Current radiological emergency response recommendations have been provided by the International Commission on Radiological Protection and adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in comprehensive Safety Standards. These standards provide dose-based guidance for decision making (e.g., on sheltering or relocation) via generic criteria in terms of effective dose in the range from 20 mSv per year, during transition from emergency to existing exposure situation, to 100 mSv, acute or annual, in the urgent phase of a nuclear accident. The purpose of this paper was to examine how such dose reference levels directly translate into radiation-related risks of the main stochastic detrimental health effects (cancer). Methodologies, provided by the World Health Organization after the Fukushima accident, for calculating the lifetime and 20 year cancer risks and for attributing relevant organ doses from effective doses, have been applied here for this purpose with new software, designed to be available for use immediately after a nuclear accident. A new feature in this software is a comprehensive accounting for uncertainty via simulation technique, so that the risks may now be presented with realistic confidence intervals. The types of cancer risks considered here are time-integrated over lifetime and the first 20 years after exposure for all solid cancers and either the most radiation-sensitive types of cancer, i.e., leukaemia and female breast cancer, or the most radiation-relevant type of cancer occurring early in life, i.e., thyroid. It is demonstrated here how reference dose levels translate differently into specific cancer risk levels (with varying confidence interval sizes), depending on age at exposure, gender, time-frame at-risk and type of cancer considered. This demonstration applies German population data and considers external exposures. Further work is required to comprehensively extend this methodology to internal exposures that are likely to be important in the early stages of a nuclear accident. A discussion is provided here on the potential for such risk-based information to be used by decision makers, in the urgent and transition phases of nuclear emergencies, to identify protective measures (e.g., sheltering, evacuation) in a differential way (i.e., for particularly susceptible sub-groups of a population).