RPII reports on risks to Ireland of planned new UK nuclear power plants

Date released: May 21 2013

Threat to human health very low.

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) has today published a report on the potential radiological impact on Ireland of new nuclear power plants that may be built at up to eight sites in the UK before 2025. The report examined possible impacts of these plants during their day-to-day operations, and in the event of severe accidents taking place.

The report shows that the routine operation of the proposed nuclear power plants will have no measurable radiological impact on Ireland or the Irish marine environment.

Five severe accident scenarios were assessed as part of the study that range in likelihood of occurrence from 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 33 million per year. In general, the less likely the accident, the greater the radiological impact in Ireland. Food controls and agricultural protective measures would be required if any of these accidents occurred to ensure that food on sale in Ireland was safe to eat. In the case of the most severe accident scenario examined in the study, short-term measures such as sheltering would also be required. In none of the scenarios evaluated was evacuation found to be an appropriate response.

The report also examined the consequences of a large accidental release of radioactivity to the Irish Sea equivalent in size to that after the Fukushima accident. It found that the resulting radiation dose to people in Ireland, who eat very large quantities of fish and shellfish, would be less than the annual radiation dose limit for the public.

The report shows that any radioactive contamination in the air, either from day-to-day operation of the proposed nuclear power plants or accidental releases, would be transported away from Ireland most of the time. This conclusion arises from an analysis of weather conditions prevailing in Ireland and the UK over the past 21 years.

“This report concludes that severe radiological effects in Ireland are unlikely as a result of building new nuclear power plants in the UK, but a socio-economic impact will be seen in the event of a very severe accident,” according to Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII. “Our role at the RPII is to advise the public and the Government, and to ensure people are protected from the harmful effects of radiation. It is important that we remain focused on the need to maintain and constantly review Ireland’s emergency plans to deal with the consequences of any nuclear accident abroad.”

Other aspects of the UK’s proposed programme were also reviewed including the process for selecting the sites; plans for fabrication of the nuclear fuel to be used; UK arrangements for radioactive and nuclear waste; and other activities associated with the proposed nuclear power plants. While there may be radioactive discharges associated with some of these activities, they would be less than those associated with the routine operation of the nuclear power plants themselves and thus would be of no radiological significance to people in Ireland.

Notes to editors:

The full report, including summary, is available on the publications section of the RPII website.

The UK Government has identified up to eight locations for the construction of new nuclear power plants by 2025. So far one of these, at Hinkley Point in Somerset, has been granted planning permission. The RPII was requested by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to undertake an assessment of the potential radiological impact on Ireland from this New Build Programme. This report presents the findings of the potential radiological impact on Ireland of both the anticipated routine radioactive discharges and of a range of postulated nuclear accident scenarios.

The term radiological impact in the context of this report means radiation doses to people and radioactive contamination of the environment including food produced for human consumption.

Methodology used

As these nuclear power plants have not been built yet, it was necessary to make a number of assumptions regarding the type of reactors and the number of reactors to be developed. Upper bound assumptions were used in the assessment as to the amount of radioactivity that could be released per year during routine operation.

Five potential accident scenarios were assessed. All involved severe nuclear accident scenarios and the corresponding potential radioactive releases to the environment.

Environmental prediction models were used to calculate the transfer of radioactivity to Ireland via the air or sea, combined with 21 years of historical meteorological data to allow for varying weather patterns. Models were used to determine the transfer of radioactivity through the Irish environment and into food and the consequent radiation doses to people.