Peer Review of the Monitoring Programme

The environmental monitoring programme was reviewed by a group of international experts. The group's report outlines the current monitoring programme, lists the terms of reference of the review and documents the group's conclusions and recommendations.

A Peer Review of the RPII Environmental Monitoring Programme

As the report describes, the impression of the monitoring programme was positive. The group considered that the current programme was adequate and justified, both from the perspective of public reassurance and from the need to provide accurate and scientifically-sound advice to Government.

A summary of the peer review is provided below under each of the headings.

Background

A programme of monitoring radioactivity in air, food and water has been carried out since the early 1980s. The main aim of the programme is to assess the exposure of the Irish population from environmental radioactivity. The programme also meets Irish and European Union legal requirements, other national and international commitments and supports our advisory and information provision functions.

The programme has evolved over the years to reflect changing circumstances. In 2009, to take stock at a strategic level, the scope and effectiveness of our monitoring programme was reviewed by an international peer group.

Aims and Terms of Reference of the Review

The key objective of the review was to consider whether the environmental monitoring programme is meeting its stated aims and objectives and to provide recommendations for improvement if required.

The terms of reference included:

  • Evaluation of the scope of the current programme to ensure that it is sufficiently broad to cover statutory requirements, other national and international commitments and best practice; and
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme as currently implemented, i.e. whether it is meeting its stated aims and objectives.

Consideration of the value of the programme with respect to maintenance of the capability to respond effectively in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency was requested specifically. Comment on the efficiency of the current programme and ideas for improvement were also requested. The final term of reference was related to the potential of the programme to meet future needs and the scope for innovation. This included general recommendations for continuous and project-based monitoring, consideration of areas of emerging interest and comment on the skills mix of RPII staff in the radiation monitoring section.

Review Process

A panel of five independent experts, selected on the basis of expertise and knowledge in a range of topics related to radiation protection and environmental monitoring, were appointed to conduct the peer review. The members of the group were:

  • Professor Peter Mitchell, Science Secretary, Royal Irish Academy (Chair)
  • Dr John Hunt, Former Head of Environmental Radioactivity, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), UK
  • Mr Ken Ledgerwood, Former Chief Inspector, Industrial Pollution and Radiochemical Inspectorate, Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • Dr Sven Nielsen, Head of Radioecology Programme, Radiation Research Division, Risø DTU, Denmark
  • Dr Ciaran O'Donnell, Programme Manager, Office of Environmental Assessment, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Dr Paul McGinnity led the project and also acted as scientific secretary to the peer review group.

The group met twice in Dublin. In advance of the first meeting it was provided with documentation for the purposes of conducting the review. A series of Foundation Documents were written by staff involved in the programme and describe the following aspects in detail:

  • Introduction to the RPII and the Environmental Monitoring Programme
  • Overview of Continuous Monitoring Undertaken in the Current Programme
  • Overview of Monitoring Projects
  • Gap Analysis of Commission Recommendation 2000/437/Euratom
  • Monitoring Performed to Satisfy OSPAR Commitments
  • Exposure from Natural Sources in Ireland
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response
  • Monitoring of Radioactivity in Drinking Water

There were two supplements to the foundation documents:

  • Overview of Relevant National and International Legislation 
  • List of Relevant RPII Reports, Journal Articles, Conference Papers and General Articles

Sources referenced in these documents were provided to the group and the same staff presented the key points to the peer review group at the commencement of the first meeting.

The main deliverable of the peer review was the group’s report.  The content of this has been agreed by all members of the group.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Overall Impression

The peer review group’s overall impression of the monitoring programme was positive. In general the group considered that the current programme was both adequate and justified, both from the perspective of public reassurance and from the need to provide accurate and scientifically-sound advice to Government. Rather than changing the level of resources currently targeted at the programme, it made a number of suggestions for reprioritisation. Examples of these suggestions include modification of the current approach to coastal monitoring in terms of the frequency of sampling and the number of sampling locations; and more monitoring of samples for plutonium and americium, not least in order to maintain analytical proficiency.

Personnel

The likely shortage of suitably qualified and experienced personnel available for future recruitment to work in the environmental laboratory, particularly in the field of radiochemistry, was an area of concern to the group. Ongoing maintenance of the expertise of staff currently working on the monitoring programme was a related area of concern. Certain suggestions were made in this regard.

Monitoring Projects

The group made a number of specific suggestions for future monitoring projects. The group fully supported our position in relation to emergency preparedness and agreed that it is vital to maintain the systems, procedures and expertise necessary to facilitate a rapid assessment of contamination in the event of a nuclear or radiological incident.

Foundation Documents

The group commended us on the quality of the documentation provided to it for the purposes of conducting the review. It is noted that a major positive side effect of the review was the requirement to document the current monitoring programme in detail for the creation of the Foundation Documents. It is proposed to maintain this documentation up to date periodically and to use it as background information for all publications related to environmental monitoring.

Quality System and Publications

The group was also impressed with many aspects of the work related to the monitoring programme including the quality system and intercomparison work and its rate of publication in peer reviewed journals.

Follow-up

The group’s full conclusions and recommendations are presented in detail in Section 9 of the report and summarised in Section 11.We are currently examining aspects of our monitoring programme. This examination will address all of the peer review recommendations and will identify any changes to be made to the programme together with a clear time frame for their implementation.