Ireland's nuclear emergency response preparations are robust - Minister Roche and RPII

Date released: Apr 22 2006

Dick Roche T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government today (22 April 2006) strongly rejected claims on last night’s RTE Late Late Show that Ireland is unprepared in relation to nuclear emergencies. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) also confirmed that robust and internationally validated arrangements are in place and are regularly tested to ensure that Irish people are protected in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency.

The Minister commented: “For the last twenty years, national administrations, in accordance with guidance provided by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency and the EU Commission, have been developing and updating their nuclear emergency response plans on an on-going basis. Ireland's National Plan was updated most recently in December 2005: it has been published on the websites of my Department and RPII at www.environ.ie and www.rpii.ie.

The National Plan contains comprehensive arrangements in relation to

  • early notification of nuclear accidents to the competent Irish authorities
  • timely and accurate advice to the general public
  • mobilisation of national emergency services
  • monitoring radioactive emissions, and
  • cooperation with international agencies, the EU and other national administrations.

Ireland's National Plan has been audited, tested and validated in line with best practice."

Minister Roche also criticised statements on the Late Late Show suggesting that the population of Dublin could need to be evacuated in the event of a nuclear emergency. “International best practice is that evacuation may be indicated up to a radius of 30 km from the source of a major nuclear accident. Beyond this radius, evacuation would not be a recommended option, and certainly not in the case of Dublin which stands some 110 kms from the nearest nuclear installation. It is unhelpful that misleading public statements should be made on this important point."

Dr. Ann McGarry, Chief Executive, RPII explained that “evacuation is only ever recommended to prevent people suffering immediate health effects. In Ireland, due to our distance from any nuclear facilities and the type of accident that could possibly occur, radiation levels arising from an accident would never be sufficiently high to give rise to these effects. There is no European country in which evacuation is recommended beyond 30 km from a nuclear facility. In the Irish context, it is considered that evacuation is more likely to increase exposure than to reduce it, as it is likely to result in people being caught outdoors when the plume is passing.”

ENDS

Notes for Editor:

All exposure to radiation carries some risk. The risk increases in line with the level of the radiation and the duration of exposure. At low radiation levels (a few times background), the main risk is the development of cancer in later life. Only at extremely high levels, such as those experienced by the Chernobyl liquidators, would there be immediate health effects such as vomiting and bleeding.

Ireland has a National Emergency Plan for dealing with major nuclear accidents. The Plan is co-ordinated by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and all of the Government Departments and agencies needed for an effective response are included.

Ireland will be notified immediately of an accident through international agreements with the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) operates a national radiation monitoring network which continuously monitors radiation levels in Ireland. When increases in the levels of radiation are detected, the RPII’s Duty Officer is automatically notified.

Because of the distance from Ireland to nuclear installations abroad, it is likely that there will be a period of at least three hours between notification of the accident and the radioactive plume reaching Ireland. During this time, the Plan will be activated and the Emergency Response Co-ordination Committee (ERCC) will be convened.

Based on the information available, the RPII will quickly estimate the amount of radioactivity likely to reach Ireland. This information will be made available to the ERCC who will determine what measures need to be taken to reduce the impact of the accident on Ireland. Relevant departments/agencies will implement the measures.

At all times the public will be kept informed of developments and provided with up-to-date advice through media and website announcements. Initially, the primary focus will be on limiting the direct exposure of people to the radiation plume. Depending on the radiation levels expected, advice may be issued to remain indoors and to avoid unnecessary travel for a period of a few hours while the radiation plume passes over Ireland. This measure is very effective in minimising any unnecessary exposure to radiation. However, if people need to travel urgently, they will not be prevented from doing so. Due to our distance from any nuclear facilities, the radiation levels will never be sufficiently high to give rise to immediate health effects.

Once direct exposure has been addressed, the focus will shift to limiting contamination of the foodchain and to preventing the consumption of contaminated foodstuffs. Restrictions on the distribution and consumption of certain foodstuffs may be introduced and appropriate means of reducing the contamination of the foodchain will be implemented. A number of effective measures are available. Depending on the nature of the contamination these measures may remain in place for a considerable length of time.