99 per cent reduction in Ireland’s radioactive waste legacy

Date released: Dec 12 2013

RPII publish annual report for 2012.

There has been a dramatic reduction in Ireland’s radioactive waste legacy with the number of disused radioactive sources held by private and State licensees falling by 99 per cent since 2010, according to the 2012 annual report of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII), which is published today.

The adoption by Government of a national policy on radioactive waste management in 2010 and its subsequent implementation has brought about this reduction, the report says.

Publishing the annual report, Dr Ann McGarry, Chief Executive of the RPII, said: “Through effective collaboration at a national level there have been successful radioactive waste reduction programmes in the health, education, defence and private sectors, driven by the relevant government departments and the RPII.”

However, there remains a need for a dedicated radioactive waste store for managing disused sources as part of a disposal strategy for Ireland, according to Dr McGarry. “The recent theft of seven radioactive lightning preventers in Dublin demonstrates the importance of having an appropriate waste management facility in place in Ireland,” she added.

The report also highlights progress towards a national radon control strategy; ongoing monitoring of radioactivity levels in the environment and assessment of the consequences for people living in Ireland; development of a risk based approach to the authorisation for the use of sources of ionising radiation; RPII participation in the peer review of European “Stress Tests” of nuclear power plants and progress towards the merger of the RPII and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Radioactive waste

At the beginning of 2011 the RPII estimated that there were over 3300 disused radioactive sources with long half-lives held by 63 licensees at various locations across Ireland. By August 2013 this had been reduced to 35 sources held by 11 licensees. Work is on-going to reduce the waste inventory further and to establish a national radioactive waste store.

According to Dr McGarry: “The radioactive waste reduction programmes have reduced the risk of radioactive sources getting into the public domain. However, there is an on-going need for a facility to store certain classes of disused sources pending final disposal.”

In 2008, a cross-government group was established to develop a national strategy forthe management of radioactive waste. It reported to Government in December 2010 setting out recommendations which included: a reduction of Ireland’s inventory of radioactive waste; the establishment of a national radioactive waste storage facility; and the development of a protocol for the short term emergency storage of ‘orphan’ or seized radioactive sources. In June 2011, the national implementation committee, chaired by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, was established to oversee the inventory reduction programme in the state and private sectors.

National radon control strategy

In November 2012, an interim report on the development of a national radon control strategy was delivered to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The report was prepared by an Interagency Group that includes all of the key government stakeholders with responsibility for elements of the radon issue and the recommendations contained therein are informed by extensive consultation with a broad range of stakeholders. Work on the finalisation of the strategy was further advanced during 2013 and the Interagency Group is on schedule to present a final strategy for Government approval by the December 2013 deadline.

Stress Tests

Following the accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, the European Council initiated a process to review the safety of all European nuclear power plants across 17 countries. The reviews, known as Stress Tests, were focused on the ability of the power plants to withstand extreme events such as earthquakes and tsunamis.As members of the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group, ENSREG, RPII staff were involved in the design of the process and a staff member participated as a technical expert in the aspect of the review dealing with severe accident management and in the country peer review visits to the Netherlands and the UK.

Overall, the Stress Tests concluded that all countries have taken significant steps to improve the safety of their nuclear power plants and that significant measures to increase the robustness of plants had been decided or were being considered.

Other highlights in the Annual Report for 2012:

  • The Government announced in early November 2012 that the RPII is to merge with the Environmental Protection Agency.  A Working Group has been established to manage the process and has been explicitly tasked with ensuring that there is no diminution, or perception of any diminution, among stakeholders and the general public, with Ireland’s commitment to either environmental or radiological protection, arising from the merger.
  • Ireland led the way in Europe by developing a risk-based approach to authorisation for the use of sources of ionising radiation. This graded approach, which received commendation at the October meeting of the Heads of European Radiation Competent Authorities, has potential to provide a more efficient and effective service for users.
  • The results of the 2012 monitoring programmes show that while the levels of artificial radioactivity in the Irish environment remain detectable, they are low and do not pose a significant risk to human health.
  • During 2012 seven incidents of potential radiological consequence to workers or the public were reported by licensees to the RPII. All incidents were investigated by the licensee to the satisfaction of the RPII and none of these events resulted in any significant doses being received by either the operator or member of the public.
  • Radon measurements were completed in 2194 homes and 373 workplaces.

ENDS

Notes to editors

Download an Executive Summary of the Annual Report 2012

Download the full Annual Report and Accounts 2012

Radioactive sources that are no longer required are referred to as “disused sources” and are considered to be a type of radioactive waste. Other types of radioactive waste include contaminated clinical waste and discharges from facilities such as hospital nuclear medicine departments. For Ireland, the vast majority of its radioactive waste comprises disused radioactive sources. While the disused sources consist of a wide variety of radionuclides with a corresponding range of half lives (the time required for the source to decay to half of its current activity), in practice those sources with half lives greater than ten years provide the greatest challenges in terms of their long term management.

Ireland doesn’t have any national storage facility for managing radioactive waste, including disused radioactive sources. In the absence of such a facility, radioactive sources that are no longer required must be returned to the manufacturer/supplier in accordance with a take back agreement, which is a mandatory licensing requirement. However, many of the disused sources in Ireland were acquired prior to the introduction of this licensing requirement and these have had to be stored under licence on premises where they were originally used, pending the identification of a suitable disposal solution for them – these are known as the legacy sources.