“. Given that narcotics and psychoactive substances, such as fentanyl, are also classified as „non-lethal chemical weapons“, these could present an additional NBC threat.

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Spiez Laboratory

CH-3700 Spiez