RPII report highlights low levels of man-made radioactivity in the environment

Date released: Oct 30 2007

While man-made radioactivity in the Irish environment remains detectable, the levels are low and have no health effect on the Irish public. This is according to a report published today by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) detailing the results of its monitoring of radioactivity in the Irish environment during 2006.

Discharges from Sellafield continue to be the main source of man-made radioactivity in the Irish Sea. On-going monitoring has shown that these discharges have no health effect on the Irish public and there is no risk associated with use of the marine environment. The main way people are exposed to these discharges is through the consumption of seafood, with the radiation dose to a typical consumer of seafood during 2006 estimated at 0.2 microsievert (µSv).

Fallout from the accident in Chernobyl and nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and ‘60s is still just about detectable in some foodstuffs such as dairy produce. Monitoring in 2006 has shown that the average radiation dose from consumption of milk is approximately 0.6 µSv.

These doses may be compared to the annual average radiation dose of approximately 3620 µSv received by members of the Irish public from all sources of radiation.

At the launch of the report, the RPII’s Director of Radiation Monitoring and Measurement Services, Mr David Pollard said, “The RPII’s wide-ranging programme ensures that levels of radioactivity in air, drinking water, foodstuffs, milk, seafood, seawater and seaweed are closely monitored to ensure the safety of the public. The results of this programme continue to show that the levels of man-made radioactivity in foodstuffs and the environment are of no health risk to the public. Nevertheless, it is important that the RPII continues to monitor the environment on an on-going basis.”

All RPII reports are available free of charge and on the website. Monitoring data for 2007 is also available on the web and is updated on an on-going basis.

ENDS

Note to Editor:

Radiation is usually divided into two groups: naturally occurring and man-made radiation. Natural radiation sources include radon, thoron, cosmic rays, external gamma rays from the ground and natural radionuclides in food and water. Man-made radiation is used in medicine and industry. It also comes from the generation of nuclear power and the reprocessing of nuclear fuel in facilities such as Sellafield. For a given amount of radiation, however, there is no difference between the harm caused by naturally occurring or man-made radiation.

On average, a person in Ireland receives an annual dose of 3620 µSv (microsieverts) from all sources of radiation. Figure 1 shows the contribution by each source of radiation to the average annual dose of a member of the Irish population. By far the largest contribution (91%) or 3310 µSv comes from natural sources. Man-made radiation contributes less than 9% of the average annual dose and is dominated by the beneficial use of radiation in medicine (8%). Doses from other man-made sources account for less than 1%.

Pie chart on percentage contribution by each source of radiation to the annual average radiation dose to a member of the Irish population

Figure 1 Percentage contribution by each source of radiation to the annual average radiation dose to a member of the Irish population.

The Sievert (Sv) is the unit of radiation dose and is a measure of the amount of harm radiation causes when it hits the human body. For everyday use, it is easier to use the microsievert (µSv) which is one-millionth of a Sievert.