The Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents showed that radioactive contamination does not respect national borders. Even an island like Ireland cannot quarantine itself from radioactivity released into the atmosphere elsewhere in the world.
If such an accident did occur in the future in the UK or Western Europe, the consequences for Ireland could be serious. The central purpose of the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents (NEPNA) is to minimise the impact on Ireland and its people in the event of a major nuclear accident abroad.
The national emergency plan is coordinated by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and involves a number of other government departments and agencies working together, along with An Garda Síochána, Met Éireann, and the main TV and radio stations.
The plan allows the rapid implementation of protective measures, within the first few hours and in the days after the accident, with the objective of substantially reducing radiation exposure to the public.
If the advice to ‘go in, stay in, tune in’ is given you should:
Going indoors to your home, workplace or another indoor location could protect you from exposure to radiation and reduce your long term cancer risk.
You should remain indoors until advised by the authorities that the radioactive plume has moved on. This may take a few hours, depending on the nature of the accident, and the weather.
TV and radio stations – both state and commercial – will be kept fully briefed about the emergency. By keeping an eye on the TV or an ear on the radio, you will be kept updated with the latest news and advice, and informed if any actions such as remaining indoors are necessary.
The biggest potential public health threat in the aftermath of the emergency would come from radioactive contamination of foodstuffs, particularly from leafy vegetables, meat and dairy produce.
Under the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents livestock, drinking water and foodstuffs will be monitored closely for radioactive contamination. If necessary, controls and restrictions will be imposed to protect the public from contaminated foodstuffs.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine along with the EPA and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland will enforce rigorous procedures nationally to ensure that all foods available for sale are safe. If necessary, this could include seizing and destroying contaminated agricultural produce, up to the point of retail sale.