RPII concerned over failure to establish a centralised storage facility for disused radioactive sour

Date released: Dec 17 2007

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) has reiterated its concern with successive governments’ failure to establish a centralised storage facility to manage disused radioactive sources. In the RPII Annual Report and Accounts 2006, which was launched today, the RPII also highlighted that a number of employers were prosecuted for failing to comply with a direction to monitor for radon in their workplaces.

The RPII has noted that the security and management of radioactive sources is increasingly important due to international concern at the potential for the diversion of radioactive sources for malevolent purposes. While the RPII is working with An Garda Síochána to address this concern, a centralised storage facility is considered essential for the long-term security of disused radioactive sources. In addition, the lack of such a facility means that current practice in Ireland is at odds with best practice internationally as set out in the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 

Speaking at the launch of the 2006 Annual Report, Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII, said: “We have been advising the Government for many years about the need to establish a centralised storage facility for disused radioactive sources. The Board of the RPII now considers that a national policy on radioactive waste management is needed to deal comprehensively with the issue, up to and including final disposal. While radiation sources have many beneficial uses in medicine and industry today, it is nonetheless of paramount importance that the safety and security of these sources continues to be ensured after their use comes to an end.” 

“For the average person, radon continues to be the single largest source of radiation exposure” said Dr McGarry. “It is extremely important that both homeowners and employers monitor for this invisible, odourless and tasteless radioactive gas. The recent findings of radon in a workplace in Mallow, at levels that were equivalent to receiving 10,000 chest X-rays a year, is a reminder to all employers of the importance of testing for radon. During 2006, RPII prosecuted a number of businesses for failing to test for radon after receiving a direction from the RPII. We will continue to use our powers of prosecution if and when we consider it appropriate.” 

The RPII is the national organisation with regulatory, monitoring and advisory responsibilities in matters relating to ionising radiation. In particular, the RPII 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 2006, which are highlighted in the annual report published today, are: 

  • An ‘orphan’ source was discovered by a member of the public who had discovered a small lead box with the words ‘uranium’ on it. Upon investigation, a compound of uranium of a licensable quantity was confirmed. The RPII currently holds this in secure temporary storage.
  • During the year, 105 licences were issued to new licensees with 40% of these in the dental sector. The current and planned expansion of private and public hospitals providing radiological services will be a challenge to the RPII and others involved in the regulation of medical uses of ionising radiation2646 households were monitored for radon of which 448 (17%) were found to exceed the national reference level of 200 Bq/m3. In addition, 513 workplaces, including 50 schools, undertook radon measurements and, of these, four schools and 37 workplaces were found to be above the national reference level in one or more rooms. All were advised to take remedial measures.
  • An RPII project assessing the various sources of radiation to which the Irish population is exposed, found that, on average, an individual receives an additional dose from airline travel equivalent to 2 chest X-rays annually.
  • The highest annual extremity dose was received by a hospital physicist who received a dose of 62.7 mSv to her right hand. This value may be compared with the annual extremity dose limit of 500 mSv for workers exposed to ionising radiation.