RPII publishes Annual Report for 2000

Date released: Jan 22 2002

On publishing to-day its Annual Report and Accounts for 2000, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland highlights again its report published a year ago on the safety of the storage tanks holding liquid high-level radioactive waste at Sellafield.This report has gained heightened relevance from the fear, following September 11, of a terrorist attack on Sellafield.

The RPII considers that BNFL should now make available any evidence it can as to the capability of these tanks to withstand a major terrorist attack.

Monitoring of the radioactive contamination of the Irish sea caused by discharges from Sellafield continues to be an important area of the Institute's work. A major focus is on the levels of technetium-99, which rose sharply from 1994 to 1998. Since 1998 these levels have begun to decrease, but are still considerably above pre-1994 levels, and remain a significant cause of concern.

Also of considerable current interest is the key role assigned to the Institute under the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents, which has been recently exercised. The Institute has further developed the capability of the computer model ARGOS (Accident Reporting and Guiding Operational System), which would enable it to predict the dispersion pattern of a plume of radioactive material being transported in the atmosphere towards Ireland from a disaster at a nuclear installation overseas. This prediction would be a vital element in ensuring an optimum response to a nuclear disaster affecting Ireland.

The lung cancer risk associated with exposure to high levels of naturally occurring radon gas in buildings continues to be an important concern for the Institute. The Institute's nationwide survey of radon levels in primary and secondary level schools, commissioned by the Minister for Education and Science, and aimed at eliminating the exposure of children and staff to elevated radon levels in schools, has been highly successful and is entering its final stages.

With regard to radon concentration levels in domestic dwellings, grants are expected to be available shortly to assist homeowners with the cost of implementing radon remedial measures in their homes. It is hoped that this will greatly increase the number of homes being remediated. New legislation introduced in 2000 addresses the issue of radon in workplaces, and the Institute's implementation of this legislation has got under way with pilot programmes in Ennis and Tralee.

The Institute reports eleven instances during 2000 of abnormal occurrences or deviations from good practice in applications of ionising radiation in industry, medicine and education. By far the most serious was the inadvertent disposal as ordinary waste by C & C (Ireland) Ltd of three significant radiation sources. Despite an extensive investigation it was not possible to establish where disposal took place, and the radiation sources were never recovered. On prosecution, the company pleaded guilty to unlicensed disposal of radioactive substances, and the Institute is pleased that a maximum fine of £1000 was imposed. While no harm to any person occurred in this incident, it highlighted the dangers of carelessness in the management of radiation sources, which could be lethal to an innocent individual if found and tampered with.

The Institute's income in 2000 was £2.475 million, made up of grant-in-aid of £1.746 million and £0.729 million in earnings from services, licence charges and contracts. Income for the year exceeded expenditure by £29,000.

Commenting on the report, Institute Chairman, Dr Francis J Mulligan, said: "At this time of heightened public anxiety about hazards associated with radiation, it is more important than ever that authoritative and objective scientific information on radiation issues be available to the public from an Institute such as the RPII".