Security of radioactive sources enhanced

Date released: Dec 15 2006

RPII publishes Annual Report for 2005

In its Annual Report for 2005 published today, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) highlighted new measures introduced to enhance the control of high-activity radioactive sources used in Ireland.

Following the events of September 11th 2001 and increasing international concern about the security of radioactive sources, the European Union issued a Directive the aim of which is to ensure a high level of control for the most hazardous radioactive sources. Such sources are used in Ireland in medicine for the treatment of cancer, in irradiation facilities for the sterilisation of medical utensils, in the construction industry for industrial radiography as well as in offshore oil and gas exploration activities. The RPII is the Competent Authority for the Directive which was transposed into Irish law in December 2005. The new legislation requires all licensees using such sources in Ireland to make appropriate provision to handle the sources safely and to record their whereabouts at all times.

The Directive also requires national authorities to make arrangements for the practical management of radioactive sources that are no longer in use and for so called “orphan sources” that may have escaped from regulatory control and that are occasionally discovered, for example, in consignments of scrap metal.

Speaking at the launch of the Report, Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII, said “While the licensing system in Ireland is very well established and the number of licensees coming under the scope of the Directive is a small percentage of the total number in Ireland, the new legislation is an important addition in that it provides for a greater level of control of sources used in medicine, education and industry. In terms of sources no longer in use, these are currently stored under licence at individual licensee’s premises, where the licensee has responsibility for their security. It has been the Institute’s advice over many years that a key element of the national infrastructure to manage disused sources and orphan sources is a centralised facility for the interim storage of radioactive waste, pending its final disposal. While acknowledging that the issues involved are complex, the RPII believes that the establishment of such a facility needs to be prioritised by Government”.

The RPII is the national organisation with regulatory, monitoring and advisory responsibilities in matters pertaining to ionising radiation. In particular the Institute has responsibilities in relation to hazards to health associated with ionising radiation in the workplace and with radioactive contamination in the environment. Some key developments during 2005, which are highlighted in the annual report published today, are:

  • During the year, in support of the Government’s National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents (NEPNA), the RPII completed the upgrade and expansion of its national network of radiation monitoring stations and in November RPII participated with other government departments and agencies in a national exercise of the plan. Data from the network is now available on the Emergency Planning web-pages of the website along with information on the NEPNA and past nuclear accidents.
  • During the year, 114 licences were issued to new licensees with almost 50% of these in the dental sector. There was also a notable increase in the number of licences issued to private medical facilities for the use of ionising radiation in medicine.
  • The highest annual whole-body dose recorded at work during 2005 was 9.6 mSv received by a tour guide in a show cave as a result of exposure to radon. In the industrial sector, the highest annual dose was 4.2 mSv received by a technician using a moisture density gauge. These doses may be compared with the annual whole-body dose limit of 20 mSv.
  • Based on its programme of monitoring of the Irish marine environment for contamination arising from marine discharges from the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, during 2005 the RPII estimated the dose to a notional “heavy consumer” who eats substantial quantities of seafood to be less than 0.002 mSv.
  • Recognising that only a small number of the homes predicted to have radon concentrations above the Reference Level have been identified; the RPII undertook a detailed review of the radon situation in Ireland together with a survey of the radon programmes in other countries and the advice in relation to radon issued by international organisations. A draft Action Plan prepared on the basis of the review was submitted to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for his consideration.