Radioactivity released from Wylfa nuclear power plant is extremely low and of no health significance

Date released: Oct 01 2007

Minister John Gormley T.D. receives RPII report on Wylfa nuclear power plant in Wales

During a recent visit to Wylfa Nuclear Power Plant the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) found that the routine operations at the plant give rise to radiation doses in Ireland that are extremely low and pose no threat to the health of Irish people. The RPII also considered that there was a high emphasis on maintaining a safe working environment at the plant and that recent modifications enhance overall safety. The findings of the RPII’s visit were presented to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley, T.D., today.

As part of the RPII’s remit to provide advice and information to the Government on nuclear safety issues the RPII visited the facility in late 2006. A range of issues were discussed with the operator of the facility and the UK nuclear regulators. These included radioactive waste management, safety issues and standards and the future of nuclear power generation at Wylfa. The nuclear facility, on the island of Anglesey in Wales, is just 120 km from Ireland’s East coast.

Commenting on the report, Dr Tony Colgan, Director of the RPII’s Advisory Service, said: “Overall, there was a general sense that the plant was well run and that staff were well trained. The design of the Wylfa plant, while safer than some of the older UK nuclear power plants, does not incorporate all of the safety features of more modern reactors. In these circumstances, human performance issues become central to safe operation. We noted that a number of modifications and upgrades have been implemented during the last number of years and this has helped improve the technical safety standards of the plant.

Dr Colgan added “the opportunity to visit the Wylfa plant was very welcome and follows on from previous visits to the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield in 2000 and 2004. These visits allow the RPII to keep itself informed of developments within the UK nuclear industry so that we can provide the best possible advice to the Irish Government and to the Irish population on nuclear safety matters. We are grateful to the two UK nuclear regulators, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Environment Agency, for arranging and facilitating the visit”.

One of the key areas examined during the visit was the potential impact on Ireland of an accident or other unplanned events at Wylfa. Using the information made available to them, the RPII carried out a detailed analysis of different accident scenarios. Even with strong easterly winds, a credible accident would not be expected to lead to contamination levels in foodstuffs grown in Ireland in excess of the maximum permitted levels i.e. it is most unlikely that the European Communities food intervention levels would be exceeded. The RPII report also notes that evacuation, sheltering and the use of iodine tablets would not be justified in Ireland following such an accident at Wylfa.

During its visit to Wylfa NPP, the RPII raised the issue of terrorist threats but, for security reasons, the UK regulators were not in a position to discuss such threats. The RPII report notes that publicly available information on other reactor types would suggest that a terrorist attack on Wylfa in the form of an aircraft deliberately crashed into the reactor building, or a major earthquake, is unlikely to result in a large release of radioactivity to the environment. A number of upgrades from 2004 onwards to increase resistance of the reactors to earthquakes would serve the dual purpose of also increasing their resistance to terrorist attacks.

The reactors at Wylfa NPP are designed to higher standards than the earlier Magnox reactors and since commissioning in 1971 have been subject to a number of upgrades.

The Wylfa Power Station was selected for the RPII’s visit as it is the largest of the UK Magnox reactors, has the longest remaining projected operational life of the Magnox reactors and at 120km from Dublin is the closest nuclear site to Ireland. It started electricity generation in 1971 and will cease to do so in 2010. At that stage fuel will be progressively removed from the reactors and sent to Sellafield for treatment.