What is Ireland’s plan for a nuclear emergency?
There is a national plan in place to reduce the risk to the people in Ireland, following a nuclear emergency abroad. The plan is called the National Plan for Nuclear and Radiological Emergency Exposures and is known as the National Plan.
How would we know if the National Plan needed to be activated?
There are two international early-warning systems in place. These are managed by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Commission. These systems would quickly notify the Irish Government of any threat.
Ireland also has an agreement with the UK that the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications and the EPA would be informed directly in the event of a radiation emergency in Ireland or the UK.
The EPA has a 24-hour radiation monitoring network. This would automatically trigger an alarm if any unusual radiation levels are detected.
In the event of a nuclear emergency, Met Éireann would calculate wind speed and direction, and the likelihood of rainfall in any part of Ireland that the plume might reach. The EPA would use this information, along with all information available about the radioactivity that has been released, to assess the risk to people in Ireland.
The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications will make the final decision on whether the National Plan needs to be activated.
The public will be alerted and advised through the media. If there is a risk to the people in Ireland from the emergency, the most likely actions would be:
How would the National Plan help?
The National Plan would help to ensure that people in Ireland are provided with information about:
This in turn would reduce the potential long-term health risks to the Irish population.
Who is involved with the National Plan?
The National Plan is coordinated by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and involves a number of other government departments and agencies working together, including the EPA, and the main TV and radio stations.
The EPA would play a key role in implementing the National Plan in the event of a nuclear emergency.
How do we know the National Plan would be effective?
Regular training exercises are carried out to test the plan.
In addition, every organisation involved with the plan conducts its own specific drills and exercises to ensure that each individual part of the plan would be carried out with efficiency, if it was activated.
What would happen after the first few days of the emergency?
The National Plan would continue to operate for as long as required. In the meantime, you should continue to follow government advice.
In the first few days after the emergency, samples of grass, crops, soil and other environmental materials from around the country would be tested for levels of different types of radioactivity.
Monitoring would continue for weeks, months, or longer if necessary. The public would be kept fully informed and advised of any action they need to take to reduce the risk of radiation exposure.
There would be close monitoring of livestock and crops. If necessary, controls and restrictions would be put in place to protect the public from buying or eating unsafe food.
What happens if people were exposed to harmful radiation in this emergency?
This is very unlikely. Any radioactive contamination in Ireland that causes higher radiation levels than normal could result in slight increases in certain types of cancer in the years and decades following a nuclear incident. However, it is unlikely that we could detect an increase in cancer rates.
How do I know how serious a nuclear emergency this is?
The international nuclear event scale (INES) is used to communicate the importance of nuclear and radiological events to the public.
The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) is a seven-point scale, with Level 1 being the least significant, and Level 7 the most significant. Where an event is classified as Level 0 or ‘below scale’, this means it has no nuclear or radiological safety significance.
(insert image INES)
INES is used to classify nuclear and radiological accidents and incidents by considering three areas of impact:
Information on recent events and their INES rating is available from IAEA NEWS service.
Where can I find the National Plan?
The plan is available to download at this link
What should I do in a nuclear emergency?
The aim of nuclear emergency planning is to reduce the exposure of people to harmful radiation following a nuclear emergency. Even though the risk is very low, our message to people is clear:
Go in, stay in, tune in
Staying indoors is one way of reducing exposure to radiation following a nuclear emergency abroad and this could be recommended for a few hours as a precaution. This would not lead to a national shutdown. Essential service workers could continue to carry out their duties.
In the hours following the emergency, updates would be provided to the people of Ireland, including specific advice for certain groups e.g. farmers.
If the advice to ‘go in, stay in, tune in’ is given you should:
Should I take iodine tablets?
There is absolutely no need to take iodine tablets.
Staying indoors and following the up-to-date advice of the Irish Government is by far the most effective way of reducing your risk of exposure.
What to do after the emergency is lifted?
The biggest potential public health threat following the emergency would come from radioactive contamination of farming produce, particularly from leafy vegetables, meat and dairy products. If it were necessary the government would put controls and restrictions in place to protect the public from contaminated food.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine along with the EPA and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland would ensure that all foods available for sale are safe. If necessary, this could include destroying contaminated farm produce.
Could drinking-water become radioactive?
In the event of a nuclear emergency, drinking water would be monitored and analysed along with other foodstuffs. But it is highly unlikely that water supplies would be contaminated to levels that would require the government to restrict its use.
Could I be evacuated during a nuclear emergency?
No. Evacuation would not be necessary in Ireland as we are situated more than 100 km from the nearest nuclear power plant (on the west coast of the UK).
Evacuation is only necessary in the immediate vicinity of a nuclear accident.
Is a radiological emergency the same thing as a nuclear emergency?
A radiological emergency is an incident or accident which has the potential to result in a person being exposed to elevated levels of harmful radiation known as ionising radiation.
While this could include a nuclear accident, the term radiological emergency is generally used for a more local issue.
What kind of incidents might lead to a radiation emergency?
Radiation incidents that could trigger an emergency can be broken down into three categories:
|1. An accident involving a radiation source regulated under licence by the EPA. Potentially dangerous incidents might include:||
|2. A deliberate criminal act or terrorist attack. This could include:||
|3. A major incident with widespread radiological consequences. Examples of such events might include:||
What happens if a radiological emergency occurs?
The scale of the response would depend upon the severity of the emergency and the level of potential danger to the public.
A small-scale emergency, like a road traffic accident involving a radioactive source, could be managed locally by the emergency services, with advice from the EPA.
A severe radiological emergency could require the activation of the National Plan for Nuclear and Radiological Emergency Exposures.
An EPA Radiation Duty Officer rota is in place at all times (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), and ensures that a radiation expert is always available to advise emergency services or to advise the government on appropriate actions to deal with the emergency. The rota is circulated every month to An Garda Síochána and other relevant organisations.
Who would be involved in tackling a major radiation emergency?
A range of organisations would respond in the event of a major radiological emergency in Ireland.
What would be the EPA’s role in a radiation emergency?
The EPA would immediately be notified of any major incident involving radiation. Our broad responsibilities are:
While the chance of such an emergency occurring is very slight, there are plans in place to deal with them if they happen.
The EPA Nuclear and Radiological Emergency Plan sets out the EPA’s responsibilities under the National Plan. It includes details on EPA’s preparedness arrangements, the EPA radiation emergency response structure and the roles of teams and individual staff members in responding to a radiological emergency.
For information regarding transport of radioactive material see:
For information for Licensees see:
Where can I find further information?
Check out other organisations involved in preparing for and managing nuclear and radiological emergencies.
Some of these organisations work with us here in Ireland. Others are based abroad.