New report confirms RPII calculations of radiation dose from Sellafield

Date released: May 06 2009

Levels of man-made radioactivity in Irish Sea are low.

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) will present to the public, in the Dundalk County Museum on Wednesday 6th May, the findings of a new scientific study into how the people of County Louth and the North-East coast are exposed, through their diet and other activities, to discharges of radioactivity from Sellafield.

The report’s findings will improve the accuracy with which the RPII calculate the radiation dose to which the public is exposed. The findings confirm that levels of man-made radioactivity in the Irish Sea are low. They confirm that eating seafood, working or playing in or around the Irish Sea do not present a health risk.

The RPII has, since the early 1980s, measured radioactivity in fish, shellfish, seawater, etc. However to calculate the radiation dose to the public, these measurements must be combined with the amount of fish and shellfish actually eaten by the public. This new study – which looks at this second factor - was performed by the Centre for Environmental, Fisheries and Aquaculture (Cefas) which sought to assess the habits of people in relation to their consumption of seafood, the time spent in or near the sea and seashore and other factors.

So some 535 individuals along the North-East coast were asked about the amount and type of seafood they ate; the amount of time spent in, on or around the sea and seashore; their handling of fishing gear and catch; and their handling of seabed sediment.

The study identified two groups of significant interest: commercial fishermen who eat large amounts of fish, prawns and crab and commercial oyster and mussel farmers who eat large amounts of their produce. This data was combined with the radioactivity levels measured by the RPII and the average radiation dose to members of these groups was calculated to be less than 1 unit per year. This value represents the highest dose a person could reasonably receive from man-made radioactivity in the Irish Sea. These findings correspond well with previously reported figures by the RPII that were based on estimated rates of consumption of seafood.

Putting the results into perspective: the radiation dose received by members of these groups is less than 1 unit of about 4000 units of radiation dose received by the average Irish person from all sources of radiation – man-made and naturally occurring – in Ireland.

Mr. David Pollard, the RPII’s Director of Monitoring and Measurement Services said: “It is reassuring to note that having examined all possible routes of exposure to radiation from Sellafield, the highest doses received by members of the public fall within the range previously calculated by the RPII and do not pose a health risk. We will use the information, identified as being significant in this survey, to direct and improve the accuracy of our future monitoring programmes.”

The findings of the ‘Marine Habits Survey 2008’ will be presented at a public meeting in the County Museum, Jocelyn Street, Dundalk, on Wednesday 6th May at 7 pm (light refreshments are available from 6:30 pm). The meeting will be chaired by the RPII Chief Executive Dr. Ann McGarry and will hear from two speakers: Lorraine Currivan (RPII) and Fiona Clyne (CEFAS). Lorraine will give an overview of the RPII’s marine monitoring programme and Fiona will describe how the survey was undertaken and outline its findings.