RPII publishes Annual Report for 2001

Date released: Dec 18 2002

In its Annual Report and Accounts for 2001, published today, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) highlights some of the key developments that took place during the year.

Among these was the major exercise of the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents, which was held in November 2001. The purpose of the exercise, which was welcomed by the Institute, was to test the arrangements within the National Plan and attendant sub-plans of public authorities and agencies contributing to incident management. The initial feedback from the consultants commissioned by the Department of Public Enterprise to carry out the exercise identified a number of areas requiring review by the Institute including the adequacy of the RPII offices as the control centre and the alerting and monitoring capabilities of the National Radiation Monitoring Network. Speaking at the launch of the report, the Institute’s Chief Executive, Dr Ann McGarry, emphasised that emergency preparedness, by its nature, demands continuous review of existing plans, and she stressed the value of exercises such as this, for the on-going improvement and strengthening of the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents.

Among its other key functions, the Institute routinely monitors radioactive contamination of the Irish Sea caused by discharges from Sellafield. During 2001, the dose to consumers who eat substantial quantities of seafood each day was estimated to be less than 2 microsieverts (µSv). This dose is very small when compared to the annual dose to a member of the Irish public from all sources of radiation which can range from about 2,000 µSv to 20,000 µSv. The Institute therefore advises that, from a radiological perspective, it is safe to eat seafood landed at Irish fishing ports.

Another important aspect of the Institute’s Sellafield related work during 2001 was its support of the intensified political and legal measures being pursued by the Government in opposition to activities at Sellafield. This work focussed principally on the preparation of the scientific and technical foundation for the legal action taken under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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 passage into law of the Radiological Protection (Amendment) Act, 2002, earlier this year provides the legislative basis for a scheme of grants to assist householders with the cost of remedying high radon levels in their homes. The Institute has long advocated the introduction of such a scheme and very much regrets that no resources will be made available in 2003 to fund the scheme.

For many years the Institute has been calling for the provision of a national facility for the storage of disused radioactive isotopes which result from a wide range of applications of ionising radiation in medicine, industry and education. As a producer of albeit small amounts of radioactive waste, it is increasingly important that Ireland has such a facility if it is to meet its international obligations. During 2001 the Institute assisted in the renewed effort being made to identify a suitable site for such a facility.

The Institute reports eleven incidents during 2001 involving the use of ionising radiation in industry, medicine and education, which required investigation. The most serious of these involved the exposure of a person assisting a veterinary surgeon who was performing X-ray examinations of horses on a stud farm. From the information provided, it appears that the person was exposed to a dose of 15.9 millisieverts (mSv) while directly holding the film cassettes. While this dose does not exceed the annual limit of 20 mSv for exposed workers, it could have been avoided if the correct procedures had been followed. The veterinary practice involved has been censured by the Institute and all other veterinary surgeons, who are licensed to hold X-ray equipment, have been advised of the incident and of the precautions necessary to prevent a recurrence.

The Institute’s income in 2001 was €3.484 million, made up of grant-in-aid of €2.641 million and €0.843 million in earnings from services, licence charges and contracts. Income for the year exceeded expenditure by €168,000.