We propose a model for the production of defects by non-ionising radiation in impurity-doped alkali halides based on the formation of impurity-trapped excitons by excitation of the impurity, instead of ionisation of the impurity as has been proposed before. The dissociation of the trapped excitons into FZand H centres in our model is similar to the case of the formation of F and H centres induced by ionising radiation in pure alkali halides. To gather information about the mechanism of defect creation by non-ionising radiation, we investigate the afterglow (AG) emission induced by UV light at low temperature (20 K) in three different alkali halides: KCl, KBr and NaCl doped with Eu impurity. We conclude that the AG emission can be split into two components; one of them has a fast decay and the other one remains for several minutes, decaying according to t-1/2. This second component has a close relation with the thermoluminescence emission. We show that the decay of the second component can be explained within the framework of our model if we assume that the H centres migrate along lines. We suggest that these lines are dislocation lines. © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.