A Sellafield accident would pose no immediate health risk but strong food controls would be necessary, says EPA

Date released: Dec 08 2016

A Sellafield accident would pose no immediate health risk but strong food controls would be necessary’, says EPA
EPA publishes a report on the potential radiological impact of a severe accident at the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant

 

  • No immediate risks to health but food controls necessary to avoid long-term consequences;
  • Report is in addition to economic impacts assessed by ESRI;
  • It provides for emergency plans targeted at the key risks and focuses resources in event of an accident.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today published a report on the potential radiological impact of a severe accident at the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. While previous studies showed that the likelihood of a severe accident at Sellafield is low, the accident scenarios studied were those identified as having the greatest potential to have an impact on Ireland. This report complements the recently published ESRI report into the significant economic consequences of such an event.

The study assessed the potential exposure to radiation for people and contamination of the environment for a year following an accident. For each of the worst case scenarios considered, the predicted radiation doses were found to be below the levels which would require measures such as sheltering, relocation or evacuation of people. However, without appropriate food controls, significant radiation doses could be incurred in the year following the accident through the consumption of contaminated foods. Ireland’s National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents provides for the introduction of food controls and on-farm measures, to reduce radiation doses from this pathway and ensure food for sale is safe to eat. This study again highlights the importance of the introduction of effective food controls as envisaged in the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents.

“This report concludes that severe radiological effects in Ireland are unlikely as a result of an accident at the Sellafield reprocessing plant, but food controls would be a key priority in order to protect the public,” said Dr Ciara McMahon, Programme Manager in the EPA’s Office of Radiological Protection.

She continued,

“This assessment was carried out as part of EPA’s role to advise the Government and the public on radiation risks. It is an important piece of research as it allows us focus emergency arrangements on the actual risks we could face in the event of a severe accident at Sellafield.”

This work studied in depth the consequences of the most severe accidents that were identified in the Sellafield risk assessment combined with weather conditions that carried the radioactive plume across Ireland with rain depositing material on the ground.

While protective actions have been shown to be very effective in ensuring food for sale is safe to consume, and hence controlling radiation doses to people, they do have significant socio-economic implications and costs.

The full report including summary, is available on the EPA website.

Notes to Editors:

 

  • 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.
  • Four potential accident scenarios were assessed. All involved low probability, severe nuclear accident scenarios and the corresponding potential radioactive releases to the environment.
  • For almost 90% of the time, the prevalent meteorological conditions in Ireland would result in any radioactive plume from Sellafield travelling in an easterly direction (away from Ireland).
  • Environmental prediction models were used to calculate the transfer of radioactivity to Ireland via the air. Computer models were used to determine the transfer of radioactivity through the Irish environment and into food and the consequent radiation doses to people.
  • Ireland has a National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents (NEPNA) to provide a coordinated emergency response to a situation where there is widespread radioactive contamination in Ireland. The central purpose of the NEPNA is to minimise the impact on Ireland and its people in the event of a major nuclear accident abroad. The NEPNA includes guidance on protective actions such as sheltering and food controls to reduce the radiation dose received by the population.
  • Ireland’s National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents (NEPNA) can be found on the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government website
  • In this study, in order to assess the maximum radiation doses arising from the scenarios studied, it has been assumed that none of the planned protective actions are taken.
  • A summary of the risks to Ireland from incidents at the Sellafield Site can be found on the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government website.
  • The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has completed a study on the potential economic impact for Ireland of a nuclear accident in NW Europe. This is available on the DCCAE website.