Radiation

The Irish population is exposed to radiation from either natural or man-made sources present in the environment.

Take action on your radiation dose

Radiation in our environment

The EPA carries out rigorous and continuous testing to ensure that environmental radiation remains within internationally agreed and legal safety limits. These tests ensure that we are quickly aware of any change in environmental radiation in Ireland and able to provide you with any health warnings and protection advice necessary. The radiation doses received as a result of artificial radioactivity are small compared with those received as a result of natural radiation and do not constitute a significant health risk.

What's happening with radiation?

Electromagnetic Spectrum

On one end of the spectrum, known as ionising radiation, the radiation has enough energy to cause damage to human cells and can potentially lead to cancer. This can come from man-made radioactive waste, X-rays, nuclear accidents or it can come from naturally occurring sources such as radon, radiation in food and soils or indeed radiation from outer space.

On the other end of the spectrum, known as non-ionising radiation, radiation does not have enough energy to break up molecules and no health effects have been identified for members of the public below guideline levels. This type of radiation can come from man-made mobile phones, electrical appliances, power lines, microwave ovens or it can come from natural sources such as the earth’s magnetic field, lightning storms, the sun or even our own bodies. This type of non-ionising radiation is often called Electromagnetic fields (EMF).

 

Exposure and Health

Electromagnetic fields

What's being done?

Ionising radiation has a wide range of applications in modern society including the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, security scanning at airports and ensuring that our bridges and other infrastructure are free from critical defects. Because of its inherent danger, its use is strictly regulated by the EPA.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can build up to unacceptable levels in homes and workplaces. The EPA recommends that you test your home as approximately 300 cases of lung cancer each year in Ireland are linked to radon.

While there are no nuclear power plants in Ireland, an accident abroad could result in contamination of the Irish environment. The EPA closely monitors the Irish environment to detect any changes in levels of radiation. The EPA works closely with the Government, international agencies, emergency services and licensed operators to ensure a rapid response to any radiological emergency in Ireland.

The EPA monitors public exposure to Electromagnetic fields (EMF) and provides independent scientific advice on its impact.

Regulation

Radon

National monitoring network

Radiation Emergencies

Electromagnetic fields (EMF)

Latest report on Radiation

in: Radiation
Geiger counter for monitoring and measuring radiation
Survey on Attitudes to Radiation in Ireland, October 2020

Publication

This report presents the findings of an online survey carried out by Amárach in October 2020 on behalf of EPA to assess the attitudes of the public in Ireland to radiation.

code of pratice cover
Code of Practice on the Application of the Ionising Radiation Regulations (IRR19) in Veterinary Medicine

EPA Code of Practice on the Application of the Ionising Radiation Regulations (IRR19) in Dentistry 2019

FAQs about radiation

in: Radiation

The Irish population is exposed to radiation from several sources, which are present either naturally in the environment or have been produced artificially by man.

Popular FAQs

  • What is radiation?

    Radiation is energy that is transmitted in the form of waves or particles. Scientists divide radiation into two broad categories –ionising radiation, and non-ionising radiation. 

    Ionising radiation is a proven hazard because it has enough energy to break apart molecules such as DNA which may, in time, lead to cancer. Non-ionising radiation does not have enough energy to cause such damage. 

  • Where are we likely to come across ionising radiation?

    We encounter ionising radiation constantly.  It occurs naturally in rocks and soil, in the food and water we eat and drink, and bombards the earth’s atmosphere from outer space.  It is produced artificially, and widely used in medicine, industry and research.  It is used in X-rays, in radiotherapy to treat cancers, in smoke detectors, and in many industrial processes.  The production of electricity from nuclear power generates ionising radiation as a by-product.

  • Where do we come across non-ionising radiation?

    Non-ionising radiation is generated by everyday energy sources, including light, heat, TV and radio signals, mobile phone signals, microwaves, and electro-magnetic fields associated with power lines.  The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications are currently responsible for the health effects of non-ionising radiation including electromagnetic fields. 

  • Can ionising radiation be avoided?

    Ionising radiation has been with us since the birth of the universe.  Even if we could avoid artificially created radiation, we would still be exposed continuously to natural sources of ionising radiation.  Because it is present in the soil, we consume it in our food and water.  One type of natural radionuclide is radon gas that rises up from the ground  and we inhale it from the air when we breathe. We cannot avoid exposure to ionising radiation – but we can minimise our exposure to excessive dose from it. 

  • How does ionising radiation affect the human body?

    Ionising radiation transfers some of its energy to the atoms and molecules of the body, liberating electrons and so breaking molecular bonds. The effects of ionising radiation on the human body depend on the quantities of ionising radiation received. 

    High doses  destroy human cells at a faster rate than they can be replaced by natural regeneration in the body. This is called necrosis and can cause radiation sickness leading to serious illness and death, but it can also be applied to small volumes in the body to kill diseased cells such as cancers. Radiation sickness has been observed in workers exposed by accident to industrial sources, and people who spent time close to the site of nuclear accidents, such as the fire-fighters in the Chernobyl accident - Low doses above background levels increase the risk of cancer. The chemical changes caused by ionisation damage tissues, which do not always repair themselves properly. In time, poorly repaired tissue may become cancerous. For most people, estimating increased risk of cancer from radioactivity is difficult to distinguish from other sources of risk such as chemical pollution. 

    Where people are known to have been exposed to greater levels of radioactivity, their history of exposure may be used to estimate the increased risk cancer decades later. This has been applied to accident survivors, historic nuclear workers, and people exposed to elevated levels of radon either in their workplaces or homes 

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