RPII enhances its capability to deal with a nuclear accident abroad

Date released: Dec 12 2005

RPII publishes Annual Report for 2004

In its Annual Report for 2004 published today, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) highlights its role in the continued development of the Government’s National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents (NEPNA). The plan, led by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, ensures that Ireland is prepared to deal with the consequences of a nuclear accident abroad. The RPII has special responsibility under the plan to provide advice on the potential consequences, monitor the environment and advise on countermeasures.

In 2004, the Institute, with the support of Met Éireann, began an upgrade and expansion of its national network of radiation monitoring stations. The network continuously monitors the level of background radiation across Ireland and in the event that elevated radiation levels are detected, automatically alerts the RPII’s duty officer. In addition, the Institute concluded arrangements with the relevant UK authorities for the automated exchange of monitoring data between the UK and the Irish networks. This arrangement allows the Institute to view data from 92 monitoring stations across the UK on an hourly basis.

During the year, the Institute also further developed its computerised decision support system. The system can now predict potential radioactive contamination levels in food and animal feed resulting from an accidental release of radionuclides into the atmosphere. The system was successfully tested in the recent INEX-3 exercise of NEPNA which took place in November 2005.

Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII, speaking at the launch of the report said: “The RPII is continually reviewing and updating its capabilities which are needed to fulfil our mandated role under NEPNA. We made a number of modifications during 2004 that continue to enhance Ireland’s preparedness to deal with the consequences of a nuclear accident abroad. Of particular note was our agreement with the UK for the automated exchange of real-time data from our respective radiation monitoring networks. This development increases the information available to us and will allow us to target our advice on countermeasures more accurately in the event of an emergency.”

“The Institute has also devoted significant effort to its programme of reducing exposure to radon both at home and in the workplace. During 2004 there was a 150% increase in the number of radon measurements undertaken by householders as compared with the previous year. However, despite increasing awareness of the issue there appears to be apathy among the public in Ireland to identify the homes which have high radon levels. Research that we have conducted estimates that there are approximately 91,000 houses in Ireland with high radon levels and indications are that only a small percentage have been remediated to date. More needs to be done by all those involved to ensure that this health issue is addressed,” concluded Dr McGarry.

The RPII is the national organisation with regulatory, monitoring and advisory responsibilities in matters pertaining to ionising radiation. In particular the Institute concerns itself with hazards to health associated with ionising radiation in the workplace and with radioactive contamination in the environment. Some key developments during 2004, which are highlighted in the Annual Report published today, are:

  • In September 2004 five of the Institute’s senior staff visited the Sellafield site in Cumbria. The findings of the visit were published in a report which was presented to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at a press conference in April 2005.
  • The Institute undertook a detailed examination of the provisions of the High Activity Sealed Sources (HASS) Directive which is scheduled to be transposed into law by 1st January 2006. While the existing regulatory structure in Ireland should meet the principal regulatory requirements of the Directive, other aspects may need to be provided for in the legislation. In addition the practical management of disused sources and orphan sources including their storage will have to be addressed.
  • The Institute represented Ireland on the Radioactive Substances Committee of OSPAR (Oslo Paris Convention on protection of the marine environment), which worked during 2004 to further develop the concept of baselines against which to measure progress towards the aim of reducing radioactive discharges, concentrations of radioactivity in the environment and radiation doses.